4th Update Sunday AM writethru, after Friday midday and Saturday AM updates If you’re a rival major studio in the Disney-Fox era and you want to continue to play around with franchises, you have to make a movie that’s so outstanding, there’s no question in any person’s mind that they should go to the cinema. The challenged sequels of late —Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Dark Phoenix and Secret Life of Pets 2 — gave a majority of people little reason to buy tickets, and so, too, did that befall Sony’s Men in Black: International, making it the lowest-opener in the franchise with $28.5M. As we predicated last weekend, and they spent roughly half of the pic’s previous chapter, as we predicted last weekend. Men in Black: International‘s Saturday of $9.4M, though technically the highest day in the pic’s run if you back the $3.1M Thursday previews out of Friday’s $10.4M, wasn’t big enough to push this F. Gary Gray-directed sci-fi comedy over $30M this weekend. However, despite falling short stateside, Sony made decent figures overseas with this pic with $73.7M and a global take of $102.2M. That should get the film to breakeven on an anticipated multiple of 3x. Read further down on how smart Sony was in fiscally covering their risk on this reboot. Still, the franchise is in need of major repair, and Men in Black: International didn’t reboot it. Everyone involved knows that with the fourthquel poised to be the lowest in the series after MIB 3 ($624M), Men in Black ($589.3M) and Men in Black II ($441.8M).
We heard a lot of ugly noise late last week as to what went wrong with Men in Black: International from disagreements between Gray and Producer Walter Parkes on the direction of the film, to continual re-writing of Matt Holloway and Art Marcum’s script throughout production by Parkes, to oversee of the production going astray after Sony EVP of production David Beaubaire left the studio (the exec who originally was to ride herd on the film), to two bad cuts (one by Gray, the final by Parkes) that never clicked in testing. Also, that there was never enough time in production to get this film right. Some of those close to the film tell me this is all nasty trash talk. But that at the end of the day no one person is to blame for the fourthquel’s failure. Everyone involved is to blame. Also keep in mind, that just because there’s thunder on the set, doesn’t mean a film is destined to fail. Venom had a lot of reported on-set trouble, bad reviews, and Sony made that Marvel property shine to a global take of $855M (and the best opening in October to date stateside with $80.2M).
The biggest reason why Men in Black: International didn’t work is that the director, producers, Sony and Amblin didn’t blow up the franchise and rebuild it. They thought they were blowing up Men in Black with the addition of Thor: Ragnarok‘s Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth, and by taking the pic’s action out of New York to key cities abroad. However, they forgot to take director Taika Waititi with them. And by that we mean, that those involved didn’t have the audacity to shake-this property up. Here was a chance to do so with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones untangling themselves from the franchise. Instead, those involved were shackled by the franchise’s silly aliens and 22-year old tropes. Gray’s intention was to bring a hip, frenetic hipness to the franchise. Some critics have pointed out that action, i.e. Fate of the Furious, is his strong suit of late, not comedy. You can’t just simply swap faces on traditional MIB marketing materials and expect people to show up: Audiences are too smart.
Really, who are the Men in Black millennial fans anyway? They’re certainly not as precious as Ghostbusters fans, who continue to dress up in their 50s like they’re paranormal hunters, and get riled up when there’s a complete 180 in the casting from male-to-female. All the more reason to rattle up the story, stakes, etc. on Men in Black: International. This Men in Black, per Deadline’s Pete Hammond, played flat, sans the timing brought on by Smith and Jones.
Says RelishMix about the sour chatter on social media about Men in Black: International, “Summer ticket purchasers are frustrated by another iteration of a ‘tired franchise.’ This portion sees both Hemsworth and Thompson as an odd couple to shove into roles that were owned for so long by Smith and Jones. Granted, negative discussion focused on females replacing male roles has often been more shout than bite (thinking of Captain Marvel, Ghostbusters and other recent re-imaginings), but it’s possible a portion of the target audience feels this way too.”
The current Sony regime knew the risk involved in augmenting Men in Black, and definitely wasn’t going to shell out a $225M production cost like the previous one made under the Amy Pascal administration (MIB high costs largely stemmed from the combo of Smith, Jones and director Barry Sonnenfeld).
So, Sony managed their risk, and brought in China’s Tencent and previous MIB 3 partner Hemisphere, as well as others, keeping their exposure to 50%. Sony says Men in Black: International cost $110M before P&A; others have told us it actually cost around $94M (how often do you hear that, when a studio is puffing up its own cost number to the press? Hmmm).
Global P&A spend was at the lower tentpole end, with an estimated $120M. Luxury promo partners, which counted Lexus and fashion designer Paul Smith, brought in $75M in promotional support. Industry finance sources tell us that a final global B.O. around $300M for Men in Black: International will trigger ancillaries for a break-even result. Domestic B.O. is expected to final at $75M. Nancy will have the further deep-dive on overseas for Men in Black: International.
Like Dark Phoenix, critics had no patience for another Men in Black at 24% Rotten, and in updated PostTrak exits as of Saturday night, most audiences’ opinions didn’t change with 3 stars. Kids were kinder as usual rating it at 81% in the top two boxes with a 60% recommend. The crowd was 52% Male and 74% under 35, and with the majority of 50% falling between 18-34 years old. The mix was 47% Caucasian, 21% Hispanic, 18% Asian/Other, & 14% African American. A low definite recommend at 46% from general audiences. Strongest markets were the South and the West. Imax drew $2.8M in U.S./Canada from 409 locations.
Overall, a crappy summer weekend indeed, even with a great 80% K-12 schools and 92% colleges off for summer today, moving to 86% and 95% by Monday. Funny, no one wants to go to the movies. Says one industry finance source, “I don’t think this current trend at the box office is ‘sequelitis.’ Perhaps with this latest string of misfires at the box office they’re just simply bad pictures. Make bad product and no one buys, make good product and they buy.”
However, what is typical before a tidal wave of great upcoming tentpole product, moviegoers hold on to their wallets, and it’s conceivable that is what’s going on here, with Toy Story 4 on the marquee next weekend, followed by Sony/Marvel’s Spider-Man: Far From Home on July 2, the latter a complete make-up for the Culver City studio’s woes this weekend.
Respectively, both movies are expected to open to a potential $200M and a 6-day of $170M+. The theatrical business is a cyclical one, one best evaluated long-term. Just because no one is going to the movies now doesn’t mean they won’t come out next Friday into July (remember, Disney has the live-action The Lion King and Universal has Hobbs & Shaw during the first weekend of August).
ComScore reports that the Father’s Day box office weekend of $130.3M reps a 52% drop from the same period a year ago. This year’s box office for Jan. 1-June 16 frame is at $5.07 billion, -7% and hopefully Spider-Man: Far From Home, Toy Story 4 and The Lion King can course-correct the deficit.
New Line’s Shaft — what happened here? Such a cool, fun trailer that riffed on the ridiculous notion of three Shafts coming together. But no one showed up, with a $8.3M take. Those who did gave it an A CinemaScore and 4 Stars on PostTrak. This film was riding high on a $20M-$22M tracking number four weeks ago, in the range of the $21.7M that the 2000 Samuel L. Jackson version opened to (he’s even in this movie!). Many assumed African American audiences would over-index the opening of this movie, and they didn’t, even though they repped 44% of last night’s audience to 35% Caucasian, 11% Hispanic and 7% Asian.
Though New Line only spent around $35M before P&A, and sold off foreign to Netflix for an estimated $22M. Still a shocking disconnect between dollars and audience reactions. Something broke down here in regards to marketing this movie and getting the target demo in the doors. Some believe the red band trailer wasn’t played enough up until opening, while we hear that Warners tried to sell this movie too broad, instead of zeroing in on the pic’s core demo.
Another theory is that audiences have become more discerning about movies on the marquee. A few years ago, this Shaft could have worked. At the same time, the core audience has clearly quit Blaxploitation reboots, i.e. Sony’s Superfly opened to $6.8M and finaled at $20.5M last summer (at a much cheaper production cost of $16M), while the studio’s Proud Mary (which was an homage to Pam Grier movies) opened to $9.9M and finaled at $20.8M stateside. Says social media monitor RelishMix, “Some wonder why this particular Blaxploitation title would be re-made in today’s environment. To this group, another Shaft chapter seems unnecessary, and this 2019 version in particular is confusing. The sentiment is reminiscent of last year’s remake, Superfly.” Another thing about Shaft — he’s an older person’s property; the IP is two years shy of being 50 years old. The audience was 75% over-25 and 44% over- 35. But Shaft drew the ladies at 53%.
And Amazon’s Late Night, another misfire in the indie female cinema space with $5.1M after the studio spent $13M for the pic at Sundance, and from what we hear, another $35M in marketing. Poor results for a film with good exits of a B+ CinemaScore and an 80% on PostTrak from the core female 25+ audience, who showed up at 52%. Amazon observed weeks ago that Late Night was going to tank on tracking, with a $4M-$5M opening. They attempted to shift at the last minute by bowing the film in NY and LA last weekend, and notched the best specialty release theater average opening of $61.5k to date this year. Even though Amazon largely respects theatrical windows (that’s going to change with its awards season push for another Sundance pick-up, The Report, this fall), if you think about it, Late Night is an advertisement for Amazon Prime, because that’s the end game for this Mindy Kaling Working Girl comedy. It may also be one of the key reasons why people aren’t rushing out to it.
Amazon certainly was drunk on the juice of Late Night at Sundance, as they saw another diversity comedy ala Big Sick. It’s not Big Sick. Big Sick was a family ensemble movie that co-starred Ray Romano and Holly Hunter and had a unique conceit with a Meet the Parents vibe. Late Night is a movie about the inner-workings of show business (like The Player), and mainstream audiences have never shown any great interest in those types of movies. On top of that, Late Night, with its plot about a female TV late night show writer, screams “TV,” and it’s a movie that’s packaged to feel like it should be watched on “TV.” For anyone who remembers, there was an HBO movie back in 1996 about the Jay Leno-David Letterman war called The Late Shift, a movie about late night TV that aired on TV.
Lastly, a word on platforming and going wide with indie pics. Everyone tap-danced on Annapurna for going wide with Booksmart, arguing it should have been platformed. But there’s a serious business method to the madness. I can’t write this enough: Whenever a distributor is in the hole for a ton of cash on a title, they’ll go wide with it. It’s the fastest means to make their money back and get the ancillaries to kick back fast. At the end of the day, there’s an argument to be made that the movie would make more money by going fast and wide, then being platformed. Why do prestige indie pics get platformed in the fall-winter corridor? Because there’s too many of them, and when there is so much critical acclaim and awards praise heaped on them within that period, they can stay alive and leg out.
At the end of the day, Amazon’s one weekend platform didn’t change the wide opening of Late Night, it just held off the bleeding. Late Night‘s crowd was 68/32 female and 77% over-25, with 47% over 35 years old. The mix was 63% Caucasian, 16% Hispanic, 13% Asian/Other, & 8% African American. Late Night played best on the coasts, where they had 49.2% of their gross versus a norm of 42.26% for all films. Business stayed largely even for Late Night between Friday and Saturday at $1.9M apiece.
Focus Features has the Jim Jarmusch zombie comedy Dead Don’t Die,, which didn’t win critics over at 52%. Focus also went semi-wide with this Bill Murray-Adam Driver-Selena Gomez-Tilda Swinton-Chloe Sevigny ensemble at 613 theaters, with a $2.35M opening. Despite a great shorthand here by Murray and Driver, the humor didn’t play at the Grand Lumiere in Cannes, where the pic kicked off the fest. On a technicality, Dead Don’t Die reps Jarmusch’s widest opening and best opening ever at the box office. Profitability still TBD. Factor in the fact that to take the movie to Cannes, that marketing costs are around $2M-$3M for a film like this. Focus acquired the project from Jarmusch during the pre-script stage and have been on board prior to pre-production.
Focus kept this film under the number required to go live on PostTrak or get a public CinemaScore. We understand their figures are OK in core big city runs, but they soften quickly once you get beyond that. Dead Don’t Die played best on the coasts where they had 53% of their total versus a norm of 41% for all other films. Alamo Drafthouse had eight of the top ten grosses on the film. Arclight Hollywood had the 2nd highest gross.
Studio-reported Sunday estimates:
WEEKEND B.O. FOR jUNE 14-16
BOX OFFICE FOR JUNE 14-16
1st Update, Friday 7:27AM: Columbia Pictures/Tencent Media/Hemisphere’s PG-13 fourthquel Men in Black: International took in $3.1M last night from previews starting at 4 p.m. in 3,472 locations. Sony is projecting $30M for the weekend, and hopefully the pic doesn’t go lower as there’s been a bad case of sequelitis at the box office lately with the under-performance of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Dark Phoenix, and Secret Life of Pets 2 (though on that latter Universal/Illumination toon, due to its low cost, it will profit greatly we understand). Critics hate Men in Black: International at 25% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is the lowest of the four after Men in Black (92% fresh), Men in Black II (39%) and MIB 3 (68% fresh).
Men in Black: International is Sony’s bid to revive the millennial franchise sans stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, and with Thor: Ragnarok pair Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. The revival we hear cost Sony a low $94M before P&A with less than 18% participations each by Tencent and Hemisphere. The hope is for a $300M global B.O. haul, which we’ve been told would lead to breakeven.
Thursday’s take for Men in Black: International is higher than MIB 3′s 2012 Thursday which drew $1.55M, but those shows started at 9PM and it was a different marketplace for previews. Men in Black: International‘s previews are less than the latest string of summer Thursdays, i.e. Pokemon: Detective Pikachu ($5.7M) Godzilla: King of the Monsters ($6.3M) and Dark Phoenix ($5M).
The top No. 1 movie yesterday was Secret Life of Pets 2 with $4.4M for a full week’s take of $67.3M, $68.2M with previews. No. 2 was Aladdin with $3M and a third week of $38.8M and a running total of $246.7M. Fox/Disney’s Dark Phoenix ranked 4th yesterday with $1.47M and a first week total of $42.7M.
New Line’s Shaft per Warner Bros. made $600K from previews that started at 6PM. The movie was hoping to be Telfon proof against critics’ RT score of 35% Rotten for an opening around $17.5M.