FRIDAY 7 AM UPDATE: Turns out nobody on The Deadline Team wants to tackle box office this weekend or any weekend. I certainly don’t blame them because it’s a thankless job. Now I’m stuck doing it on vacation through the end of this year. Glad to provide yet more hilarity for your continuing pleasure. (What’s next: a DH sitcom?)
THURSDAY 5 PM: Ask the people who calculate or cover box office regularly what they want the most, and they’ll tell you it’s to get up late on weekend mornings and get to bed early on weekend nights. We’re all sleep-deprived. I’ve been taking some banked vacation in recent weeks while still reporting and analyzing the grosses. But now I intend to take what I consider a well-deserved break from box office until the new year when my contractual obligations start again. Please don’t beat up my temporary replacements as badly as you’ve bruised me over the years. And yes, start betting that I won’t manage more than a week or two away from box office. I love how it can be so unpredictable – especially these days when tracking is meaningless. I started including box office reports on Deadline Hollywood with the goal of doing it differently. In those days, every new release was a ‘boffo hit’ in the trades. I sought to inject more truth into the analysis. I’m still in disbelief how my coverage back then and even now can cause instant dismay and certain dispute and at least debate. In fact I’m positive there’ll be a big sigh of relief around Hollywood when my byline on box office disappears for a while. Even I was surprised by this edited excerpt from the start of a 2011 Fast Company article about Disney’s film biz:
It was prime time, the main event, the first punch of a one-two summer combo — Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides and then Cars 2 — that would shape the studio’s financial fate for the year. The Pirates 4 indicators were particularly discouraging. Disney executives were counting on big revenue from 3-D screens, but ticket sales in the U.S. for such films had been flagging all spring. The reviews had not been pretty… During the afternoon of Friday, May 20, and well into the night, Disney executives emailed [then Walt Disney Studios chairman Rich] Ross and one another with the latest box-office data and anecdotal evidence. The big question on their minds was this: How would media reporters spin the opening-weekend numbers? And more specifically, what was Nikki Finke going to say on Deadline Hollywood? The most influential — and, to studio executives, terrifying — entertainment reporter in town, Finke would set the tone with the initial report on her website. As the results filtered in, Ross and his team wondered if Finke would cackle over the film’s failure to crack the magic $100 million mark in the United States.
Finke’s post hit her site late Friday night with the headline “Yo Ho-Hum to 3-D But Not Overseas.” The domestic box office was soft, in other words, but Pirates 4 had been saved by the biggest international opening in history. Finke pointed out that flagging 3-D ticket sales were befuddling studio executives all over Hollywood. She spent the rest of the week trumpeting the film’s huge international tallies. So did everyone else. Pirates 4 cruised to $700 million faster than any movie in history and became just the eighth picture to crack $1 billion worldwide. More than 75% of that gross has been generated outside of North America. For Ross, it was an indisputable hit, and the studio began cranking up a possible fifth installment in the series. But the studio chief also had reason to worry. The declining domestic audience indicated that Disney’s single most important live-action moneymaker was beginning to run out of steam.
Jeez, you execs need to get a life. Because I’m heading out to get mine.