Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Divergent Fulfills Promise, While the Muppets Fall Short at the Box Office

Scott looks at the top five grossers at the box office this past weekend, and analyzes the real winners and losers among a collection of movies with hopes to continue on as franchises.

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Claiming a victory where many others have failed, Divergent was able to establish itself as a solid young adult film as it made $54 million in its debut weekend. Studios seem to view the YA market as one of their hopeful golden gooses, but successful entrance into that market has proven extremely hard for many to conquer. The most recent attempt had come almost two months ago in the form of Vampire Academy, which has only made a total of $7.7 million and shows just how poorly a miscalculated effort can do.

Divergent, which stars Shailene Woodley, was able to make just shy of $5 million on its Thursday night opening, and finished Friday with $22 million (the Thursday night numbers are included in that). The movie had dominated Twitter over the weekend, and that continued word of mouth helped out its success as the weekend progressed. It only dropped 13% from Friday to Saturday, and saw a decline of 40% on Sunday. Typically, films that cater to this demographic see a little more frontloading in their success, as even the hugely popular Twilight saw a Friday to Saturday drop of 41%.

Where the film differs greatly from the success of Twilight is that the vampire love flick was able to haul in $69 million its opening weekend, and Divergent fell well behind that. Also, Twilight was extremely low budget (approximately $20 million) while there is a much more solid $85 million that went into Divergent. What that means is that the instant success is not as great, but the strategy here is to turn it into a multi-series franchise. While they were hoping for Twilight-like numbers, the stable hold of the movie over the weekend and the fact that the audiences seem to like it just fine (Rotten Tomatoes shows 40% critic approval, and 81% audience support. I should also note that the first Twilight movie had only 73% audience approval). The real tale of this franchise will be told next year when the sequel comes out and we see if there was any additional interest or not.

While Divergent gave studios hope for future franchise dollars, Muppets Most Wanted ended up heading in a bit of a different direction. Three years ago, The Muppets opened to $29 million dollars and pumped life back into the puppeteered franchise that had laid dormant since 1999. With a history of not excelling in theatres, there was some skepticism that could be had over the fact that Muppets Most Wanted upped the financial game by existing on a budget of $55 million, which is ten million more than the previous film.

I had a feeling that there would be some continued support in the franchise due to the wonderful movie of 2011 and that it would see an opening weekend very similar in size. As it would turn out, I was completely wrong about that and the film as it fell short of expectations and ended up making only $17 million and landing second place in the box office. The financial success of The Muppet franchise has never been stable, so it should not come as a huge surprise that Muppets Most Wanted was unable to achieve what it was supposed to. Before being rejuvenated three years ago, the only Muppets movie to even break into double digit millions on opening weekend was Muppet Treasure Island, which made $10 million on opening weekend in 1996 (The 1979 The Muppet Movie’s opening weekend numbers were unavailable, so they are not included in this).

Third place in theatres this weekend goes to Mr. Peabody & Sherman, which made $11 million in its third weekend out. It was able to take first place last weekend by sustaining, but this weekend was unable to hold out against both of the newcomers. Currently it has made $81 million domestically and $168 million worldwide. One source I have read points to it needing to reach $380 million before being able to start seeing a profit, and its chances of reaching that goal may be running out.

Ending up in fourth spot and showing in just 780 theatres is God’s Not Dead, a spiritual drama starring Hercules himself, Kevin Sorbo. It averaged an impressive $11,852 per theatre, and was able to achieve a total of $9 million. Daily performance numbers were not made available, so it is difficult to tell how the film trended over the course of the weekend.

300: Rise of an Empire, the once proud first place title holder of three weeks ago, saw another dramatic drop in gross this weekend as it fell by 56% from the previous weekend and took in $8.5 million. This puts its domestic total at $93 million, and its worldwide cume at $253 million, and it is looking like profitability is on the horizon for the sequel, which is seven years removed from the original. Fans of the franchise should be happy, because this success could excite Warner Bros enough to gear up for a sequel.

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