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About Time (#110 of 3)

Box Office Rap The Best Man Holiday and the Scrooged Marketplace

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Box Office Rap: The Best Man Holiday and the Scrooged Marketplace
Box Office Rap: The Best Man Holiday and the Scrooged Marketplace

When Paramount announced a few weeks ago that The Wolf of Wall Street would be pushed back until Christmas due to runtime and “trimming” issues, The Best Man Holiday was left as the only wide release slated for a November 15th debut. The departure of a new Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle surely meant another equally high-profile or even several smaller-profile releases would be flocking to the date. Prime candidates were Homefront and Oldboy, both hard-R difficult sells which appeared destined to get lost in the Thanksgiving shuffle; Delivery Man, too, could have gotten out of the gate a week earlier to beat The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’s impending box-office hurricane; or perhaps George Clooney’s The Monuments Men, which would undoubtedly have attracted a similar audience as Scorsese’s film, but instead retreated to a 2014 release date. Conspicuously, no studios were willing to bump their films into the slot.

The only thoughtful explanation for these trepidations is that no studio dared sandwich one of their films between blockbuster juggernauts like Thor: The Dark World and Catching Fire, with the pair looking to gross a combined $250 in their opening weekends. Fair enough, yet clearly Paramount originally showed no real concern with offering up a prestige, $100 million film in this slot, but even their refusal to shuffle Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit forward to the date is baffling, especially considering the recent press generated by Tom Clancy’s death.

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 Ender’s Game and the Depressing Studio Dares

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Box Office Rap: Ender’s Game and the Depressing Studio Dares
Box Office Rap: Ender’s Game and the Depressing Studio Dares

This past weekend, The Counselor opened to a mere $7.8 million—second only to Runner Runner for the weakest opening for a film debuting in over 3,000 theaters this year. By all standard accounts, this was a “bad” box-office weekend, and, as I discussed last week, one that perceptive prognosticators should have seen coming. Coupled with a 35% Rotten Tomatoes score, nothing has gone right for Ridley Scott’s latest. But lest we throw the baby out with the bathwater, we need to be certain that The Counselor is ultimately an object of derision because it’s a bad film, and not simply because it’s a poor box-office performer.

Of course, any discerning eye knows quality and capital cannot be equated, but ultimately, a weak box-office showing necessarily diminishes cultural impact and public opinion. A casual viewer reads that The Counselor opened poorly and determines that it mustn’t be very good. There is, indeed, an equation made. In this case, critics and viewers agree on the film’s negative quality, which makes its dismissal easier, but this isn’t always so. Films like Killing Them Softly and Wolf Creek were despised by audiences, as each is one of only a handful of films to receive the dreaded F CinemaScore. However, these films were generally admired by critics, though Wolf Creek was fairly polarizing, with an equal measure of raves and pans. Both floundered at the box office, with each failing to attain a $3,000-per-theater average on opening weekend. When such dissonance occurs, it seems the supremacy of box office reigns over positive reviews.