People have been rumoring this day for years. The blockbuster that we came to know and love is finally in its death throes. At least the current incarnation of what we believe as blockbusters. A change is coming within the industry as it is seeing how the worl reacts to the pictures it is being thrown. The times of tentpole after tentpole coming to your screen within weeks of each other forcing you to fork out the cash. Now more than ever that is dying. The blockbuster is finally ready to prepare for it’s new form, whatever that may be.
Big Numbers, Fast Falling
In the times of Gone With The Wind, the box office was so large because people went to go see the film for months before it was taken out of theatres. And then since there was no home recordings, if you wanted to see it again, or where just going for the first time, you could catch a rerelease. This method brought films an endless stream of money. As long as a theatre could profit from showing a film, it would be shown. Thus when people compare Gone With The Wind’s success factoring in inflation, I have to argue that sentiment. Now if you are going to take the box office range of a modern film and cut Gone With The Wind off at that point then it works.
Nowadays attention spans are much shorter. After three or four months, the movies are officially released on home video. And shortly after that they tend to make it to streaming services. The life span of Gone With The Wind could never be done now. Though Avatar was the closest comparison with its slow burn that remained steady rather than having a big opening weekend and dropping off. No, Gone With The Wind would have floundered in today’s moving going culture.
Today a movie releases to a few thousands screens, the more hope a studio has in a film can get it on more screens, and opening weekend is the make or break. A great opening weekend can give a movie a longer tail end keeping it in theatres longer. While a poor opening weekend can result in a film getting pulled pretty much immediately. That’s what it has come down to today. If you want your movie to succeed you have to have a terrific opening weekend or it will soon disappear from the public’s eye. Let’s take Captain America for an Example. Captain America: The Winter Soldier opened April 4th with a weekend gross of $95M (week 1). Then it dropped to $41M (weekend 2). And threepeated as number one movie with $25M (weekend 3). The result is that now in it’s fifth week the film has grossed $237M domestically and $679M worlwide. As you can see the trend is roughly that each week the amount earned halved. And that is for a movie that was very well received as a whole.
Now let’s take a not so well regarded film, The Lone Ranger. During it’s first week, it grossed $29M. Week 2 it pulled in $11M. By week 3 it added on another $4M domestically. By the end of it’s 100 day domestic run, The Lone Ranger had only pulled in $89M. Thankfully, it did better over seas, bringing it’s world wide total to $260M. Unfortunately that barely covered the production budget alone ($215M).
We now live in a world where longevity isn’t nearly as important as the impact a film has opening weekend. Word of mouth can help a movie, but with so much buzz before a movie even it’s theatres can dead an experience that otherwise might have saved certain movies. This past weekend The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opened and was fairly divisive, but it had the popularity Spider-Man to bring in people. It’s opening weekend is being reported as $92M domestically and bringing the international total to $369M. And let’s be honest, I never thought I would live in a world where Captain America’s opening weekend box office would exceed that of a Spider-Man movie.
This change in how films are faring in the box office is being reflected in the projects that are being chosen. When studios first realized that they could release these blockbusters and people would flock to them it was a great idea. Most of the movies were good and they were at least entertaining. But the key was that there weren’t so many of them. Most films still had a smaller budget and were released on a limited number of screens. Over the years this changed. It changed to a point where last year there was a major release coming out every single weekend from mid April through the end of July. Heck, there were even a few August releases too. It became too much. And most American families can’t afford the price tag of a trip to bring the whole family to the movie theatre week after week. Decisions need to be made. Movies that could have been hits, by simple virtue of their grandiosity, if they weren’t crammed between a bunch of other grand movies suffer. One movie that wasn’t amazing, but was certainly a fun ride last summer was Pacific Rim.
What studios were finding that people were more likely to flock to a familiar franchise or hero than to try out something brand new. This means that you get these large fan followings going to see massive movies with hundreds of millions of dollars of budget. With so many of these movies in theatres, only the strongest survive. What you are beginning to see now are movies that are still being marketed as these massive blockbusters, with pared down budgets. This makes the risk of less less painful. We are also seeing a bit of the slow on the number of blockbusters that are hitting screens. This summer (2 are down) and there are only 9 more blockbusters hitting theatres this summer. Of all of them, only 2 are not based off a well known franchise of some sort.