February 5th, 2015 — Breaking down the Biz (inside baseball)

Theater Thursdays

Hello again, geeky boys and girls!

The first month of the new year has already gone by and I don’t know about you, but for me it went pretty fast. January usually drags by for me because it always seems to get colder. I know this may not be true, but it feels true.

Oh, sure, it can be freezing cold in December but because of all the Christmas specials we all grew up on, not to mention the Christmas themed movies, it seems natural for it to be freezing cold in December. Because, you know….Christmas.

But January? No, January is bleak and grey. January is just cold for no good reason and January usually just drags by for me.

Not this year! Nope, this year, January went by in a blink. One of the primary reasons for this was the fact that the theater business, which usually goes into hibernation after Christmas, stayed strong and super busy.

Several of the year-end films stayed strong, with a few of the Oscar hopefuls expanding into wide release after being in very limited release, some only playing in New York and Los Angeles. In order for a film to qualify for the Academy Awards, it must play at least one-week at a theater where the general public can come, buy a ticket and watch it.

One of those films this year was AMERICAN SNIPER. It opened in 4 theaters (2 in Los Angeles and 2 in New York) on Christmas Day.

From Christmas day on, we were getting calls daily asking us if we were playing it. Not just one call here and there, no, we were getting 10-20 calls about it every day. Every single day.

I would imagine most theaters around the Country were getting the same calls. I don’t know this for a fact, but I have a gut feeling that had the film actually opened on Christmas day, it would have been busy and made a decent amount of money, but it wouldn’t have been the monster hit it was. With this film, Warner Brothers was able to do exactly what films with a platform release (open in a few theaters and expand slowly) always try to do. They were able to build interest.

By the time January 16th rolled around, people had seen all the big holiday films, all the sequels and animated films and had finally seen the Hunger Games enough times to satisfy them until it hits Blu ray.

By January 16th, people with even a mild interest in AMERICAN SNIPER were anxious to see it. They had heard about it, seen the trailers, read the magazine articles and watched the news reports about the real guy and like him or dislike him, everybody wanted to see the film, just to be able to have an opinion about it.

That translated into the biggest January debut in History. The second highest grossing opening of a film in January made about Fifty-Million dollars less than AMERICAN SNIPER. Think about that for a minute.

On January 17th, the day after it opened, at the theater where I am a manager, we sold out every showing of the film from 10 am until 11 pm that night. That hasn’t happened since AVATAR back in 2009.

Not even THE AVENGERS did that. THE AVENGERS was on more screens (we had it on 11 screens) so it made a lot more money, it made 200 Million dollars in 3 days, so pound for pound, it had a harder punch, but Sniper made over a Hundred Million dollars on far fewer screens. We had it on 2 screens, but when it exploded, we were able to interlock it and get it on 3 screens that first weekend.

AMERICAN SNIPER was a monster hit, but it wasn’t the only hit. In a classic and brilliant bit of counter-programming, PADDINGTON opened the same weekend and did extremely well. It made 25 Million Dollars its opening weekend, which next to Snipers 100+ Million seems like a paltry sum, but the original projections for the film were about 12-15 million for the weekend, so it was a hit right out of the gate.

There is an old saying that goes “a rising ride lifts all boats” and in the movie business, it’s absolutely true. People come to the theater to see a film, when they get here, it’s sold out and the next show isn’t for a couple of hours. Well, they’ve already got dressed, went to dinner, the sitter is home with the kids so….what other film looks good? They’re in the mood for a movie, so they will just get tickets to their second choice film, perhaps a movie they wouldn’t have come to see otherwise, but since they’re already here….

This happens a lot more than you would think. This year, it has lifted the box-office returns of a lot of films. For the first 3 weeks of January and even most of the fourth week, it has lifted business to amazing levels. On the Saturday two weeks ago, we had almost 7,000 people come through our doors. Seven-Thousand people.

To put it in perspective, on a normal Saturday in January, you’re looking at about 2,000-2,500 people through the doors. That’s over three times the normal amount. Last year was a sluggish year at the box-office. Last summer there just wasn’t a big runaway hit film. There was only one film that opened to over a hundred-million dollars its first weekend, and that was TRANSFORMERS:AGE OF EXTINCTION. Most summers, there are 5-6 films that open above a hundred million.

There weren’t many massive disasters either. No LONE RANGER sized flops, but no massive hits either. It was a middling year from start to finish. Well, it did pick up a bit at the end of the year, with MOCKINGJAY PT.1, INTERSTELLAR and BIG HERO 6 lifting the box-office during the last 6-8 weeks, but otherwise the year was a wash. Stagnant. In a word: Blah.


That’s just the films we know about. Every summer always has a few films that turn out to be great that seem to come out of nowhere. This year will be no different, we just don’t know what they are yet. I love those surprises.

And the end of the year brings the final Hunger Games film, MOCKINGJAY PT 2 and, of course, the movie none of us dared hope we would ever see, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, the long-awaited episode 7 of the film series that defined my childhood. There was life before Star Wars and life after Star Wars.

Somewhere in there is also the next MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE film which was supposed to come out in December, but has been moved to late July. Also, the next James Bond film, SPECTRE opens in November as well.

This year is going to be a big one in the theater business. No doubt about that. But we really didn’t expect it to start out so good. As I’ve stated many times before, January is the dumping ground. At least it used to be the dumping ground. This year, it most certainly is not, but it remains to be seen how next January will look. We need not worry about it though, because that’s almost a full year away.

The only thing we know for sure is that the year has started with a bang and doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. AMERICAN SNIPER has won the weekend again, making it the first film in a long while to take the top spot 3 weeks in a row. It took in over 31-Million dollars for the super bowl weekend, giving it yet another record, this one for the highest grossing film on Super Bowl weekend.

It’s starting to slow down now. No film can remain on top forever, so this could be the last weekend at number 1, but if we do have a break, it will only last for a week or so.

This weekend coming up brings us THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE, which is a live action version of the cartoon character, which I’m still trying to wrap my head around, but I have to admit looks funny so I might have to catch a matinée.

Another new film this weekend is one that has set on a shelf for at least a year and a half. SEVENTH SON, which stars Jeff Bridges, is a film that I swear I’ve seen ten times before under different names. It’s one of those films where, just from the trailers, I can almost lay out the story beat for beat. It’s about yet another secret society who live in the shadows, battle evil forces and are always guarding some of amulet or special weapon that could end humanity and plunge the world into darkness, or something like that. There is always a Witch or a Warlock, always some dark ritual that, once performed will defeat the good and end the world. The ritual can only be performed on a certain night that only comes about once in a thousand years and it just happens to be coming up in a few days/weeks/hours and there is always a reluctant hero who fights against doing his duty and cracks jokes about how lame this all is until the wise older warrior, in this case, Jeff Bridges, shows him enough real magic and starts to train him and just as he’s getting really good and it looks like they are going to defeat the bad guys, the old warrior gets killed and the young hero is forced to rise to the challenge and becomes the wise young warrior, roll credits.

I haven’t seen the film and haven’t even seen a story synopsis but I can almost put money on the film being pretty close to that outline above that I wrote on the fly. I have no intention of seeing the film, so I’ll leave it to one of you to watch it and tell me if I was close.

The last new flick this weekend is JUPITER ASCENDING from the Wachowski siblings. This film was supposed to come out last July but was pulled at the last-minute and moved to this coming weekend. The reason given was that the effects weren’t ready yet and they needed more time to get them just right. As soon as it was moved though, the whispers and gossip started. The movie was a disaster and would be a massive flop. It was so bad the studio knew it would get killed in July so they moved it to a safer time.

Most times when a film is moved and given that kind of excuse, it does mean the film is in trouble. In this case though, I am actually starting to believe that the official story might be the truth. Just watching the trailers, you can see a stunning amount of effects on display. There are a lot of directors who will let a film go with a few dodgy effects here and there but not the Wachowski’s. They are perfectionists in this regard and I can absolutely see them delaying a film for seven-months to get the effects just right. If the added time lets them work some more on the edit of the film, all the better.

After their track record, I am willing to give them and the film the benefit of the doubt. They have worked magic before and it could happen again. I am willing to give them a pass for no other reason than CLOUD ATLAS is a masterpiece and will become a classic as the years go by.

Well, that just about does it for this week. I know this column was a little longer than normal, but I had a lot of things I wanted to cover and if need be, you can read it a little at a time.

Next week brings us FIFTY SHADES OF GREY which is bad fan-fiction made into a bad-looking film that could break even more records. At some point I’m hoping an actual GOOD film will break some records.

Until then, Keep the Projector Threaded.