THB #210: How To Make A Hit/Barbarian
We’ve had 12 $100 million domestic hits this year and 15 worldwide hits over $200 million.
We’ve had 7 domestic hits between $50 million gross and $100 million and 7 worldwide between $100m & $200m.
Below that level, it gets spottier, though there are movies that should be considered hits even with grosses in the $20 million domestic range, like the 2 Crunchyroll animes and movies that will make money in post-theatrical, like The Northman and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.
The highest grossing film of 2021 so far that can be considered a box office disappointment is Lightyear, with $225 million worldwide. It’s been on Disney+ for 20 days as of this writing (Aug 23) and I would bet that even with a soft theatrical run, it is playing better for D+ than it would have without it. But that’s for Disney to know and for me to never, ever find out.
The Top 10 domestic grossers and the Top 11 worldwide grossers are all IP movies. Even the barely-see-in-America $626 million grosser Water Gate Bridge is a sequel. Every marketing effort in the 10 was a bit different from any other… but when you start with Big IP, you have an obvious head start. Would any other movie following Paramount’s marketing and publicity plan for Top Gun Maverick have increased their numbers? Unlikely. Had Disney had the time to create a virtual version of the Top Gun Maverick effort for Lightyear - a marketing homage - maybe it would have helped because one reflects the other. But that would be crazy, really.
In the next group of successful releases, people you read tend to hem and haw, acknowledging success, but only kinda, and minimizing the success and everything needs to be a big hit to count, etc., etc., etc.
Or it’s “Well, there’s Everything Everywhere All At Once, but that’s a freak and A24 and yadda, yadda, yadda.
Just because a movie doesn’t open as once expected doesn’t mean that it’s a flop.
But how do you make a hit these days?
Just like making a great or even a good movie, it is more than a little bit of magic.
When you read on a Sunday about how the trick to the success of an opening is that the movie is good, just know this is bullshit meant to compliment the filmmakers whose egos have become much harder to deal with since Friday afternoon.
“Good,” for lack of a better word, has become more important for movies that can’t find a way to big opening weekends. And yes, it can be a significant part of a movie, like Top Gun Maverick, stretching out its long, long legs.
But movies that are not “good” have been opened well forever by marketing people who find the hook that will make people show up even if it doesn’t reflect the actual movie. By the way, this can happen with movies that are considered “good” as well.
I used to love watching the pitches on premium movie channels for movies that didn’t do so well, because by the time it was going to pay-tv, the marketers had figured out the best hook possible and there it would be, often looking nothing like the theatrical marketing campaign.
But I digress…
The object lesson that has been floating around in my head for the last few week is an unacknowledged Disney release of a credited Fox movie of a Regency production produced by a bunch of young ambitious types and the veteran Roy Lee. The film is called, Barbarian.
It’s a thriller with horror elements. Tiny cast. It has a title that will be indelible if it hits and if it doesn’t is a (traditional) marketing disaster.
Absolutely, 100% a movie theater movie. If you like the genre, you want to see this film and you want to see this film in a room filled with people.
Disney, in handling Fox films, stopped trying for theatrical and have pushed it all to streaming in the last 6 months.
Someone up the food chain understands that this movie is a horror hit waiting to happen. That may mean $27 million (like Midsommar) or $44 million (like Hereditary). Probably not more, though one can dream.
But what those titles are, as much as they are money makers, are major evergreen streaming movies. People will always stop to watch them and if you want to license them, there will always be pay-tv buyers happy to pay for them.
Unlike Prey, which could have done nicely in a theatrical run it never got, cost $65 million or so, which meant chasing a bigger number, which meant spending more on marketing, which meant Disney decided it was better for Hulu First.
The marketing budget on Barbarian will, I suspect, be well under $10 million, possibly under $5 million. This will be a publicity-driven sales effort. And Disney has one of their best, Marshall Weinbaum, working it hard.
Rex Reed will hate every moment, but I anticipate a lot of love from the movie writers out there. It delivers on a lot of levels. And while someone may get a wild hair up their buttocks about something and twist it, the film is, without trying too hard, really a fit for the movie politics of the times.
So is there anything more that can be done for the film? And is there anything more that should be done for the film?
Of course, I would love to see more marketing dollars and it would be so much easier if the movie was a show-er, not a grow-er. But if wishes were fishes and all that…
The studio is respecting the nutty name. (There will be a lot of stoned conversations about the many meanings of the title and the filmmaker, Zach Cregger, seems happy about that.) It’s got the weird non-manipulative poster. It’s got a 2nd time director… who last made a feature (also starred) 13 years ago for Fox Atomic, Miss March… $6m budget, $4.6 million worldwide gross.
And, for what it is, it is really, really good.
You may remember that I love The Black Phone. Barbarian is in that range, though it is a step more Horror, which I think limits the audience a bit more. The Black Phone is a more complex piece of writing and a more complex idea. But Barbarian is a singularity in being just what it wants to be.
When word-of-mouth flies, friends were often telling friends that The Black Phone was “safer” and “smarter” than they might have feared (no watching child sex abuse) and that sent them to the cinema. When word-of-mouth on Barbarian flies, it will surely be a choice between “I want to tell you everything, but I don’t want to tell you anything,” and a series of sneak peek comments about this freak out moment or that.
I will not be spoiling it for anyone anytime soon.
The Black Phone’s $89 million domestic gross is one of the great stories of the summer, though we have become used to Blumhouse movies doing big numbers, though TBP did more domestically than any Blumhouse original film in the last decade aside from Get Out and US. So how does Universal do it… how has Warners done it… how did Paramount start it?
A24 does its magic, as we have seen on the regular since they entered the smart-horror space with The Witch.
Can Disney/Fox do likewise?
P.S. I have been told that “hearting” posts is a key component for growth on Substack. So if you could Rotten Tomato it… which is to say, please “heart” me if you even just like a column, it would be much appreciated.