THURSDAY NOON: Hollywood is predicting that Sony’s This Is It will have trouble making its expected $50 million in 5 days domestically based on Wednesday’s $7.4 million opening including $2.2M from Tuesday night. Today will probably come in at the $4M range. michael jackson this is it posterAnd estimates now are for $20+M for Fri/Sat/Sun. So that comes out to a 5-day number in the low $30sM. “And with Halloween killing Saturday, Sony’d better have a hell of a Sunday to make it much past $20M for the weekend,” one rival studio exec emails. And with international figures coming in weaker than expected, “my $90M all-in number looks like a pipe dream.”

THURSDAY 10:30 AM: Sony just announced that Michael Jackson’s This Is It opened Wednesday all around the world in 99 countries with a 1-day gross of $20.1 million. The studio’s press statement called it “an extraordinary start” but, immediately, Hollywood considered that number disappointing after all the pre-sales hype surrounding the concert footage and its 2-week limited run. The film opened to a paltry $7.4 million domestic even including Tuesday’s $2.2M late night showings. That’s almost 50% less than the $17M Sony hoped for, and 39% less than the $12M Hollywood expected. “This is not promising,” a rival studio exec just told me even though Sony Pictures paid $60M to concert promoter AEG for the rehearsal footage. But a Sony spokesman challenges that: “We took in 1/3 of what the film cost on the first day, and that is a disappointment?  For whom?” Even overseas, where Michael Jackson is considered more popular than here, its solid but not spectacular debut was $12.7 million internationally. (Foreign numbers included UK $1.9M, France $1.3M, Japan $1.1M, Germany $1.0M, China $730K, Sweden $490K, Holland $390K, Mexico $370K, Brazil $350K, and Australia $330K. The film opens in 10 additional territories today.)

jackso rehearsal 2The studio is trying to put the best face on the opening, claiming the worldwide launch featured “very strong performance” across North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia, and “represents an amazing beginning for the film and a reaffirmation of the global appeal of Michael Jackson”. Uh, no. In North America, This Is It took in the highest gross ever for a Wednesday in October, which is a rather minor record. “The studio expects strong word of mouth and impressive critical acclaim to continue to drive ticket sales,” a Sony spokesman said. There was some good news for the studio: the movie received an “A” Cinemascore across the board.

WEDNESDAY PM: Sony is wishing for $17 million from 3,400 North American theaters for Wednesday’s grosses, including Tuesday’s late night take of $2.2M, but Hollywood thinks the pic is more likely to see around $12 million. That now means This Is It might do $40M to $50M domestic over 5 days, putting pressure on foreign sales in the 97 other countries. The studio predicted that by Thursday morning, “we should have a great worldwide opening day number to report”. But rival studios tell me Wednesday’s international numbers were “solid, not spectacular” — Japan $1.1 million, UK $1 million, Germany $900K, Australia $400K. I don’t expect Sony’s official figures until later this morning. But I do know the studio execs are  worried that moviegoers think all shows are already sold-out because of the hype surrounding advance ticket sales.

jacksonphotos3WEDNESDAY AM: This Is It was scooping up 77% of Fandango’s daily online ticket sales as it arrived in theaters simultaneously in the U.S. and abroad. Because diehard fans show up early, it wasn’t exactly surprising that the Michael Jackson’s concert rehearsal footage had an opening take of $2.2 million for Tuesday late night shows which Sony Pictures called “an unprecedented number for a Tuesday in October”. The studio also characterized Wednesday’s matinees as “terrific” and “first reports from overseas are great as well.” But those were mostly pre-sales. It seems impossible for Michael Jackson’s concert promoter AEG to fulfill its private prediction that This Is It would make a staggering “$250 million in its first 5 days”. That assumed the worldwide moviegoing public can separate the talent of an artist like Michael Jackson from his shambles of a life.

So that’s why Hollywood is asking: What’s the difference between a dead Michael Jackson and a dead cow? The cow can’t be milked. Indeed, a week-long Fandango survey showed that 48% of This Is It filmgoers became more interested in Michael Jackson’s work since his death. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think it was smart business for AEG and Sony to make that rehearsal footage into a movie. The studio promised “raw and candid detail capturing the singer, dancer, filmmaker, architect, creative genius, and great artist at work as he perfects his final show”. Even people who don’t like Michael Jackson or his music say it delivers as a riveting look at the creative process. The movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score is currently at an impressive 86% positive reviews by top critics. And fans who viewed the movie were posting rave reviews on Fandango, calling it a “Must Go.” But the issue for me has never been the pic itself. It’s about the purgatory of it all.

Sony_pictures_logoHow many others besides me have been sickened by the way Hollywood has attempted to deify Michael Jackson in death after its denizens vilified him in life. For instance, when he became embroiled in legal and financial trouble, Sony kept renegotiating deals with the singer to its advantage. Now this shameless exploitation continues posthumously. After all, This Is It is compiled from Jacko’s high-def rehearsal footage which AEG executives involved in organizing Michael’s 50-night schedule of shows at London’s O2 arena secured as son as they learned of the performer’s death. They met at LA’s Staples Center and secured all 100 hours shot for Michael Jackson’s personal archive from March through June. As Randy Phillips, president and CEO of AEG Live, has ghoulishly boasted to the media, “He was our partner in life and now he’s our partner in death.”

Major studios like Viacom’s Paramount/MTV, NBC Universal, and News Corp’s 20th Century Fox/Fox Broadcasting Co, all battled Sony Music and Sony Pictures during AEG’s auction of the rehearsal footage. Sony had the inside edge because it controls the distribution rights to Michael Jackson’s music. The reason for the Hollywood feeding frenzy over Michael in death and not in life was because he was worth more dead than alive. The Jackson estate will get the “lion’s share” of any profits from the high-def footage. That’s why a judge had to bless the deal with Sony.

Kenny Ortega, a longtime Jackson collaborator, was hired to direct, and MTV had the exclusive first look at the movie trailer. In theaters, the trailer started screening on September 18th with the Sony Pictures Animation release of Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs.

Tickets for the limited engagement went on sale beginning September 27th. Immediately, there were hundreds of sell-outs around the globe. “With reports still coming in from nations around the world, it is believed no movie in history has generated so many ticket sales so far in advance of its release,” Sony said in a news release. Domestically, an unprecedented number of shows sold out in the first 24 hours of ticket availability in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Nashville, New York, and other cities. Internationally, exhibitors experienced the same huge demand. In London, Vue Entertainment’s Film Buying Director Stuart Boreman said Michael Jackson’s This Is It sold more than 30,000 tickets in its first 24-hours, setting the biggest ever one-day sales record in the UK, eclipsing advance buying for films including Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. “I’ve never seen anything like it in the 25 years I have been film buying.” In Japan, more than $1 million in ticket sales were recorded within the first 24 hours of their release. In Australia, tickets for This Is It purchased through Village Cinemas exceeded the lifetime pre-sales of such blockbusters as Transformers, and X-Men Origins. In Thailand, by the end of the first day, all tickets for the first showings in Bangkok were sold-out. Sell-outs at theaters in France were also reported. In Germany, hundreds of fans lined up outside one theater in Munich at midnight to await the opening of the box office. Record sales and sell-outs occurred in Holland, Sweden, Belgium and New Zealand, among other countries.

Meanwhile, Sony Music Entertainment’s Columbia/Epic Label Group released a two-disc album This Is It internationally on October 26th and in North America on October 27th.