Thursday, August 30, 2012

What Summer 2012 Boxoffice Means for Screenwriters

As we head into Labor Day it’s time to take a look back at this summer’s boxoffice and try to figure out what it might mean for screenwriters. Analyzing the movie business is always a dicey task… one of the reasons it’s so fun to do! So here are some of my observations and theories... make of them what you will:

Franchise Films are Risky

Only two big summer franchise films were unqualified hits: The Avengers ($618 million) and The Dark Knight Rises ($422 million). Both also did well internationally. Some observers have pointed to The Dark Knight Rises trailing The Dark Knight slightly, but the movie is still enormously successful. The Amazing Spider-Man (see below), Men in Black III ($178 million) and Prometheus ($126 million) did okay – as in break-even, probably-get-a-sequel okay. But John Carter, Battleship, Total Recall and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter were all bombs. And The Bourne Legacy (see below), Madagascar 3, The Expendables 2 and Ice Age: Continental Drift underwhelmed to the point the future of the franchises are questionable.

That’s not a very good track record for extremely expensive films. Perhaps the studios’ recent strategy of spending more money on fewer, bigger films is not so wise after all.

Every summer there are also a few films that are surprising hits. This season those films are Ted ($214 million), Magic Mike ($113 million), and Snow White and the Huntsman ($155 million). Those three have helped ease the losses of some of the big failures, but though all may get sequels, only one – Snow White – could really be considered a new franchise. And the future of that franchise is in danger because of the scandal around the director and star’s affair.

Reboots and Remakes are Even Riskier

The Amazing Spider-Man reboot has done okay with $258 million (plus a nice $422 million internationally), but it’s still likely to gross less than any of the previous three. The Bourne Legacy (without Jason Bourne) will be the lowest grossing in that series. Total Recall is a disaster ($55 million). And, as mentioned, Prometheus – loosely tied to the Alien franchise – did only so-so. Maybe originality isn’t overrated.

3D is Over

At least in the U.S. Back in 2009 Avatar got 83% of its domestic gross from 3D screens. In 2010, Alice in Wonderland got 71% from 3D and Shrek Forever After got 62%. 3D looked like the future. But this summer, 3D accounted for only 45% of The Avengers’ gross, 51% of Prometheus’ gross, 32% of Brave’s gross, 38% of Madagascar 3’s gross, and 44% of The Amazing Spider-Man’s gross.* And this is with higher ticket prices tilting the scales toward 3D! 3D is still going strong internationally, but I’d bet those audiences will grow tired of it the same way American audiences have. We may be seeing the end of what has turned out to be a fad.

The Independent Film Market Shows Signs of Health

Summer is never a big season for indie films, but two did quite well this year: Moonrise Kingdom ($43 million) and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ($45 million). And several other small films did decent business, among them Beasts of the Southern Wild (almost $9 million), The Intouchables ($7 million) and To Rome with Love ($15 million). You could even argue Magic Mike was an independent film based on the way it was financed, though ultimately it was a studio release.

How to Get the Audience to the Movies?

The industry has a big problem. It’s harder and harder to get people to go to the movies these days. So many people now have huge TVs and great sound systems at home. And TV has gotten really good with the explosion of cable programming. Not to mention the Internet, videogames… basically all the stuff you’ve been hearing about threatening the moviegoing habit. Add to that the high cost of tickets and you’ve really got to give the audience a reason to come out. That’s why studios have been focusing on the big event films and trying to push 3D.

I don’t have a good answer to the industry’s problem, except that the health of independent films shows that people will come out if the story draws their interest. The writer in me wants to conclude that the key to a healthy film business is good storytelling and therefore writers should be given more power, but I know it’s not that simple.

But maybe this summer will cause the studios to start making more, and more varied, movies. Perhaps they’ll stop going all-in on big franchise properties and spread the risk across a diverse slate at a range of budgets. That would be good for screenwriters. But I’m not holding my breath!


Note: All boxoffice is to-date and domestic unless otherwise noted. Some films are still in release. Source:

*Source: Hollywood Reporter

1 comment:

You've got Red on you said...

Found footage films are the way to go it seems. The Paranormal Activity films (The first three) cost just over $8m to produce and have grossed $575m worldwide. That's quite a return. Who needs 3D when you just need a handheld camera eh? ;)