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Return is not so Super

July 5th, 2006

While we had one film missing expectations, and another beating them by nearly the same amount, for the most part, the weekend played out exactly as expected. Compared to last weekend, the $154 million made at the box office from Friday to Sunday was up 9.4%. More importantly, it was up 7.9% from the same weekend last year. (Comparing the 5-day weekend to last year is pointless since the holiday fell on a Monday last year.) Year-to-date, 2006 is 3% higher than 2005 while the summer pace is ahead by a smaller 1% margin.

The return of the world's most famous super hero to the silver screen was not as successful as expected. Granted, Superman Return's total of $108.1 million after a week of release is hardly a bad start, and the $52.5 million it made over the weekend is within the top ten June Openings. But this is still below nearly everyone's expectations. Should the film have decent legs like the reviews suggest, then it should crack $200 million, which is in line with its $209 million budget. But that doesn't count P&A or the estimated $40 - $50 million spent on the film while it was languishing in development hell. Assuming the film earns as much internationally as it does domestically, which is typical for super hero movies, then the film should make enough money to show a profits by its initial push into the home market. But it won't be the monster hit the studio was hoping for.

What does this mean for the planned sequel? It does put that film's financial future in doubt; since the margin of profit for Superman Returns was so low, any weakness in the sequel could send the franchise in the red. However, they can't cancel the project without admitting this one is a mistake. And if there's one thing I've learned from watching politics, corporate or otherwise, if you make a mistake, fixing it is the worse thing you can do. That's the same as admitting you made a mistake in the first place. It is better for your career to stay the course and sink good money after bad. On the other hand, it will likely see its budget quietly reduced, perhaps dramatically.

A high quality movie getting off to a faster than expected start? What a novelty. The $27.5 million The Devil Wears Prada earned over the 3-day weekend was nearly twice what most analysts were expecting, although it is more in line with original expectations. And the $40.1 million it made in 5 days was as much as some were expecting it would earn in total. This represents the biggest opening for Anne Hathaway in her young career, and the third biggest for Meryl Streep, and the biggest where she was the star. Should the film hold on to to most of its opening this weekend, it has a real shot at a $100 million final box office, on a budget of just $35 million

On a side note, three of the top five films this past weekend earned excellent reviews (Tomatometer readings of 75% or better). And next week, that number should rise to four of the five.

The rest of the top five earned almost exactly as expected. However, Click did fall one place more than anticipated. The film landed in third place with $19.9 million over the three-day weekend and $29.1 million over five. With $87.6 million in the bank so far, the film should reach $100 million by this time next week, making it the seventh Adam Sandler film to do so, but it won't reach the heights Big Daddy did.

With the $14.6 million / $22.5 million Cars added this weekend, its total has reach $190.5 million, within a rounding error of Toy Story on the Pixar charts. On the other hand, it is below Toy Story 2's pace and will have trouble reaching that film's final total $245.8 million. Even so, the film is already a financial success and the only complaints people could have are based on high expectations, not real economics.

Finally we have Nacho Libre in fifth place. The $6.6 / $9.7 million it made over the holidays has put its running total at $68.5 million, which is not only above original expectations, but more than enough to pay for its production budget. If it can make this amount internationally, or at least come reasonably close, then the film will have no trouble showing a profit before it hits the home market.

As for the sophomore class, Waist Deep crashed, falling more than 60% to $3.4 million from Friday to Sunday and $4.7 million in total. This is an even higher drop-off than expected, and films with niche market appeal tend to suffer greatly their second week.

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Filed under: Cars, Superman Returns, Click, The Devil Wears Prada, Nacho Libre, Waist Deep