Boy Power Can’t Save Transformers From Franchise Low Debut as the Minions Loom on the Box Office Horizon. This Week at the Box Office.

By Jim Amos | June 25, 2017 11:12 pm PDT
Baby Driver, Despicable Me 3, The House

“Transformers: The Last Knight” launched to a tepid USD $69 million 5 day tally (USD $45 million 3 day), which was by far the lowest debut for any of the entries in the franchise (with two more sequels still to come). What is good news for Paramount was the film’s estimate crept northward as the five days went along, meaning that younger audiences (specifically boys) came out over the weekend. The film garnered a B+ Cinemascore but an A- from under 25 males.

As for critical reaction, well it’s not box office brain surgery to guess that the film’s Rotten Tomatoes numbers were going to look vaguely similar to Trumpcare approval ratings but good grief a 15? Far and away my favorite review was from Reel Views’ James Berardinelli who summed up his critique by writing, “Distilled to its essence, “The Last Knight” is an orgy of incoherence, a sensory assault that suffocates the viewer in a cavalcade of special effects incontinence”. It’s not often that one sees the words “orgy” and “incontinence” together. Mr. Berardinelli, you’re my new hero.

Having said that, let’s turn our collective gaze to the rest of the free world and we see that “The Last Knight” was a solid success internationally. Buoyed by a franchise best opening in China and its USD $123 million debut, the film amassed USD $196 million, again proving that as far as blockbuster tentpoles are concerned we here in the U.S. are just another territory in which to release a film. Sorry but the truth hurts sometimes.

It feels like the international market has historically been somewhere in the vicinity of five years behind domestic on many industry trends. It’s no secret that sequelitis has befallen North American box office this year and, to a certain extent, the past few. The rest of the world will indeed catch up in the next few years as moviegoers in the Middle Kingdom and Azerbaijan come to their senses and realize they probably don’t need yet another “Transformers” “X-Men” or “Underworld” entry and it’s then that Hollywood will face an inevitable crisis, one that very few people in the industry are talking about. Just as they lost their DVD golden goose, studios will be in dire shape if their overseas cash cow suddenly runs out of milk. It wasn’t that long ago that international and domestic grosses ran 50/50 but now that’s tilted, with some exception, more to 60/40 or the 75/25 that the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” looks to come in at. More so than perhaps any other trend in the industry it’s the one that bears the closest watch in the coming 3-5 years and one that will have the greatest overall impact on the future of the movie industry.

OK, enough from the soapbox. How about a round of applause for the two limited launches this week. “The Big Sick” looks to be a big hit as its limited runs produced an impressive USD $87,000 per location (along with a 97 Rotten Tomatoes score). Amazon is expanding to other cities this coming week and wider the week after. In addition, the Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell Civil War drama, “The Beguiled”, was also solid with a debut of USD $60,000 per location. That film expands to 500 theatres this coming week.

In other items of note…

  • Ho hum, another week another terrific “Wonder Woman” holdover,   down only 39% in its fourth week for a USD $25 million weekend and an overall total of USD $318 million.
  • Look out below. Lionsgate’s “All Eyez on Me” dropped a mammoth 78% in its second week.
  • When was the last time that we had three strong Best Picture nominee candidates in the first half of the year? There’s a strong chance of that here in 2017 with “Get Out”, “Wonder Woman” and “The Big Sick”
  • “I was wondering why the grosses were taking so long Sunday morning to report. Then both Warners and Disney report the exact same number (USD $25,175,000) for “Wonder Woman” and “Cars 3”. What a spectacular coincidence

Turning to the new openings, we have a little bit of everything to finish up the first half of the year…

“Despicable Me 3” (U/Ill)—Opening in the States a week or two earlier than their usual first week of July slot, Universal and Illumination’s “Despicable Me 3” releases the Minions onto hordes of kiddies in North America after solid openings over the past two weeks in Europe and Asia. Budding to become only the fourth USD $100 million opening of the year so far (last year at this point we already had six) the fourth movie of the DM trilogy (counting “The Minions”) has a built-in want-to-see and a strong 85 Rotten Tomatoes score. 2015’s aforementioned “Minions” opened to USD $115 in 2015, “DM2” debuted at USD $83 million and the original premiered to the tune of USD $56 million. Gone are the days of the almost 5X multiple of the first film but having the second week be July 4th and no animated competition for a full month should ensure a lucrative and lengthy haul.

The Verdict: Time to play the International game again. The first DM grossed USD $291 million overseas, 2 managed USD $602 million and “Minions” grossed a gargantuan USD $823 million. All three in the States have ranged between USD $251 million and $368 million so that’s probably the ballpark again. USD $105 million Stateside sounds about right with an overall cume in the USD $300 million range.

“The House” (WB)—Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler play a married couple who squander their daughter’s college fund and decide to open an illegal gambling casino in their basement. I mean c’mon, who needs a 529 fund? Ferrell and Poehler still mean something to an adult audience looking for a summer laugh and to be honest this looks like harmless late June fun. Director Andrew J Cohen was the screenwriter on both “Neighbors” and “Neighbors 2” along with “Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates”. In the immortal words of Meat Loaf, two out of three ain’t bad.

The Verdict: Exhibitor screening reactions were just so-so and 2017 hasn’t exactly been a breeding ground of uproarious comedies (unless you count “King Arthur”). Ferrell’s movies generally open in the USD $25-35 million range but this one definitely feels a bit forced. And good heavens, what is Jeremy Renner doing in this, I ask you? USD $21 million.

“Baby Driver” (Sony)- Ask anyone earlier in the year what could be the surprise film of the summer and Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” tumbled off the lips of many in the exhibition community. Ansel Elgort plays a young getaway driver mired in a doomed-to-fail robbery attempt. The impressive supporting cast includes Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm and Lily James and director Wright has helmed some of the quirkiest comedies of the last 20 years such as “Shaun of the Dead”, “Hot Fuzz” and “The World’s End”. Exhibitors loved the old school chase scenes. Think more “Bullit” than “Fast and the Furious”.

The Verdict: Reread the sentence about Edgar Wright’s previous films. All comedies. No action films. And the highest opening of his career was the USD $10 million for “Scott Pilgrim vs The World”. Yikes. Still and all, a perfect Rotten Tomatoes score of 100 could very well translate to a millennial audience finding this after they recovered from Arroyo Seco Weekend and finished listening to the new Lorde album.   Opening on Wednesday let’s be conservative and say USD $11 million for the three days, $16 mil for the five and a nifty little multiplier. To paraphrase Peter Noone, something tells me this might be the start of something good for Sony. They could certainly use it.

Jim Amos
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