At the time of publishing this piece, the RottenTomatoes score for Sam Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful, which opens in theaters this Friday, March 8, sits at 72%. I can tell you right now, by Friday that number will drop and will most likely join the green splatters you see to the right.
Speaking of which, what you see to the right are the RottenTomatoes ratings for this past weekend's Box-Office Top Ten (March 1-3) and just below that the MetaCritic.com ratings for the films currently in theaters. If it wasn't obvious, a red tomato signifies a film with largely positive reviews on the RottenTomatoes scale.
When it comes to MetaCritic, the higher the number the better and a color coded number in the green is what you really want. Out of the 22 films on the MetaCritic list, only one reaches that level and, to no surprise, it's the best film of 2013 so far (yes, my opinion), Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects.
Yes, it's the doldrums of the first two months of the year and yes, I'm sure you could go back over the past couple years and I've probably written similar articles, but during today's podcast our Box-Office Draft Challenge got me to thinking.
We're currently wrapping up our Winter 2013 draft, in which my podcast co-host, Laremy Legel, and I each selected ten films opening in the months of January and February. We take the reported budget, multiply it by 2.5 and that is the number our films must hit at the worldwide box-office in order to break even. The person whose films make the most money, wins.
If you're wondering about that 2.5 multiplier, it's clearly not scientific, but it's meant to take into account not only production budget, but marketing costs, prints, studio/theater splits and international distribution rights. As far as we're concerned, it's close enough even though it's obvious not every film is the same and studios don't always bear the brunt of the burden. For example, Warner Bros. spent something like $20 million to purchase rights on Cloud Atlas so that $102 million budget wasn't exactly all theirs to earn back.
Now lets take a look at the current results, which show neither Laremy or I have actually selected ten films that total enough money for us to break even. In fact, we are both more than $300 million in the hole. Only five films out of the 20 selected have managed to make a profit based on our formula.
Here's the current state of our draft as of the publishing of this post:
|Promised Land||Jan 4||$15m||$7.5m||-$29.9m|
|The Last Stand||Jan 18||$45m||$31.3m||-$81.1m|
|Movie 43||Jan 25||$6m||$23.1m||$8.1m|
|Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters||Jan 25||$50m||$181.2m||$56.2m|
|Stand Up Guys||Feb 1||$15m||$3.3m||-$34.1m|
|Side Effects||Feb 8||$30m||$28m||-$46.9m|
|Beautiful Creatures||Feb 13||$60m||$32.3m||-$117.6m|
|Escape from Planet Earth||Feb 14||$40m||$43.1m||-$56.8m|
|A Good Day To Die Hard||Feb 14||$92m||$221.1m||-$8.8m|
|Dark Skies||Feb 22||$3.5m||$13.3m||$4.6m|
|Texas Chainsaw 3D||Jan 4||$20m||$34.3m||-$15.6m|
|Gangster Squad||Jan 11||$60m||$96.1m||-$53.8m|
|Broken City||Jan 18||$35m||$19.6m||-$67.8m|
|Warm Bodies||Feb 1||$35m||$85.7m||$1.7m|
|Bullet to the Head||Feb 1||$55m||$9.4m||-$128m|
|Identity Thief||Feb 8||$35m||$108.4m||$20.9m|
|Safe Haven||Feb 14||$28m||$57m||-$12.9m|
In addition to the draft, Laremy also does the weekend box-office predictions for RopeofSilicon every Thursday and as of late the comments and predictions on his posts have been down. Quite simply, no one seems to care about the movies being released and can you blame them when the only film in the top ten at the box-office with a majority of positive reviews first hit theaters almost five months ago and went nationwide over 45 days ago?
The issue, of course, is larger than just looking at the awful months of January and February as a recent article in The Economist points out.
In 2011 American cinemas sold 1.28 billion tickets, the smallest number since 1995. Last year, ticket sales rose back to 1.36 billion and box-office revenues to a record $10.8 billion, thanks to blockbusters like The Avengers. But film-going in America is not a growth business, especially now that people have so many media to distract them at home. The share of Americans who attend a cinema at least once a month declined from 30% in 2000 to 10% in 2011. Analysts expect revenue from American cinemas to be flat for the foreseeable future. Even people in Hollywood admit that America is a "mature" film market. That is no compliment in a town where ageing puts you out of work.
No one is going to the movies!
While the article does point out how much studios depend on a film's performance not only in theaters, but at home, but also adds this caveat: "Hollywood's movie studios are confronting three long-term problems: less lucrative home-entertainment divisions, the rising cost of making films and the terms they get in fast-growing new markets."
We all know DVD and Blu-ray sales are declining, falling 36% in fact since their peak in 2004. "People are still watching the same amount of movies that they did a few years ago," Todd Juenger of Sanford C. Bernstein, a research firm, told The Economist. "They're just spending $6 billion less a year to do it." Yet, studios seem to be spending more and more and the more they spend the less those record revenues mean.
Oz the Great and Powerful carries a price tag of $325 million (source) as a result of its production and marketing costs and last weekend's box-office bust Jack the Giant Slayer cost a reported $300 million to make and market.
While Oz does carry a name brand and is estimated to be heading toward $80+ million this weekend, audiences are beginning to sniff out these big budget losers and are waiting until they hit DVD/Blu-ray and the streaming market.
To these rising costs, The Economist piece adds:
Meanwhile, costs are rising. Everyone had expected technology to make it cheaper to produce films, but the opposite has happened, says Michael Lynton, the boss of Sony Pictures. A move from analogue to digital film enabled perfectionist directors to shoot more takes and touch them up afterward, using up expensive production and editing time. Studios have also started to make more "tent pole" films: big releases that can support the bottom line like a pole holds up a tent. These typically rely on expensive special effects, rather than compelling scripts, to attract a global audience. They often cost $200m to make and another $50m-100m to market.
When costly movies flop, the losses are scary. Disney took a $160m write-off after the failure of a single one, John Carter, a confusing space adventure. Studios used to be able to sell tickets and DVDs even for duds. Now social networks and fan sites ensure that bad reviews spread quickly, sinking a film's reputation faster than a director can shout "cut".
With social networks the world has become a much smaller place. Opinions spread like wildfire and while studios try and control the conversation, if you look at some of the content on the Facebook and Twitter pages it's almost laughable.
Interestingly enough, studios always seem to feel throwing money at the problem is the best solution, not sorting the quality from the crap.
As I sat in the theater and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters was about to begin, a four-minute preview for this summer's $185 million sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation played, a film of which I expect the marketing costs are astronomical. It was then I realized what Paramount had done with the Hansel and Gretel. They'd turned a $50 million film into a $50 million bonus feature attached to a G.I. Joe commercial. Fortunately for them, Hansel and Gretel is one of this year's only monetary successes so far, but looking at the final product I'd argue it was hardly a gamble worth taking, and looking at the price tag on Joe I can't help but wonder if the money spent there couldn't have been spent much more wisely.
When it comes to evaluating the year a studio had, recent news regarding The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Skyfall crossing the $1 billion mark is all anyone is discussing. When there's talk of The Hunger Games success ($686m worldwide) no one mentions Dredd which brought in $35 million on a $50 million production budget. Warner Bros. made money on The Hobbit, but the $75 million they spent making Rock of Ages resulted in $56 million at the box-office. And Columbia loved the success of Skyfall, which they shared with MGM and Fox handled the DVD/Blu-ray release, but what about the $70 million spent to make That's My Boy and the $57 million it made?
With only 10% of the population seeing one film a month and this month it looks like it's going to be Oz the Great and Powerful, there are a lot of films being made that probably don't have any business in the multiplex and those review ratings at the top and recent box-office results would seem to support such a claim.