Last week The Hunger Games took the box office by storm and it continues to make its play amongst the best openings of all time. Harry Potter, Batman, Katniss Everdeen. That is your list. With over $250 million in the bank, it is amongst the top five fastest films to achieve that feat and the only non-sequel to do it in ten days or less. Even Avatar took twelve days. Do not expect Gary Ross' film to overtake James Cameron, but while the money watchers are keeping an eye on how far the flick can stretch through April, there is a bigger picture looming that could have Hollywood doing cartwheels for the rest of 2012. Unless they just don't care about the biggest box office year on record.
Forget the actual attendance numbers and theater prices going up and everyone being gouged by 3-D. Prices are going up everywhere. Only eight films in 2012 have added the 3-D surcharge (two of them re-releases) and that is out of 33 titles released wide in the first quarter. Yet we have seen 17 of those films boast an opening weekend of $20 million or more. That is up from just nine in the first quarter of 2011, a year considered by many to be a disappointing downswing in box office numbers (despite being the third highest domestic year on record in pure dollars.) Actual quantity of ticket sales was the lowest it has been since 1995, but if you build the movies people want, they will come. Especially when one of the mildest winters in years gets them out of the house.
HOW GOOD HAS IT BEEN?
Out of 13 weekends this year, 12 of them had produced at least one new film to the opening of $20 million. The lone holdout was the weekend of Jan. 27 when The Grey led the way with $19.6 million. The number blew away the same period from the previous year, so to make a better comparison on our charts, $30 million had to become the new $20. 2009 had the benefit of the highest-grossing film of all time getting the bulk of its 2010 dollars back-dated. And we are talking about a mere $30 million separating the totals of the two years. So let us look at 2010, a year where its first quarter also produced eight films that opened to $30 million or more. 2009 only had five, while 2011 and the years before '09 had no more than four.
The parallels between those eight films of 2010 and 2012 are even more striking. Two years ago we had a film about the apocalypse starring Denzel Washington (The Book of Eli), a romantic weepie with Channing Tatum (Dear John), a big animated hit (How To Train Your Dragon), a wannabe franchise that came up short (Percy Jackson), and a horror film that opened big but ultimately could not double that opening (The Wolfman).
This year we have a Denzel Washington film (Safe House), a romantic weepie with Channing Tatum (The Vow), a big animated hit (The Lorax), a wannabe franchise that came up short (John Carter) and a horror film that opened big but ultimately could not double that opening (The Devil Inside). Weird, huh?
The improvements alone from the Denzel/Channing films this year (respectively $29 & $43 million more than their predecessors) are more than enough to match the comparative shortcomings (about $30 million combined) of John Carter and the Devil movie without a third act. 21 Jump Street is going to be in the ballpark of Shutter Island's final gross of $128 million and Wrath of the Titans will now hope it can match Valentine's Day's $110. None of these numbers mean anything were it not for some film to challenge Alice In Wonderland's 2010 haul of $334 million. Happy Hunger Games to you too.
Those eight first quarter films alone accounted for $1.115 billion in 2010. As of Sunday, April 1 the comparable 2012 releases had roughly $935 million in the bank. If The Hunger Games, Jump Street, The Lorax and Titans just match their respective 2010 doppelgangers, 2012 will have its biggest openers at $1.168 billion. All signs point to Hunger Games doing at least $350 million (maybe even at least $380) with the other films all having a shot at out-grossing their competition. Journey 2 The Mysterious Island will give this year's first quarter at least its sixth film to hit $100 million. It will be seven if Wrath of the Titans does not sink fast, which it very well could. 2010 only had four. This year is also besting 2010 in films that have grossed $50 million or more, 17-13. Titans will certainly hit that mark and Mirror Mirror could make it 19.
APRIL AND BEYOND
Since the Clash of the Titans remake was technically a 2nd quarter release and that will help skew the numbers for April 2010 saw four titles in the fourth month open to $25 million or more. American Reunion and Titanic 3-D will help launch this April off to an exciting start. Can we find two other films this month to help fill in the gap? Liongate (and critics) will be trying hard to boost awareness of genre-breaking horror film The Cabin in the Woods. Can Screen Gems get Tyler Perry numbers out of Think Like a Man? Warner Bros. is certainly trying to sell Nicholas Sparks' The Lucky One as if it were Dear John, the only Sparks adaptation to open to more than $17 million, which also seems about the height for Universal's The Five-Year Engagement.
Don't allow any fretting about a box office slow-down after a strong start sways the record watch. The first six months of 2010 produced three films that ended up surpassing $300 million and one that hit $400. The Hunger Games is going to come close to the latter and should, at least, be joined in the $300 club by The Avengers. And whatever needs to be made up should be put back on track in July when The Dark Knight Rises takes the box office by storm. 30 of 2010's films reached the $100 million benchmark and 10 hit at least $200. Have you seen the films coming out this summer? There are at least 20* films alone between May & August with the potential to hit nine digits, and that is well before we even have James Bond, Hobbits, the Twilight conclusion and Liam Neeson punching throats again in Taken 2. At this point, only bad word of mouth could prevent this from being a record-breaking year at the box office. No pressure, Hollywood.
(* - Potential to hit $100 million or more this summer: The Avengers, Dark Shadows, Battleship, What To Expect When You're Expecting, Men In Black 3, Snow White and the Huntsman, Prometheus, Madagascar 3, Rock of Ages, Brave, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The Amazing Spider-Man, Ice Age: Continental Drift, The Dark Knight Rises, Neighborhood Watch, The Bourne Legacy, Total Recall, The Campaign, The Expendables 2)