So let’s imagine you’re a major film studio and you have a big release about to open; a very expensive, much hyped sci-fi spectacular based on an acclaimed and groundbreaking Japanese anime film with an A-list movie star in the lead – albeit a very controversial casting choice. And with a reported budget of $120 million, plus close to that figure in worldwide marketing costs, it’s natural that you would want the word to get out far and wide with plenty of advance screenings for the media and the public, especially those oh-so important fanboys. Given how expensive the film is, you want to do as much as you possible can to ensure that it becomes a box office success.
So it’s very strange when the studio is reluctant to hold pre-screenings for the film, and then only does so at the very last minute, and without any fanfare.
Of course I’m taking about Paramount/Dreamworks’ live-action version of the acclaimed Japanese anime “Ghost in the Shell” with Scarlett Johansson. Normally, for a movie like this, the studio would hold numerous pre-screenings in many cities, for both audiences and the press, in order to help generate early buzz around the film. But the funny thing is that, the week that the film was scheduled to premiere, only one advance screening for audiences had been scheduled anywhere, and that was in Seattle (of all places); and that happened just two days before the film opened on Friday.
No screenings were scheduled in any of the major media markets such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and even amazingly Los Angeles. However, at the last minute, a screening was hastily arranged for some film critics in LA, on Tuesday afternoon. This meant that any critics who wanted to see the film, had to see it that night – a Thursday night/Friday morning midnight show – and rush to get their reviews on print or online in the early hours of the morning, in time for Friday, if possible.
Ultimately, the studio’s secrecy could only mean one thing: That “Shell” was a stinker, despite the dazzling trailers. The reviews have not been good at all, with the near-consensus being that the film streamlined, or completely eliminated all the sophisticated and complex ideas and themes from the original anime, and instead went for a visually stunning, but routine actioner. And even worse, the film goes through ridiculous lengths to explain why the lead is played by a white woman, instead of an Asian woman, as is the case in the source material and the original feature anime.
But the ironic thing about all this is that Paramount has not learned their lesson from last year. They pulled off the same “no screenings” tactic on the release of “Star Trek Beyond”, only to discover that the film actually got good reviews and people liked it. But it was too late. The fact that they refused any early promotion via preview screenings for audiences, affected the box office. The result was that “Beyond” was the lowest grossing “Star Trek” movie (of the last three reboots, which stated in 2009), domestically and worldwide
So with that long winded introduction, how did “Ghost in the Shell” do this weekend? All things considered, not that great.The film came in third this weekend with an unimpressive $19 million. Considering its huge budget, it needed to do much better from the start. Internationally, it’s earned an additional $40 million, which, once again, doesn’t hold much promise. “Shell” needs to gross at least $250-300 million before the studio can even break even on it; and with these early numbers, it’s just not going to be possible.
But in first place this weekend was a surprise – the Fox animated film “The Boss Baby” came in number 1 with $49 million, unseating Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”, which came in a very close second. More than likely, as was the case with “Get Out”, timing is a huge part of “The Boss Baby’s” success. Kids liked it because it was a cartoon, but their parents also went because they saw it as an unintentional satire of President Trump as a baby. Either way it worked.
And it doesn’t hurt that the lead character – the baby – is voiced by none other than Alec Baldwin, whose impression of Trump on “Saturday Night Live” has been very well received. As I said, it’s all timing and luck, but if the film had been released two years ago, would audiences have cared as much?
What’s even more surprising is that “Boss Baby” has gotten some pretty lousy reviews for the most part; but it proves again what I’ve said before – that animated films are the closest thing to a sure bet at the box office. I’m hardpressed to think of an animated feature film, with the exception of last year’s “Ice Age Collision Course”, that performed badly at the box office. You’d have to go back to Dreamwork’s “Turbo” to come up with another animated film that was a flop, and that was back in 2013.
But where are the black animated feature films? Yes there have been a few here and there, but not enough. There’s a huge market out there for animated features with black characters.
“Beauty and the Beast” earned $47.5 million for almost $395.5 million to date, which means that it’s headed for over half-a-billion in U.S. alone – something that only six other films have done since 1997. And its worldwide box office totals to date are at over $876 million, heading towards $1 billion, and past that.
What’s remarkable is that, currently, there are 28 films that have grossed a billion dollars or more worldwide, and 14 of those films (half of them) were released by Disney. “Beast” would make it 15. Keep in mind that they still have two Marvel films, two Pixar films and the latest “Star Wars” film all set for release this year, so a few more possible billion dollar grossers are in that bunch somewhere. Maybe Disney is the real “Beast.”
But this weekend saw some big drop-offs. Liongate’s “Power Rangers” lead the way south with a huge 64% drop-off from last week, suggesting that nostalgia only goes so far. That was followed by Sony’s sci-fi/horror film “Life” which dropped 55% from last week; and “CHIPS” came in third with a 47.5% drop-off.
Meanwhile “Get Out” landed in 7th place this weekend, with a total so far of almost $157 million, and looks to be headed for at least $170 million domestically, which compared to its budget, makes it far and away the most financially successful film of the year so far; and it could still be by the end of the year, if not in the top five.
Overseas “Get Out” has made $10.3 million to date, with UK leading the way with just over $6 million (I understand a lot of black people live there). And it opened earlier this week in several other countries including Greece, Iceland, Latvia, the Philippines, Singapore, Estonia and a few other countries, with more to come; so those international box office numbers will increase as the weeks go by.
This weekend’s top 12 below:
1) The Boss Baby Fox $49,000,000
2) Beauty and the Beast BV $47,543,000 Total: $395,459,842
3) Ghost in the Shell ) Par. $19,000,000
4) Power Rangers LGF $14,500,000 Total: $65,062,170
5) Kong: Skull Island WB $8,800,000 Total: $147,848,204
6) Logan Fox $6,200,000 Total: $211,867,637
7) Get Out Uni. $5,813,715 Total: $156,887,675
8) Life Sony $5,625,000 Total: $22,369,239
9) CHiPs WB $4,055,000 Total: $14,367,366
10) The Zookeeper’s Wife Focus $3,349,475
11) The Shack LG/S $2,170,000 Total: $53,085,007
12) The LEGO Batman Movie WB $800,000 Total: $172,726,563