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THB #236: How Should You Feel About Halloween Ends' Opening?
There isn’t much news out there… at least until Netflix’s quarterly release later this week. So the topic amongst box office writers this weekend was, again, the opening of a movie that did well, but didn’t change the future of theatrical.
As you know, if you have been reading me, I am a believer in theatrical and that 90% of the weakness in theatrical right now is lack of films released and supported by the studios.
But every individual choice… every individual movie has its own rules beyond the norms.
Halloween Ends is the third film of a trilogy, albeit a trilogy that is based on a classic, 44-year-old franchise. Trilogies are a weird thing.
The Lord of the Rings movies, the 3rd film was the biggest opening of the trilogy.
The Hobbit movies, the 3rd film has the worst opening of the 3.
Spider-Man, the 1st Trilogy, the 2nd film opening dipped, but the 3rd was the biggest opener.
The Amazing Spiderman only went 2 films, the 2nd film opened 50% better than the 1st film… but it was still seen as a disappointment.
Spider-Man Home Trilogy, a 2nd film dip followed by the 3rd film opening to more than double the 1st.
Star Wars 1-3, $65m, $80m, $108m
Star Wars 7-9, $248m, $220m, $177m
The first Star Wars movies, which are technically 4-6, are from another box office planet than the others. In the 1970s, Star Wars film were considered massively wide, ground-breaking releases. In the first year of Star Wars, it was never on as many as 1100 screens. The Empire Strikes Back got to almost 1200 screens. Return of the Jedi got to just under 1800 screens.
Jaws, in 1975, was seen as the movie that changed the movie business forever… never got to 700 screens on its first release. It opened to $7 million, which was still better than Bros. (I am so sorry for writing that… but I didn’t erase it either…) Jaws 2 (1978) opened to $9.9 million. And Jaws 3-D (1983) launched with $13.4 million. Why do these numbers mean about this trilogy? Nothing. The business model evolved, year by year.
There aren’t that many franchise trilogies, though they were popular for a while. Of course we all remember 2007’s trio of May trilogy releases. The aforementioned Spider-Man III, the 3rd Shrek - $42m, $108m, $122m - and the last good Pirates of the Caribbean, which rolled out with $47m, $136m, and $115m.
So… what do we take away from Halloween Ends opening to $41 million, following the first film of this trilogy, Halloween, opening to $76 million in 2018, before Peacock existed. Halloween Kills opening to $49 million in 2021, just as the COVID paralysis was letting up and going day-n-date on Peacock, then with an estimated 9 million paying users (which is required to get day-n-date titles)? And now, with an estimated 15 million paid Peacock subscribers?
Purely on the surface, the declining number of tickets sold is an undefinable thing. One thing we know is, it wasn’t the movie. Opening weekend is never about the movie itself.
We also know that horror audience like seeing these movies with other people.. that the communal experience of fear is a greater pleasure when it is communal.
Halloween Ends is currently the 12th best opener of 2022, #1 amongst horror films.
The idiocy of the weekend unanalyzed reading of tracking - the work of which is not to predict box office (though it can) but to focus marketing and which can be read in better or worse ways by whoever is looking at and trying to understand the raw numbers - has twisted box office writing so that it too often becomes about expectations and not about actually analyzing the box office, which doesn’t require tracking beforehand.
I believe day-n-date streaming is only a reasonably good idea for movies you expect to fail, at which point, you should probably be going to direct-to-streaming. Of course, theatrical is almost always risky and expensive. But in the end, it is a positive overall, without question. Universal is still playing with it. Hopefully, it will stop.
That said, the theory in Deadline that Halloween Ends had $10 million more that it would have made by being exclusively theatrical? Iffy. Not impossible. But iffy, on a good day.
If I was not in the business of seeing movies as they are made to be seen and am always interested in David Gordon Green’s work, Halloween Kills might have been enough to drive me to Peacock (which I already pay for) or to skip the closer altogether. What we don’t have a lot of history to look at on is how a less good movie in a franchise can affect the next opening in the era of streaming, whether day-n-date or even with a 45-day window.
Most famously, the first of the Christopher Nolan trilogy, Batman Begins had a soft start in 2005 with a $49 million launch after the horrid 1997 Batman & Robin, which was the weakest Batman opener with $43 million. Mind you, this is a franchise in which the first 3 modern films each broke the then-record for Best Opening Ever… until B&R. Begins grew into a success. But as it set the standard for Nolan’s trilogy, the next film, The Dark Knight, exploded with a then-record $158 million opening.
I guess the point is… there is no definitive answer here. I would love to blame day-n-date, but with just 15 million paying Peacock viewers, I can’t make that leap to the tune of more than a few hundred thousand before I get a nosebleed.
More likely, the endless marketing of “if you don’t go to the movies, it will be on your TY in a few weeks,” that is de-motivating some percentage of the more consistent moviegoers. That and a general sense that “there’s nothing to go see.” Why isn’t there anything to go see? Because every studio now either has a streamer or has a set relationship with a streamer and some of the smartest, most talented, serious-about-the-work people you will ever meet are having a hard time getting back to walking and chewing gum at the same time.
There is no good financial argument for the shortened windows for wide-release movies… certainly not shorter than 45 days. But smart people will argue the idea rather than the realities of the market.
And for the record, Netflix’s model? It is their own. It has some issues. But it is theirs and it has worked for them for a long period. They are now changing it very, very slowly. Whether they should evolve into theatrical releases is really a completely different argument. And if you are discussing it and someone mixes the two, don’t trust their argument on its face.
So how should you feel about the Halloween Ends opening? You really shouldn’t waste your time feeling much of anything about it. It’s a minor mystery in a time of much bigger issues. It will make money. It will play well on TV. It isn’t going to fix Peacock or the theatrical business.
As for the rest of the weekend…
We’ve now gone 12 weekends in a row without a $100 million overall domestic theatrical gross.
Here is the chart of total domestic weekend grosses in 2022 versus 2019.
Here’s a chart of just the #1 movies each weekend during this 12 weekend slump.
Hopefully, expectedly, the box office relaunches next week with Black Adam and Ticket To Paradise. The duo should hold well enough to keep the weekend after next over $100 million. November 4 weekend will probably not be that lucky. And then, the gold mine of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever launches. I expect the film to be over $100 million in its own for 2 weekends. Then, Strange World and The Fabelmans should help keep things rolling over that $100m mark, though it is unclear whether Disney can or has the will to launch a November animated movie properly since COVID. The weekend of December 8 is in legitimate danger of falling under $100m. And then Avatar: The Way of Water should carry things through the end of the year, albeit without a ton of support from new films… but more than a little from the holiday itself, even though Christmas Eve on a Saturday isn’t very helpful.