No Need to Panic
The first weekend of August brought much-needed good news to the movie business, as Disney and Marvel’s highly praised Guardians of the Galaxy set an August record (by a wide margin) and enjoyed the third-biggest domestic opening of the year with $94 million (just behind Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier at number two). And more welcome news arrived on the second weekend of August with the debut of Paramount’s reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its higher-than-expected $65 million tally.
Yet these stellar openings won’t be enough to save the overall performance of the summer 2014 slate, which is down some 16% from last year’s record-breaker. Of course, summer 2013 benefited from two huge tentpole films, Iron Man 3 and Despicable Me 2; there was nothing in that league this season apart from the underperforming and critically lambasted Transformers: Age of Extinction (which nonetheless has just topped $1 billion worldwide, far exceeding its $242 million domestic tally). Still, this will likely be the worst-performing summer in eight years.
Curiously, many of the major blockbuster entries this summer received largely glowing reviews, starting with Captain America in April and continuing with Godzilla, How to Train Your Dragon 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and the unjustly neglected Edge of Tomorrow. These were all well-crafted and engaging big-screen spectacles, and far from the “mindless entertainment” that is sometimes the bane of the multiplex. But none of those films approached the benchmark of $300 million domestic.
At least here in North America, could this be a case of franchise burnout? Stiff competition from the much-talked-about Golden Age of Cable Television, now instantly accessible from on-demand and streaming platforms? We’re always sad when good films don’t perform to expectations, but perhaps a more balanced schedule would have saved the summer. After last summer’s counterproductive glut of G-rated releases, where were the kids’ films? Dragon and Maleficent, both arguably too dark and scary for the very young, were the only alternatives for children, if you don’t count the Cars knockoff Planes: Fire & Rescue.
And let’s never underestimate the clout of the female audience. The aforementioned Maleficent, powered by Angelina Jolie, is one of summer’s biggest hits, The Fault in Our Stars is a solid success, and the Scarlett Johansson-driven sci-fi actioner Lucy is about to top $100 million. Even the poorly reviewed Melissa McCarthy comedy Tammy is approaching $85 million. One or two more female-driven films could have made a big difference for the summer totals.
As they do each disappointing season, the pundits are again lamenting the decline of the movie audience. But with the next Avengers movie, Minions, Fast & Furious 7, Ted 2, Jurassic World and Pixar’s Inside Out all planned for summer 2015, we predict those experts will be eating their words less than 12 months from now.
The Rush to VOD
During the past decade, theatre owners have expended large sums of money to upgrade their cinemas. The cost of new seats, digital equipment, 3D systems, immersive sound systems and the refurbishing of older sites have been a clear sign of their commitment to the motion picture experience. This investment helps ensure that exhibitors are doing everything necessary to keep movie theatres the primary place for the release of features. And that is why maintaining a theatrical window is so important.
Movies are meant to be seen on the big screen—especially when they have a great storyline, name actors, lavish production values and good filmmakers. Those companies that take a film to Video on Demand immediately have little confidence in that title’s theatrical potential, nor believe they will make money in theatres with skyrocketing marketing costs. No one can find fault with that thinking. But those who bring a film to VOD shortly after its theatrical release are taking some unnecessary risks with their investment. By going this route, one could be leaving too much coin on the table—and no one wants to do that.
A movie with a successful theatrical run is assured to have a better performance on VOD. Word of mouth, publicity and marketing will undoubtedly benefit the VOD release. So why would a smart studio opt to rush to VOD? We don’t know the answer.
The new movie Snowpiercer arrived on VOD just two weeks after its theatrical premiere. It is not the typical movie to use this release strategy, especially with a star like Chris Evans, impressive action and larger-than-life visuals. This just does not feel like a film that should be seen in your home. It is meant to be seen on the big screen.
It’s a question mark as to what the film could have made had it stayed longer in theatres exclusively and if that would have impacted its VOD release. A bigger question is whether this distribution model by The Weinstein Company will be followed by other indie production/distribution companies. Could this signal the end of indie films staying in movie theatres exclusively for a 90-day period? With the star-driven, high-production-value Snowpiercer’s apparent success in its accelerated home debut, why would any other indie film risk a theatrical run?
Only time will tell if this decision by Radius-TWC will truly impact the theatrical run of other indie films. But don’t the exhibitors who have poured millions of dollars into their theatres deserve to be treated with more respect and professional courtesy? Don’t they deserve to have the industry recognize and adhere to the 90-day window? Maintaining a strong window serves both ends of the market.
Bailing Out Kodak
As we go to press, the Eastman Kodak Company has all but finalized an arrangement with the Hollywood studios that will allow Kodak to continue to manufacture film. Discussions with Kodak by the studios were supported by major filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, J.J. Abrams, Quentin Tarantino and others who recognize the unique qualities of film. At least for the near future, Kodak will be the last remaining maker of motion picture film.
With the rise of digital cinema and projectors, Kodak’s film sales have dropped by nearly 95 percent over the past 10 years. With conversion to digital nearly complete, the decline of film over the past two years has been dramatic.
There’s no telling how long this will continue, but for now the filmmakers (a term that remains in use) who prefer this medium will still be able to shoot on film. This is a good decision by the studios and one that this editor applauds. Stay tuned for further reports.