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Elysium (#110 of 8)

Box Office Rap Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster

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Box Office Rap: Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster
Box Office Rap: Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster

Although Thor: The Dark World doesn’t hit North American theaters until this Friday, it’s already amassed $109.4 million from 29 overseas territories in just its first weekend. Opening Hollywood films internationally before debuting them stateside is a trend that’s existed in some capacity for a number of decades, but it’s only become a more common practice in the last few years, beginning with Iron Man 2 in 2010, which saw release in nearly 70 foreign territories weeks before domestic theaters.

The prevalence of American films in foreign markets has existed essentially since the start of World War I; as film scholar David Cook tells it, European studios were forced to shut down production since the same chemicals being used to manufacture celluloid film were needed to make gunpowder, while the American film industry faced no such problems, making over 90% of the world’s motion pictures by 1918. Nearly a century later, little has changed, with mega-budget, Hollywood actioners now dominating the global marketplace. Lynda Obst discusses these trends in her recent book Sleepless in Hollywood with what she calls the “New Abnormal,” where Hollywood studios are heavily reliant on foreign markets to see profits and now produce content with dozens of marketplaces in mind. Thus, international casts in spectacle-driven vehicles are preferred, while U.S.-specific blockbusters are becoming a rare breed (look to White House Down, The Lone Ranger, and R.I.P.D. for recent failings on this front).

Box Office Rap Baggage Claim and the Lost Women of September

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Box Office Rap: Baggage Claim and the Lost Women of September
Box Office Rap: Baggage Claim and the Lost Women of September

As the series finale of Breaking Bad nears, and with Walter White set to confront Todd, Uncle Jack, and (potentially) rescue Jesse Pinkman, Americans may pass the time this Friday by heading to the multiplex. Opening, and expected to take the weekend with ease, is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, though it’s unlikely that members of #teamwalt will be interested in that, unless they have kids of their own (“a scary thought”). No, they’ll most likely see one of the other three primary offerings, all with hyper-masculine protagonists. There’s Rush, director Ron Howard’s racing period piece. If not that, perhaps Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut about a guy from Joisey with a porn addiction. If neither of those strike a chord, there’s always the macho spectacle of Metallica: Through the Never, which bumps Dorothy and Toto from IMAX theaters on Friday.

Box Office Rap Insidious: Chapter 2 and the Twitter Index

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Box Office Rap: Insidious: Chapter 2 and the Twitter Index
Box Office Rap: Insidious: Chapter 2 and the Twitter Index

I imagine that predicting box-office grosses on a weekly basis in a pre-social media, pre-Internet environment would not only have been difficult, but virtually impossible to register with any accuracy, unless said prognosticator held a position of some esteem within the film industry. Let’s give this pre-era a concrete date—say, roughly 1999. I choose this year not because of Y2K or the neat temporal markers brought about by a new millennium, but because that year introduced Brandon Grey’s website Box Office Mojo, which specializes not just in forums meant for box-office speak, but seeks to function as a comprehensive, online database for the domestic and international grosses of every film released in North American theaters within the modern era. Now, 14 years later, the site offers such information dating back to 1980, a year significant to film history for many reasons, though more because it’s a year that symbolizes the death of New Hollywood filmmaking and the full-on emergence of a blockbuster mentality within the studio system. The Empire Strikes Back was the highest-grossing film of the year; Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate was met with devastating financial and critical failure, to the extent that United Artists went bankrupt. Moreover, Peter Bogdanovich has suggested that contemporary film students possess no conception of film history prior to Raging Bull—also released in 1980.

Box Office Rap Riddick and the Passion of Brian De Palma

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Box Office Rap: Riddick and the Passion of Brian De Palma
Box Office Rap: Riddick and the Passion of Brian De Palma

On May 22, 1996, Mission: Impossible opened in 3,012 North American movie theaters. That weekend, it made $45.4 million and marked the highest opening weekend ever for a Tom Cruise starrer, a record that would stand until Mission: Impossible II opened in May 2000. Cruise has since used that franchise as a staple for his box-office résumé, allowing him collaborations with the likes of J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird, with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol marking the highest-grossing film of Cruise’s career with a whopping $694 million in global receipts.

But back to 1996. Then, that $45.4 million also marked the highest opening-weekend gross for director Brian De Palma; in fact, with the exclusion of The Untouchables, no prior De Palma film had made as much in its entire run as Mission: Impossible managed in just its first three days. The film was considered a critical success as well, receiving “two thumbs up” from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, though they, like several other critics, reserved most of their praise for Cruise’s performance and were skeptical of the film’s [sic] convoluted going’s on. Even in commercial success, De Palma’s fervid formal artistry has few boosters—an unfortunate trait that has inexplicably followed the great filmmaker’s entire career.

Box Office Rap One Direction: This Is Us and the Box-Office Horizon

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Box Office Rap: One Direction: This Is Us and the Box-Office Horizon
Box Office Rap: One Direction: This Is Us and the Box-Office Horizon

The end of summer is officially upon us. Okay, technically that isn’t until September 21st, but as far as Hollywood is concerned, the summer box-office receipts have been tallied, with the winners and losers already determined. What have we learned? For starters, that Brian De Palma wanted to see The Lone Ranger, but it was gone from theaters before he had a chance to; that lower-budget horror films can stand their own against big-budget blockbusters, though audiences prefer their horror either slovenly supernatural (The Conjuring) or strictly high-concept (The Purge), as proved by the weak opening this past weekend of the excellent, reflexive You’re Next; and that Hollywood is still capable of producing mega-bombs, as demonstrated by the alarming disappearing acts performed by films such as White House Down, R.I.P.D., and Paranoia. Finally, we’ve learned that, all in all, not much has truly changed in the box-office landscape over the past 30 years, as summers continue to be ruled by sequels and commercially driven pap, with the occasional indie (like Fruitvale Station, The Way, Way Back, and Blue Jasmine) lucky enough to make a drop in the bucket.

Box Office Rap You’re Next and the Rise of Horror Cinema

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Box Office Rap: You’re Next and the Rise of Horror Cinema
Box Office Rap: You’re Next and the Rise of Horror Cinema

This past week, Kyle Buchanan wrote an insightful, mostly spot-on piece for the Vulture about this summer’s box-office, and the overall takeaway is that, because of the “belly-flops” incurred by several original titles, combined with the highly profitable success of numerous sequels and franchise entries, studios will only be driven to make bigger budgeted films, almost all of them sequels, leaving little to no room for any kind of original, non-franchise venture. While Buchanan’s logic with regard to the summer tent pole is sound, there’s one glaring omission from his article: the outstanding box-office performances of The Purge and The Conjuring, two original works, both horror films. Not only did they debut at number one, each blazed past a $30 million opening. Several high-profile films failed to achieve such an opening this summer, including After Earth, The Internship, This Is the End, White House Down, The Lone Ranger, 2 Guns, and Elysium. Furthermore, The Conjuring is on pace to have a higher domestic gross than The Wolverine! Compare The Conjuring’s $20 million budget to The Wolverine’s $120 million, and suddenly sequelitis seems an equally dangerous proposition for Hollywood.

Box Office Rap Kick-Ass 2 and the Hollywood Reporter Snafu

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Box Office Rap: Kick-Ass 2 and the Hollywood Reporter Snafu
Box Office Rap: Kick-Ass 2 and the Hollywood Reporter Snafu

Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium topped the box office this past weekend, though its lead over the competition ended up being less than anticipated. However, if one were following The Hollywood Reporter’s coverage on Friday, that margin was said to be even less, as writer Pamela McClintock claimed that “strong matinee business” suggested Planes was headed for a $30 million weekend, which was set to match that of the Matt Damon actioner. The actual for Planes ended up in third place with $22.2 million, over 25% less than initially reported. More troubling than the inaccurate figures, which are understandable given the unpredictability of internal weekend multipliers and whatnot, is the article’s headline, which claims that Planes’s performance is “breaking [the] animation curse,” allegedly created from underwhelming box-office openings by Turbo and The Smurfs 2. An animation curse? It’s hard to argue for any curse, given the almost $640 million made worldwide by Monsters University and the $745 million made worldwide by Despicable Me 2, the latter of which is second to only Iron Man 3 as the highest-grossing domestic release of 2013.

Box Office Rap Elysium and the Summer Traffic Jam

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Box Office Rap: Elysium and the Summer Traffic Jam
Box Office Rap: Elysium and the Summer Traffic Jam

Jacques Tati and Jean-Luc Godard would undoubtedly be amused with the August traffic jam Hollywood has made for itself, as 14 wide releases will debut within the next four weeks. June 2013 saw just eight new releases, but even then, a mega-budgeted film such as Man of Steel only managed to stay in theaters for seven weeks, so the likelihood of any August films sticking around for longer than a month becomes a near impossibility. Has the summer market always been so saturated? Looking back to June 1993, seven major studio films saw wide releases, only one less than 2013. However, Jurassic Park played in theaters for 71 consecutive weeks. Even Last Action Hero, a film that brought a studio to its knees, lasted 12 weeks during that 1993 summer.

The casualties this summer have been numerous. Most notable is, perhaps, The Lone Ranger, a $215 million production that fell to just 553 theaters in its fifth weekend and is likely to be out of theaters by Friday by the time this week’s four mega-wide releases drop. What’s an onlooker to make of these developments? On the one hand, from a cultural capital perspective, these are dire days. Matt Zoller Seitz wrote an excellent, and spot-on, positive review of Gore Verbinski’s film, in which he bets that, like Steven Spielberg’s 1941, 20 years from now The Lone Ranger will be “re-evaluated” and discussed as “misunderstood.” Seitz’s thoughtful and contemplative review shuns much of the mob-mentality demonstrated by the film’s embarrassing Rotten Tomatoes score and reveals the underlying problem with such an adopted critical system: emphasis on scores and figures over ideas and commentary. Yet his perceptive insights are lost amid this contemporary climate because, in turn, the marketplace cannot hold such a product long enough to receive honest feedback and critique; the “critical consensus” passes immediate judgment on The Lone Ranger to expedite the film’s financial (and cultural) execution. On the other hand, a neo-Marxist couldn’t help but delight in Mouse House miscalculation, as the film appears unlikely to match its budget through even its worldwide haul, which currently stands at $175 million.