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Snakes Can't Compete with Hype

August 22nd, 2006

The weekend box office was surprisingly subdued given the amount of hype the number one film was generating. Overall the box office made $110 million, which was down 14.9% from last week and 3.5% from last year. The week-to-week decline is to be expected at this time of year, but the year-to-year drop-off is more troubling. Even so, 2006 is still maintaining a 6% lead over last year's pace and that's well above ticket price inflation.

When it was announced Snakes on a Plane would not be screened for critics, most people thought it would be a train wreck. However, the film turned out to be quite good in a guilty pleasure kind of way. While the film's critical reception was better than expected, its box office numbers were not. The reason for this is simple: its marketing strategy was fatally flawed. It relied on word-of-mouth on the Internet. The theory is that one person tells two of their friends and they each tell two of their friends and so on and so on. Mathematically, after 33 times, everyone on the planet has heard of the movie; in reality, the process very quickly devolves into a group of fanatics repeating the same message to each other over and over again. While it can still be used to excite the base, they need alternative means to generate widespread recognition and sell the film to more people. This led to an acceptable opening weekend of $15.2 million (including $1.4 million earned on Thursday's previews), but even with good reviews, it might not make that much through the rest of its run.

On the other hand, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby beat expectations over the weekend and in fact took top spot on Saturday and Sunday. Overall the film added $13.8 million, which is more than Click earned during its third weekend of release and its total of $114.3 million is almost $9 million ahead of that latter film's pace. At this rate, it will take until sometime in September, but Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby will become the highest grossing live action comedy of the summer.

The next three films were all within $1 million of each other and were led by World Trade Center's $10.9 million. With $45.1 million in the bank, the film is well on its way to matching its production budget and if it does equally well internationally and on the home market, it should have little trouble earning back its expenses.

Next up is Step Up, which also met expectations nearly perfectly with $10.2 million. With a miniscule production budget and a target audience with no ability to discern quality, this film has already covered its production budget. Even with no international appeal, it should show a profit by its initial push into the home market.

Rounding out the top five was Accepted. The college life comedy couldn't take advantage of the weaker than expected competition, finishing with just $10.0 million over the weekend. With reviews that won't help the film's legs any, it will struggle to reach even lowered expectations.

Little Miss Sunshine climbed into seventh place with $5.6 million on 691 theatres for a per theatre average of $8,120. That's easily the best in the top ten and gives it more than enough room to grow.

The last new release of the week was Material Girls, which was the only new release to beat expectations. Of course, in this case the expectations were so low that it matters little at this point. The film earned $4.6 million in just over 1,500 theatres, which is about as well as one could expect given the film's reviews, the total lack of support from the studio and the release date.

Moving onto the sophomore class, there were only two such films not to make the top five, including Pulse, which fell 57% to $3.5 million for the weekend and $14.7 million during its run. Next was Zoom down 46% to $2.4 million in 2,501 screens for a total of $9.0 million. It will be interesting to see how many theatres that film loses next weekend. My guess is close to 2,000.

And finally we get to Pirates Watch 2006. The film did indeed reach $400 million over the weekend, but it took until Sunday to do so, meaning it missed the record set by Shrek 2 by two days.


Filed under: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, World Trade Center, Step Up, Little Miss Sunshine, Accepted, Snakes on a Plane, Pulse, Zoom, Material Girls