BULLETS OVER THE BOX OFFICE: WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT SEQUELITIS

We all just have to do better. I mean, not just making better movies, although that, too. But also in finding terms to describe our half-baked trend analyses.

Sequelitis is the current diagnosis for why the world has turned against all film sequels, spin-offs, reboots, reworkings, and reheatings. The evidence is the five or six films that have bombed, underperformed or failed to meet expectations.

A few things about this:

First of all, Secret Life of Pets, for instance, will come in below its predecessor. It may (or may not) lose large or small amounts of money. But it still sold $154 million in tickets in a week, which may be unprofitable for its studio, but $150 million worth of seats filled in a week isn’t exactly evidence that the public is allergic to sequels.

Second: John Wick 3, Aladdin, and um, Endgame.

How with a straight face do you make an argument that the world is tired of sequels when the current biggest film of the year, #2 all-time grosser, is the 22nd film of its series and the fourth film of its particular label/action group/whatever you want to call it?

It’s being said a lot that you have to “Give people a reason to go see a sequel.” Well . . . . yes . . . . In general, when you’re releasing a film, that tends to help. More than just saying, “Hey, uh, we’ve got this thing that some guy made and ummm, there’s a show at 6:30.”

“Give people a reason to go see” is analyst-ese for “Make a good movie” when people don’t want to get all subjective and call certain movies bad. Or at least, make a movie that looks like something different and exciting, that breaks through the clutter and gets them motivated to leave their homes.

Or maybe each of these movies lumped under the sequelitis banner had their own issues and challenges that don’t particularly fit together. Anyway, here’s hoping we can keep the sequelitis trend watch alive through next week when Toy Story 4 comes out. A half-baked explanation is a terrible thing to waste.

Other box office bullets:

• If sequelits goes down, how about labeling summer of ’19 as the Summer of Screwing Up the Releases of Female-Led Indie Comedies. Like Booksmartbefore it, another film riding the winds of limitless festival hot air meets the cold, hard reality of modern box office and withers before it.

For starters: What is Late Night doing here in the heights of summer? When you have goliaths to the left of it, goliaths to the right of it devouring every ounce of oxygen that a low-budget comedy would need to break through? The only explanation is that Amazon believed the hoopla from the Sundance premiere that Mindy Kaling’s light comic look inside a talk show writers’ room was destined to be The Hangover for the Woke Era.

And then $35 million P & A? Really.

If you wouldn’t make a movie and plan a release at a certain level, having won a frenzied bidding war in the Eccles lobby isn’t going to sprinkle magic pixie dust on a movie and make it perform above its natural level.

Once again, as with Booksmart, people need to remember those festival goers, and in very very particular, festival film writers, are a hyper-specific demographic bubble, seeing a film within a very rarified experience where they have everything vested in finding movies to hype and rave about to the heavens. (By everything, I mean: 1. Justifying the expense of their trip. 2. Wanting to please the filmmakers who they just met at the party. 3. Supporting whatever political agenda the film is an avatar or proponent of. 4. Going with the herd. 5. Lack of oxygen. 6. Sleep deprivation.)

Festival hype among film bloggers is a very good indicator of how a film will play with the larger film blogging community, which after the free screenings, might account for dozens of tickets sold. Beyond that, you would actually have a better understanding of a film’s potential if you saw it in isolation and read no responses to it.

• Beyond that, for Amazon: It can afford to spend $30 million promoting Late Night, so that says something for them. But at some point, deep-pocketed dilettantes screwing up film releases doesn’t exactly endear themselves to filmmakers.  As one Ankler friend said, “Money can make you prettier but it can’t make you smart.”

*Re-constructing the Road to a 3000 screens Late Night release is a great Vietnam-like quagmire story for Hollywood.  Inspired by whatever, they way overpay for the film at Sundance.  So they’re in the hole for $14 mil. Then the only way to make that back is a wide release. But to support that you’ve got to spend.  And you really don’t want it to go wide and just flop, so you’ve got to spend a lot. So another $35 million and then lo and behold… you’re $50 million in the hole on a movie starring Mindy Kaling about the travails of a TV writer’s room.

•Why would Amazon, the world’s most successful company staffed by Very Smart Professionals find themselves down such an amateur’s road. A few reasons come to mind:

  1. TV is everything now so the new thing is to put TV people in charge of everything. Welcome to the downside of that!  – 1a. Particularly, perhaps, when confronted with a movie about the TV business.
  2. Memories of Big Sick dancing in their head.
  3. The siren call of festival hype.
  4. If you have all the money in the world, it’s very tempting to spend it and believe that cash can barrel over common sense.

What’s pretty impressive is that Amazon in every other sector they enter is one of the most ruthless and innovative companies on earth – the company that all but invented the premise of disruption. But they come to Hollywood and it’s like they’re in 1996 – let’s put it up and 3000 screens, spend a fortune and see what happens.

Where is the cold, hard Bezos reasoning when it comes to this? (And some other little ways of Hollywood we’ll be exploring in an issue coming soon)

• The previous Men in Blacks may have done some business for one reason or another, but at some point, you gotta ask yourself: With three films on the shelf, why is this a series no one mentions? Do you see anyone in Men in Black Halloween costumes? The very phrase, which before the first film had some conspiracy-web meaning, has disappeared from the lexicon. So it’s a series which the world has forgotten. But Tom Rothman had another one of those and look what he did with that! However, that time, he found an inspired team and a completely different take on the film. This time, he brings in F. Gary Gray and the writers of Transformers: The Last Knight to reignite a never-great series.

• MIB is another film trying to walk away with the “Big in China” excuse. Just to break that down: The budget for this is in the neighborhood of $110 million, with marketing around $120 mil, says Deadline. This weekend, the movie made $73 mil overseas. With the 20 cents on the dollar pay on foreign tickets, that means MIB’s giant international success will send back about $15 million towards paying back that $230M. If it gets the three multiple they are claiming it will, that will be $45 mil toward $230M.

• But clearly, no one was dying to support their big releases this weekend. The Disney chokehold on the summer now means that weekends at the height of the season have become salted earth dumping grounds of questionable releases.

• Speaking of not supporting your films . . . . Warners scores its second seven-figure release of the summer. That’s two of those in a matter of weeks.

• Aladdin has made more than twice as much as every non-Sherlock Holmes Guy Ritchie film combined.

• The jury is now in on whether all flamboyant 70’s musical biopics are destined for billion-dollar box office.

• Booksmart is closing in on $20 million, which seems right about, when all is said and done, where it should’ve been and where you would’ve thought it would be before the hooplas. And would’ve been a fine result.

 

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