How Warner Bros. Sold ‘Ready Player One’ On The Spielberg Spirit & Beat Tracking With $53M+ 4-Day – Sunday Postmortem

Warner Bros.

Sunday AM: Ready Player One is arriving a little higher at $53.2M over four days after a $15.8M Saturday that’s 4% higher than Friday. Over three days, the Steven Spielberg movie is headed to $41.2M.

We’ll talk about whether this is a profitable movie toward the end. However, WB got this Village Roadshow co-production to arrive above its earlier week domestic tracking of $38M-$42M, and that’s to be commended. Ready Player One also beat its global opening forecast at the high-end, $181.3M to $170M.

“After all the strategy, data and research, Steven Spielberg is very beloved by audiences, and he is ultimately what connected people in a much broader way,” said Warner Bros. Worldwide President of Marketing Blair Rich.

Here’s the Easter weekend’s top movies per studio-reported Sunday figures:

thumb rank film dist. screens (chg) fri sat sun 3day (%) total wkd no.
1 Ready Player One WB/VR 4,234 $15.1M $15.8M $10.3M $41.2M $53.2M 1
2 Acrimony LG 2,006 $7.3M $6.1M $3.7M $17.1M 1
3 Black Panther Dis 2,988 (-382) $4.1M $4.3M $2.9M $11.3M (-34%) $650.7M 7
4 I Can Only Imagine RSA 2,648 (+395) $3.7M $3.8M  $3.3M $10.75M (-21%) $55.6M 3
5 Pacific Rim: Uprising Leg/Uni 3,708 (0) $3.3M $3.6M $2.3M $9.2M (-67%) $45.6M 2
6 Sherlock Gnomes Par 3,662 (0) $3M $2.3M  $1.6M $7M (-34%) $22.8M 2
7 Love, Simon Fox 2,024 (-410) $1.9M $1.7M  $1.2M $4.8M (-37%) $32.1M 3
8 Tomb Raider MGM/WB 2,788 (-1,066) $1.7M $1.8M $1.1M $4.7M (-53%) $50.5M 3
9 A Wrinkle in Time DIS 2,367 (-1,056) $1.9M $1.7M $1.1M $4.69M (-43%) $83.2M 4
10 paul, Apostle of Christ Sony 1,473 (0) $1.2M $1.2M $1M $3.5M (-32%) $11.5M 2
11 Isle of Dogs FSL 165 (+138) $944K $1.1M $756K $2.8M (+74%) $5.9M 2
12 god’s Not Dead 3 PURE 1,693 $1.1M $855K $640K $2.6M 1


Updated and corrected: Over a year before the book was published Cline entrusted producer  Dan Farah with his film rights, and Farah brought the project into Warner Bros. Farah partnered up with Donald DeLine to produce, and WB bought the movie rights from Cline for six figures for Farah and De Line to produce and Cline to adapt. De Line and Farah then developed the project for five years before landing on a draft of the adaptation that was the result of Cline and Zak Penn’s screenwriting and worthy of a big filmmaker. With the studio facilitating, the team brought it to Spielberg.


Spielberg’s Minority Report opened to $35.6M, less than Ready Player One, and made a 3.7x multiple of $132M. Fox

What’s interesting when you look at Spielberg’s opening figures for his directed-popcorn fare (not the awards-geared titles) is that they open at a certain level and then leg out significantly. Yes, the Jurassic Parks and the Indiana Jones have seen their opening weekends swell to huge numbers over the years. But this opening for Ready Player One is actually higher than the $20M-$30M+ average the director pulls in for his more original fare like A.I. and Minority Report. As the creator of the 1980s blockbuster with Jaws, Close Encounters, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T., a time when movies remained booked in theaters for a year or more, we’ve been arguably programmed as audiences to take our time when it comes to making our way to a Spielberg picture.

I remember when Paramount opened the Spielberg-produced, J.J. Abrams directed Super 8 (another ode to ’80s Spielberg) to $35.4M in 2011. Box office media was quick to pounce that it wasn’t a strong opening, while the studio yelled back, “Just wait!” In the end, Super 8 turned a 3.6 multiple for a final $127M. It’s one of the reasons why distributors open Spielberg movies on a Wednesday or a Thursday so that they build word of mouth. One of the observations here was that Ready Player One didn’t have any solid comps (despite other plug-in like movies coming before it like The Matrix, Avatar and Tron Legacy — all of them significantly different).  

“There’s a hurdle with video game movies, and Steven Spielberg managed to overcome it by making a deeply nostalgic movie,” said Rich. “People have fun with the pop culture references, but at the core of Ready Player One is a deeply humanistic Spielberg movie where the underdogs win.”

While Ready Player One was a big New York Times bestseller (and still is; it’s been No. 1 for the last month), its fans were concentrated among young, intellectual males and fanboys whereas Hunger Games played to women young and quite old. Females at 37%, especially older ones over 25 at 17%, were hard to pull in this weekend, but Warner Bros. is hoping that word of mouth spills over. Those females who did show up per PostTrak enjoyed Ready Player One with an overall 81% positive score to guys’ 83%.

To convert that portion of the audience who is turned off by VR, WB sold Ready Player One on the Spielbergian beating heart about adolescents who beat the odds. WB marketing remained determined throughout about out-stripping their tracking numbers. It’s a movie to be discovered, and marketing’s task was to get people in the door. Males were always on board at 63% per ComScore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak.

The team knew that an aggressive word-of-mouth strategy would overcome any moviegoer’s struggle with the VR/sci-fi genre, and following a rousing world premiere at SXSW, a number of taste-maker screenings were held by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Whoopi Goldberg, and Zach Levi, with Edgar Wright, Patty Jenkins, and Kevin Smith, among others, tweeting out their enthusiasm.

Shutterstock/Michael Buckner

Launching Ready Player One at SXSW with a complete VR hub experience was a make-or-break strategy three weeks before the pic’s opening, especially in a binary Rotten Tomatoes world. It was also a change-up for Spielberg to show off an Easter Egg-loaded title so far in advance, as he prefers to keep a lid on all of the surprises in his movies. However, the experience of Ready Player One needed to be sold and blasted out on loudspeakers, and the place to do that was at Austin’s SXSW, not just because it’s the crossroads of hipsters, cinephiles, and tech folk, but because two of the pic’s hometown heroes, screenwriter/author Ernest Cline and star Tye Sheridan, live there.

The first trailer was dropped at Comic-Con San Diego, where Spielberg and the cast showed up, and that spot showed off the ’80s Easter eggs that got fanboys talking. The first full trailer debuted on Dec. 10 at the Austin Alamo Drafthouse with a Cline Q&A. The trailer was live-streamed and folks were also joined by Simon Pegg and Tye Sheridan, straight from Brazil Comic-Con. The point of that trailer was to introduce the VR world of the Oasis as a new place where the battle of the future exists.

One of the most hysterical stunts during the campaign was the Carl Jr’s “Spielburger” viral campaign. This was intended to be a joke and spread through social. Essentially, the burger chain claimed that they were paying homage to Spielberg by re-naming their new “sliders” menu item as SpielBurgers. Carl’s Jr. created a tongue-in-cheek disruptive social media moment that tapped into iconic Spielberg movies, including RPO, that was designed to get opening-week attention.

It certainly got Spielberg’s attention, who played along and voiced his “cease and desist” by video:

HTC Vive

Some of the RPO partnerships included HTC Vive with a VR adaptation set in the film’s universe through eight distinct experiences that immersed the player in an Oasis-inspired world. This launched at SXSW and was made available to home consumers. Lyft developed film-themed car icons in their app, geo-targeting to events such as SXSW, the RPO Hollywood Maze, the premiere and event-driven retail pop-up shops.

Online gaming community Roblox was another partner launching the RPO Adventure, integrating custom movie content into a challenge to their 13-18 year old user base to find clues throughout the gaming platform. The program ran from March 12 to April 3 and included RPO takeovers, in game billboards, custom clue reveals by RPO talent, and videos posted by Roblox influencers. The outcome here is 38M gameplays to date.

Overall, PostTrak score for Ready Player One is four stars, an 82% overall positive with a 65% definite recommend. A big indicator that word-of-mouth is working more than these figures: Walk-up business. While advance tickets sales plateaued heading into the weekend, close to 80% of the Ready Player One crowd bought their tickets at the multiplex window.

Thirty-five percent of Ready Player One‘s weekend came from 3D and RealD (they were a co-sponsor of Warner’s SXSW party and also a key co-sponsor of the pic’s Maze at Hollywood and Highland). The company also hosted a number of key influencer and tastemaker screenings. Imax drove $6.6M from 405 U.S/Canada IMAX screens for a per screen average of $16K-plus.

In regards to profit, our film finance sources are telling us that a global take of $440M ($120M domestic, $120M China, $200M overseas) would take Ready Player One to a near break-even before counting participations, residuals, and interest (in which case, it’s then short of break-even). Again, these types of projections never come from Warner Bros. Note, Justice League had more participations from Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot and Henry Cavill. Village Roadshow is covering 35% of the production cost per reliable sources.


Lionsgate’s Tyler Perry’s Acrimony also did better, coming in at $17.1M, per Lionsgate. It’s a decent start for Perry, whose fare usually comes in higher at $20M-plus. However, it’s definitely a better result than Henson’s Proud Mary, which tanked with a $9.9M opening. By the end of its run, Acrimony will bring the Perry universe to an astounding global take of $950M for Lionsgate.

Pureflix’s God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness stumbles with $2.6M. We further expound on both movies in the previous update. The faith-based champ is Christian rock movie I Can Only Imagine with $10.75M, -21%, for a running three-weekend total of $55.5M. The Erwin brothers-directed movie is hands-down the biggest ever for Roadside Attractions, beating their distribution of Amazon’s Oscar-winning Manchester by the Sea ($47.7M). Legendary/Universal’s Pacific Rim: Uprisingdespite the holiday, took a tumble with a 67% drop.

Saturday AM: Figures updated There’s some sigh of relief over at Warner Bros. as their Steven Spielberg movie Ready Player One appears to be beating its tracking figures with a $52.3M four-day opening. 

Here’s an amazing, original ode to virtual reality and everything that’s Spielberg based on Ernest Cline’s bestselling YA novel, and for weeks tracking had this pic in the scary range of $38M-$42M over 4-days which would be a truly atrocious start for this movie which cost all in between production and P&A $300M-$325M (Village Roadshow is co-shouldering production costs).

However, Warner Bros.’ smartly executed world premiere launch at the hipster-tech crossroads of SXSW (which fans went gonzo for), coupled with a riveting virtual reality stunted campaign (they have a Maze/arcade at Hollywood and Vine) — all of this seems to be paying off. Rivals love to say that Warners overspends on their TV spots (an accusation the studio denies), but if that’s actually going on here, then more power to them: This millennial IP is a potential start to a new franchise and it deserves to win. A four-day opening at this level assists in propelling Ready Player One‘s legs before Avengers: Infinity War arrives at the end of April.

Here’s how the top pics are looking:

thumb rank film dist. screens (chg) fri 3-day (-%) total wkd no.
1 Ready Player One WB/VR 4,234 $15.1M $40.3M $52.3M 1
2 Acrimony LG 2,006 $7.3M $16.9M 1
3 Black Panther Dis 2,988 (-382) $4M $11.5M (-32%) $650.9M 7
4 I Can Only Imagine RSA 2,648 (+395) $3.6M $10.4M (-24%) $55.2M 3
5 Pacific Rim: Uprising Leg/Uni 3,708 (0) $3.3M (-68%) $9.5M (-66%) $46M 2
6 Sherlock Gnomes Par/MGM 3,662 (0) $3M (+7%) $7.4M (-30%) $23.2M 2
7 Tomb Raider MGM/WB 2,788 (-1,066) $1.7M $5.4M (-47%) $51.2M 3
8 Love, Simon Fox 2,024 (-410) $1.9M $5.2M (-32%) $32.5M 3
9 A Wrinkle In Time Dis 2,367 (-1,056) $1.9M $5M (-39%) $83.5M 4
10 Paul, Apostle of Christ Sony 1,473 (0) $1.2M (-27%) $3.7M (-27%) $11.8M 2
11 God’s Not Dead 3 PURE 1,693 $1.1m $3M 1
12 Isle of Dogs FSL 165 (+135) $945K $2.8M $5.9m 2

Now Ready Player One cost about the same amount of money as Justice League and that pic with a $657.9M global haul ($106M of that coming from China) didn’t profit with what our experts say was a $60M loss. However, there’s more mojo here with Ready Player One with its shiny reviews and exit polls, and that will help in giving this VR pic extra lives. Our finance sources want to see how international shakes out before calling game over on Ready Player One; its running tally through three days WW is $109M. In regards to those low ball estimates by tracking, distribution execs tell us that the abundance of male-dominated fare (i.e. Tomb Raider, Pacific Rim: Uprising), plus Black Panther‘s hold, pushed forecasts down.

PostTrak shows a glowing 4 1/2 starts out of five and an overall 83% positive for Ready Player One. Men over 25 were in abundance at 39% but with an 83% positive score. Men under 25 who showed up at 27% loved it the most with a 91% positive score. Women over 25 at 20% gave the movie an 85% with women under 25 only repping 14% of all moviegoers for a score of 75%. Twenty-two percent of all moviegoers are watching this movie with two-to-four friends, and majority of that subset are guys under 25.

Sixty-eight percent give Ready Player One a definite recommend with 28% saying yes, they’ll likely refer it. Fifty-five percent said the movie met their expectations while 38% said it exceeded their expectations. With kids off on Good Friday, there was a lot of walk-up business with Screen Engine/ComScore reporting 76% of all moviegoers buying their RPO tickets today. In addition, 47% came out because of the subject matter/Cline’s source material while 26% turned up because it was a Spielberg movie.

Tyler Perry’s Acrimony from Lionsgate drew a $7.3M opening day in what looks like a $16.9M start in 2nd, an improvement upon Taraji P. Henson’s Screen Gems misfire Proud Mary ($9.9M opening, $20.8M final) back in January. Perry’s fanbase is known to make a beeline for his movies at the multiplex following Sunday church services, and thanks to them, his titles are critic-proof. CinemaScore fans gave Acrimony an A-, which is fairly consistent with the grades he’s received throughout his career (his one B- being for 2013’s Peeples which died with a final $9.1M). Similar to his previous fare, reviewers had little patience for Acrimony with a 25% Rotten Tomatoes score. Seventy-four percent females bought tickets per CinemaScore, 85% over 25. Both gave Acrimony an A-. Sixty-five percent went to the movie because of Henson.


Acrimony cost in the low teens before P&A not far from what Proud Mary cost. Lionsgate targeted Tyler Perry show marathons during the week of release with custom content pieces featuring the auteur himself. The distributor ran a robust multicultural campaign zeroing in on African American women including blitzes across targeted broadcast TV, cable, audio, social media and digital-first publishers. High-profile media integrations and custom content partnerships reached over 100M viewers across seven networks/programs, including Fox’s Empire premiere, a cross-platform partnership on BET on the new game show Black Card Revoked, and a multiweek partnership with OWN on The Haves and The Have Nots finale. RelishMix reports that Acrimony‘s social media “is simmering to a good 112.5M” social reach with Perry and Henson driving 45M of that from their combined social media handles. Merriam Webster reported that the word “Acrimony” has been one of their top lookups throughout the last month, particularly during the hours of prime time TV when spots for the Perry movie ran.


God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness from Pureflix, the Easter weekend’s third wide entry, is projected to make $1.1M on Friday for a $3M opening in 11th. The pic follows the continuing adventures of Pastor Dave who after being sprung from prison contends with the problems of his college-based church being burnt down, as well as headaches from the university’s administration. The movie suffers from being a threequel, and faith-based moviegoers are keenly aware when they’re being sold worn goods. RelishMix noticed that on social media the faithful “think this is a cash grab and not a movie promoting a Christian message anymore.” In addition, RelishMix didn’t notice any particular social media marketing material standouts, plus trailers weren’t being passed around a lot, under the 3:1 viral ratio average earned by most faith-based titles. Once a box office anomaly that opened to $9.2M and turned out an almighty 6.6x multiple stateside ($60.8M), God’s Not Dead has run its course. The only upside here is that a trilogy box set can now be pushed on DVD store shelves. Faith-based distributors are some of the most brilliant marketers in the business, able to stoke their crowds via radio, social media, sermons, group sales and Christian conferences, but churchgoers only flock to that which is a lightening rod to their souls, and in this case for the third weekend in a row, it’s Roadside Attractions’ I Can Only Imagine which is looking at a fourth place $10.4M take, a glorious -24% hold, with a running tally of $55.2M.

Huge shout out here to Fox Searchlight’s Isle of Dogs which is fetching $2.8M at 165 locations for a near big $17K theater average.

On the specialty side, Neon’s Gemini starring Zoe Kravitz and Lola Kirke is on track to make $39,4K at four locations this weekend for a near $10K per screen. Neon acquired U.S. rights on the noir title about a personal assistant and her Hollywood starlet boss out of SXSW last year.

3rd Update, Friday AM: Audiences gave Ready Player One an A- CinemaScore last night and shelled out an estimated $12M which includes Wednesday night’s $3.75M previews (WB releasing their figures soon). This puts the feature take on Ernest Cline’s novel in a range to make $49.4M-$52M+ over the four-day Easter stretch; many in the industry are hopeful that it will clear the latter mark. Today will be a true test of interest since there’s 80% K-12 schools off with another 43% colleges.

Males at 59% gave the movie an A-,  while women were slightly less impressed at a 41% turnout giving it a B+. Those under 25 came out at 44% and gave it an A-, which is a good sign (Those over 25 gave it a B+ at a 56% turnout). Those under 18 at 26% also enjoyed it with an A-. That’s where WB needs this to grow in the days ahead as Ready Player One is literally a part of some middle school’s English class curriculum.

In China, Ready Player One has a 9.1 review rating on Douban, which is huge considering most Hollywood movies have scored a 6 or 7 review rating. This translates into Yuans over there. Currently it’s looking like a $14.75M take first day in the Middle Kingdom which with previews takes the Spielberg pic’s cume to $15.2M and a potential $48M opening weekend.


Lionsgate’s Tyler Perry’s Acrimony held previews last night raking in $1M at 1,700 sites and will expand to 2,006 locations today. Last night’s figure is more than Boo! A Madea Halloween ($855K) in Thursday night previews and Boo 2! ($760K) which respectively turned in openings of $28.5M and $21.2M.  Preview shows began at 7 PM. Such momentum will likely lift Acrimony toward a $15M-$20M start, if not higher. 

In second place yesterday behind Ready Player One was Disney/Marvel’s unstoppable Black Panther which made $2.07M (+19% from Wednesday) and a running total of $639.4M. Legendary/Universal’s Pacific Rim: Uprising was third with $1.7M  (+9%) and a week’s take of $36.5M. Fourth place belonged to Roadside Attractions I Can Only Imagine which earned $1.67M (+11%) and a two week tally of $44.8M.

Entrance to Ready Player One hub at SXSW Deadline

2nd Update, Thursday PM: According to industry estimates, Warner Bros./Village Roadshow/Amblin’s Ready Player One is looking to score at least a $12.5M opening Thursday which would project it to a $53M-$55M four-day weekend.  “It’s kicking ass,” says one rival analyst off matinees figures. Should the pic really slow in its turnstiles, then we’re looking at a $10M Thursday, the question being whether this is fanboy, front-loaded. Should this movie rally, it will be based on word of mouth and exit polls. Once moviegoers get in there, they realize what a fun, classic Spielberg ride it is. A bulk of Ready Player One revenue at this point is being minted on the west coast.

RelishMix’s read on the social chatter is that the movie “has an excited fan base, and its cultural references and Roblox effort has activated gamers and moviegoers, too” adding “Fans of the novel by Ernest Cline, Spielberg movies and classic video games are ‘all in’ and ready to dive in the deep end.  They are sharing their favorite moments from the trailers and the novel, and speculating how these elements might be portrayed by master craftsman, Spielberg.  There are also questions about specific characters, the Oasis and its translation from a VR experience to film – and much more, particularly coming out of mass wave of positive social buzz from SXSW.  And again, Roblox gamers are definitely chiming in on the film’s owned assets, too as questions swirl about a sequel and potential theme park installations.”

Warner Bros.

1st Update: Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One got off to an early start at the Easter weekend with a Wednesday night preview of $3.75M from 7PM showtimes.

Ever since Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull became the director’s best opening at the domestic box office a decade ago ($100.1M), he’s largely confined his filmography to adult oriented, awards season fare. So there haven’t been many previews for Spielberg titles in quite some time. And Ready Player One, though based on the best-selling Ernest Cline YA novel, isn’t franchise property like we’ve seen in Easters past like Batman V. Superman or Fast and Furious. One of the comps here is 2013’s G.I. Joe Retaliation which had Wednesday pre-shows before its Easter launch earning $2.6M, then a $10.5M opening Thursday and a $51M four-day and ending its domestic run at $122.5M. Ready Player One beats hands down Spielberg’s previous popcorn attempt, though it skewed considerably younger, The BFG which failed and only made $775K from its Thursday night preview before a $22.7M four-day over the 2016 Independence Day holiday and an awful $55.4M stateside result.

The nature of Spielberg’s movies (mostly all of them) is that they start at smaller numbers and sleep upward from there. $50M would be a nice start for Ready Player One considering the film is pricey at a net cost between $155M to $175M which WB and Village Roadshow co-financed. Ready Player One will play in about 3,500 locations today then move to 4,200 by Friday including 3D, 2D, Imax, PLFs, Dolby Cinema, Motion Seats, Luxury Seats and Drive In’s.

Ready Player One is also going day and date this weekend in 62 offshore markets including China, but with Japan and Germany coming later. Our analysts predicted a $140M-$170M global debut for this love letter to virtual reality and 1980s-90s pop culture.

Ready Player One gets a 78% certified fresh from Rotten Tomatoes. CinemaScore will come later tonight, however,  anecdotally the film plays best with an audience; the SXSW world premiere of largely festivalgoers and locals prompted rolling cheers throughout the film.

Due to spring and Easter breaks 30% K-12/18% colleges are off today increasing to 80%/43% by Friday

Warner Bros. had a huge activation in Austin, Texas during the fest earlier this month with a Virtual Reality clubhouse containing both old-school and VR headset video games, the DeLorean from Back to the Future, a huge Iron Giant, a cast Twitter-cast as well as star Tye Sheridan DJ-ing.

Among those films in regular play yesterday, Disney’s Black Panther was No. 1 with $1.7M and a running total of $637.3M while Legendary/Universal’s Pacific Rim: Uprising ranked second with $1.5M and a $34.7M six-day tally.

Previewing tonight is Lionsgate’s Tyler Perry’s Acrimony which is looking at $10M-$15M over the three-day. PureFlix has the faith-based threequel God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness which is only looking at low single digits in 1,688 theaters.

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