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Heading into the Holidays 

Fur goes big, Bond goes missing, girls go vamp and Dark Knight just goes

Wednesday, Nov 12 2008
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The holiday movie season officially opened big on November 7 with North American box-office grosses up 29 percent over last year. Moviegoers once again had a huge appetite for Hollywood animation, even when it’s a sequel that broke absolutely no new ground with respect to the genre.

So DreamWorks Animation’s Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, distributed by Paramount, had an even stronger opening than anticipated by movie analysts from a very wide release of 4,056 theaters for a $63.5 million first weekend. That smashes not just Dreamworks Animation’s all-time, non-sequel opening of Kung Fu Panda but also this year’s biggest animated opening (bettering the $63.1 million of Pixar/Disney’s Wall-E, which really did push the envelope in terms of the genre.

Once again, my pet theory is proven: Almost any animated film featuring characters with fur does better at the box office than the fur-less ones.

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Bond as Bourne

Even before its U.S. opening on November 14, MGM/Sony’s Quantum of Solace was the No. 1 film in every international territory where it opened the past week. Its box office grosses also have been bigger in every territory than Casino Royale, which was Daniel Craig’s debut as 007, with 13 countries doubling the Bond pic’s earnings. The sequel (number 22 in the 46-year-old Bond franchise and whose storyline picks up just one hour after the end of Casino Royale) has now opened in 60 countries on 9,870 screens for a new 10-day cume of $160.3 million.

There should be $200 million in the bank by the time Quantum of Solace debuts in North America. Bond made box-office history on its opening day in the U.K. for the Friday opening of all time.

But I find these numbers bewildering because this is 007 without the established Bond clichés and stereotypes. In fact, pic 22 is more like Bond-as-Bourne since it dropped Moneypenny, dropped Q, dropped the wit, dropped the gadgets and dropped the line “The name is Bond, James Bond.”

Meanwhile, rival studios tell me this may be the costliest film ever made minute-by-minute: $261 million for a 105-minute movie, which comes out to almost $2.5 million per minute. (Highest is the $300-million price-tag for 165-minute Pirates of The Caribbean 3.) But Sony sources say that number is “off base by more than $60 million. Plus we have tax credits from filming.”

 

An Un-gory Vampire Pic?

Twilight doesn’t open until midnight, November 21, but Fandango reports that nearly 100 showtimes are already sold-out across the nation, from California to Florida. The Summit Entertainment vampire romance is looking like a low-cost blockbuster as it accounts for 63 percent of all online ticket sales, outpacing those of Disney’s High School Musical 3 at the same point in that film’s sales cycle.

The same phenomenon is happening at major online ticketseller MovieTickets.com. Then again, everything about this film has been precocious. Weeks before its soundtrack was completed, much less released, it was already among the top three best-selling albums on Amazon.com, based on pre-sales alone.

Borders made an exclusive calendar that sold out the first printing in a matter of days. And a new trailer to the movie surpassed 3.5 million views less than 48 hours after its online debut. Oh, and did I mention that Twilight has the fastest-selling licensed merchandise since Harry Potter? Which is why Summit Entertainment’s CEO Rob Friedman is already readying a Twilight sequel.

Like Potter, Twilight has a built-in audience of book fans with a total 7.5 million domestic sales for all four Stephanie Meyer novels in the series, which was a New York Times No. 1 bestseller for 59 weeks. Not to mention big sales overseas in Italy, Germany and the U.K. That’s one reason Twilight is opening day and date in 10 territories.

But the comparison with Harry Potter ends at cost: Twilight came in at only a $37 million negative cost. This notion of a low-cost blockbuster for a start-up studio just doesn’t happen often in the film biz.

So if the movie lives up to the advance hype, Summit will be sitting on a big, new franchise. How big? Well, when the new Twilight trailer played in theaters for the first time, a chorus of high-pitched screams of joy emanated from the women in the audience in one Southern California theater, only to be properly drowned out by a loud chorus of male boos. Young females are flocking to buy tickets to Twilight, but boys won’t go because it lacks enough gory fang action. Summit is also marketing to an online contingent called Twilight Moms because of the chaste love story set in the picturesque locale of Oregon and directed by thirteen’s Catherine Hardwicke.

Summit may spend in the high $30 millions for promotion and advertising — a bargain considering skyrocketing marketing costs in the movie biz. That’s because indies these days must spend more efficiently than studios. Look at how Summit rolled out the new trailer. First, Nancy Kirkpatrick heightened fan anticipation by creating a countdown clock to the widget. Then came the trailer’s free debut on Entertainment Tonight. That night, Summit let fans see it online first as a way of thanking them for their support. The trailer was streamed through Twilight’s widget, then debuted for the general audience in HD on MySpace Trailer Park. The result: 2 million views in the first 24 hours on MySpace alone and 3.5 million views in cyberspace within the first 48 hours.

It worked: 87 percent of respondents in one survey said they saw the trailers and clips online, and 92 percent said the trailers and clips made them want to buy a ticket to the movie. Ever since, Twilight has been boasting impressive “intent to see” numbers across the board. And it’s topped Fandango’s survey as the most anticipated film of the new holiday season.

Dark Knight Keeps Going ... and Going

Any day now, 2008’s biggest blockbuster — The Dark Knight — will be topping $1 billion worldwide. Warner Bros. tells me that it’s already reached $997.5 million ($528.5 million domestically and $469 million internationally) since its North American release on July 18. It’s already the second-highest domestic grossing pic of all time, behind only the $600.8 million domestic haul of Paramount/Fox’s Titanic. And it’s the fourth-highest worldwide grossing pic behind No. 1 Titanic ($1.8B), No. 2 New Line’s The Lord of the Rings 3: The Return of the King ($1.1B), and No. 3 Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest ($1.0B). (None of these rankings are adjusted for inflation or ticket prices.)

It’s because The Dark Knight made so much money that Warner Bros. decided to give other studios a little holiday cheer by moving Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to 2009, thus freeing up its original release date of November 21, which Twilight grabbed. Which allowed Quantum of Solace to move from November 7 to November 14. Bond’s move prompted Universal to move the Paul Rudd–Sean William Scott comedy Role Models from November 14 to November 7. UA’s Valkyrie moved up from Presidents’ Weekend 2009 to December 26. And Sony moved Will Smith’s Seven Pounds back a week to December 19, prompting Paramount to slide The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to Christmas Day.

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