Wednesday 9 February 2011

U.S Box Office Report - Top Ten of 2006

 This was the first ever year end report I wrote. They take an age to do and I often have to write them over several days. The easy part is the top ten itself, that's a lot like doing a normal box office report, but what to leave out and what to mention becomes quite a task, especially as you also have to mention the flops as well as the successes.

1. Pirates of the Caribbean 2 : Dead Man’s Chest - $423M
2. Cars - $244M
3. X-Men: The Last Stand - $234M
4. The Da Vinci Code - $217M
5. Superman Returns - $200M
6. Ice Age: The Meltdown - $195
7. Happy Feet - $171M
8. Over The Hedge - $155M
9. Casino Royale - $150M
10. Talladega Nights - $148M

Welcome to the box office total domestic report of 2006. It’s been yet another odd and unpredictable year at the US and global box office. Sure-fire smashes became disappointments, sleepers hung on through summer and CGI reigned supreme, perhaps more than ever this year.

It was hardly a surprise that POTC2 takes the top spot both in the US and the global box office market. Unlike the first movie, everyone knew this one would do well but perhaps had no comprehension of just how well. Total worldwide box office stands at $1,065,000,000. In cinematic terms (without adjusting for inflation) only Titanic and Return of the King have taken more money. The list of records it has broken on its way to that $1B stretch as long as the end titles. A few major ones include biggest opening day, biggest weekend, fastest movie to $100M, $200M & $300M. The movie also cleaned up fantastically well on DVD too. The only question remaining is whether Pirates of the Caribbean : At Worlds End will out-gross it upon release in May 2007.

For a number of years Pixar has had the CGI cartoon market pretty much to itself. In recent times Dreamworks has muscled in with Shrek while Fox has impressed with the Ice Age series, but in 2006 it faced competition from all sides. Even before the summer cinema season had started, Ice Age 2 had set the bar pretty high, while the failure of The Wild a month later signalled to others that no amount of cute animals can guarantee success.

Cars curiously continued a theme that had begun with Mission Impossible 3 in that it was a big hit but because it didn’t take as much as expected the shine came off a little. In Pixar’s history the vast majority of movies have out grossed the previous ones. Cars had excellent pedigree – John Lassetter was at the helm, his first time since Toy Story 2 in 1999. The voice cast was superb, visuals were nothing short of stunning (though a number of reviewers felt it lacked the colourful world of Finding Nemo or the highly stylised one of The Incredibles), sure-fire hits didn’t come much better.

But then the reviews, possibly for the first time in Pixar history, weren’t all sunshine and nice. Many noted that the movie was just too saccharine, the message of friendship first not so much plastered onto the screen as hammered home, especially compared to the slight cynism shown by the previous month’s Over The Hedge. The opening weekend grosses, while stunning for almost any other movie, were labelled as disappointing for a Pixar film, especially considering it hadn’t bested the record set by The Incredibles.

Academic really when the movie went on to become the second biggest of the year but for the first time it appeared that Pixar weren’t infallible. They still reign supreme for now but Shrek The Third is due in 2007 along with a slew of CGI cartoons, not to mention the increased competition it faced this year. Time again for Pixar to raise the bar even further out of reach?

When Bryan Singer left the X-Men series fans’ hearts dropped. When it was announced that Brett Ratner was to take the reigns of the now well established franchise, hearts fell out onto the pavement. With a huge budget (later rumoured to have been slashed), little time and stepping in at the 11th hour when Matthew Vaughn dropped out, everything was against Ratner.

Did he fail? I think this can be split into two distinct yes and no categories. The movie was a huge success, taking a worldwide total of just under $500M. It also took the four day Memorial weekend record and only POTC2 opened with bigger numbers. As a film though, it left many fans cold.

Bryan Singer had carefully built the characters and the franchise up with development over showy set pieces, focusing on what made the characters into the people they are, with echoes of the loneliness and disconnection from normal society they felt. Ratner on the other hand decided to use as many big set pieces as the budget would afford. Shoehorn in a fan favourite plot line but remove a number of the interesting aspects and rob the characters of development in favour of one liners and more effects work.

Fans rushed to see it but were left disappointed and that was reflected in the speed at which the movie lost its holding. The movie took half of its final total in that first weekend and had vanished from the top ten only four weeks later. Hit or miss? Depends who’s calling it, but no one can say it was a satisfying end to the proposed trilogy. Note: The franchise as it stood was billed as a trilogy due to all the major stars having only been contracted for three movies – to re-contract the stars for a fourth movie will cost a lot more. Expect a ‘fourth’ X-men movie to contain a lot more new characters with the regulars either dismissed outright or reduced to cameos. Meanwhile Hugh Jackman begins work on the Wolverine spin off movie sometime in 2007.

The Da Vinci Code, based on the best selling Dan Brown book, had a strong opening weekend in the US and the massive opening elsewhere in the world. Curiously the movie performed very well in those places where the movie was expected to struggle thanks to condemnation from the Catholic Church. Nothing like bad publicity and a group of people telling you not to see something to have them turning up in droves to wonder why they shouldn’t see it.

The movie being a success was again a no-brainer. The book had been huge everywhere, it had Everyman Tom Hanks in the lead role, ably backed by Audrey Tautou and Sir Ian McKellan, all in the safe hands of director Ron Howard. In global terms, only POTC2 took more money. After the initial opening in the US the movie had to make way for widespread competition but continued to dominate in almost every other market until the release of Dead Man’s Chest. Angels and Demons is being prepped for release sometime in 2008.

The budgetary and pre-production tales for Superman Returns could make an article all of its own. In various forms of development for well over ten years, with numerous writers, directors and stars all attached at one point or another, Superman Returns finally made it to the screen thanks to lifelong fan Bryan Singer. Singer had been coaxed by Warners from doing X3 (something which it is rumoured made Fox put X3 onto the fast track with the proviso – it must be released before Superman Returns) and given free reign with both the budget and the story, not to mention the final yes decision on who would play the man of steel.

The budget soared higher and faster than the man of steel ever could. Let’s not forget the movie started in the negative before a frame was shot thanks to the huge development costs amassed over the its ten year lifetime. To break even it was estimated that Superman Returns would need to become the biggest film ever released. The fact that it sits at number five in our year end round up speaks volumes.

The thing with Superman Returns is that nothing really went wrong; it just didn’t find the market. Some felt the character had had his day, especially when up against some of the more recent entries into the superhero genre. That huge budget was also a pain. It had a good opening weekend which for any other movie would have been very impressive indeed, but because the budget was rumoured to be up to $260M, the movie really did need to open with $100M, something it was probably never going to do. The movie cleared a worldwide total of $391M and faced competition from the sheer amount of movies vying for attention. Singer has been approved to develop a sequel which should see the budget held in check and the action sequences ramped up (the lack of action scenes seemed to be the main criticism).

The one thing that overshadowed the man of steel the most was the success of The Devil Wears Prada, which opened the same weekend. Here was a movie with little hype, one trailer that was simply a scene from the movie and a small fan following, yet week in and out for a month the movie made the headlines with its successful weekend takes. While everyone was looking for bigger bangs for their bucks, the movie was cleaning up thanks to having the female demographic all to itself. Prada cost $35M to make and finished up with a total of $124M.

Ice Age 2 was the first bonafide blockbuster of 2006. The first movie emerged as Pixar reigned supreme and most studios had yet to make the move from traditional 2D (If they even did that) to CGI. Consequently it found a good deal of success, taking over $175M just in the US. This sequel, four years later, was just what the public wanted to see. Released in March with little competition, especially from other family movies, it took an amazing $68M making it the biggest ever March & Spring opening in history.

It dropped 50% in its second weekend but still managed an impressive $33M. It took the fourth Scary Movie to topple it a week later. When the smoke had cleared Ice Age 2 had taken nearly $20M more than its first outing in the US. Furthermore the sequel had been even more successful on the international market taking a whopping $451M. At the time of writing no third movie has been announced.

Happy Feet and Casino Royale are the most recent movies to have made the year end top ten. Happy Feet was seen as yet another entry into the CGI cartoon market and was expected to do well but perhaps suffer from viewer apathy (another week, another CGI movie featuring cute animals). Of all the CGI movies this year, Happy Feet received the best reviews.

It was released in the week running up to Thanksgiving so it was expected to perform well, at least during that holiday weekend. Straight out of the gate the film beat Casino Royale (whose opening wasn’t too shoddy either) to the top spot and the two movies would then spend the next few weekend slugging it out. Royale would perform stronger during the week and then Happy Feet would outperform it on the Friday & Saturday.

It cleared $100M in just over two weeks and continued to perform well against all comers, staying in the top spot for three weekend, being beaten for the place in its fourth weekend by Apocalypto. On that fourth weekend it appeared that Happy Feet had been beaten by The Holiday as well but when final numbers arrived Happy Feet sat at number two while The Holiday had to settle for third place. Even now, in its 8th weekend of release, the movie sits at number eight. Happy Feet also left Warner executives feeling happy after the stormy summer they’d had.

Over The Hedge had arguably the biggest named cast of any of the CGI movies this year. It also opened up against two of the biggest movies of the year in the shape of The Da Vinci Code on opening weekend and X3 a week later, yet managed to hold its own against both of them. The film had the advantage of having no direct competition for a number of weeks following its opening until the release of Cars four weeks later.

While parents went to The Da Vinci Code and teenagers chose X3, the under 10s lapped up Over The Hedge, which cunningly managed to add more than a few jokes for any accompanying parents. The film would stay in the top fifteen for seven weeks and have a global total of $331M.

I covered Casino Royale’s battle against Happy Feet earlier in the article, suffice to say the rebirth of James Bond was a resounding success no matter how newspaper articles attempted slant the situation to read how Bond was trounced by a group of penguins (in reality only about $1M separated them and Happy Feet was being shown in 400+ locations). Casino Royale is still in general release and with the exception of the US market has opened in the number one spot in every country it has been released in, becoming the biggest ever James Bond film sometime over the Christmas period. The film should see a total global taking over $500M before the end of January.

Our final movie to make the top grossing films of 2006 is the Will Ferrell comedy Talledega Nights. Easily the biggest out and out comedy of the year, with only The Break Up and Borat coming anywhere nears its huge total, Nights was the hit that Will Ferrell had been waiting for. Since Anchorman in early 2004 Ferrell hadn’t really had mainstream success in movies he had headlined (both Bewitched and Kicking & Screaming had struggled) and seemed content to appear in cameo roles.

Nights marked his first out and out comedy since Anchorman and it was clear that this was what fans wanted, pushing the movie to an impressive opening weekend of $47M. It would remain in the top two for four weeks in total and go on to secure its place as the biggest comedy of 2006 a few weeks later. Farrell would return with a straighter role in Stranger Than Fiction, for which he received a number of impressive notices but not the equivalent box office.

Two big movies which most analysts would have expected to make the top ten sit at eleven and twelve on the year end list. Adam Sandler’s Click performed the better of the two and while not outdoing Big Daddy or The Longest Yard, it was still an impressive showing. Mission Impossible 3 had a good opening weekend but as mentioned above, wasn’t as big as expected and suddenly the knives were out. MI3 managed to just about recoup its production budget but many felt Cruise’s antics off screen had started to overshadow Cruise’s role on screen. His deal with Paramount was ended later in the year, yet the movie ended up taking just under $400M.

Another surprise for 2006 was the huge success of Borat, which took a record amount from just 835 locations. It had been set to open in 2000+ locations but Fox had gotten cold feet at the 11th hour and opted for the 835. It ultimately worked to their advantage with the movie having two $28M weekends, one from the 835 location and the other on the following weekend when the movie expanded to its original location amount. Elsewhere Jackass 2 took over $70M from a budget of just $12M.

The two big sleeper hits of 2006 must have been The Illusionist and Little Miss Sunshine. The former opened in a limited capacity and performed very well indeed. Only in its 5th weekend of release did it expand to more than 1300 screens. The Illusionist would go on to make nearly $40M from a $16M budget and stay on general release for 18 weeks. Little Miss Sunshine did even better from an even smaller budget. Again, released to begin with in a limited capacity, expanding in its fifth weekend, the movie would go on to take $59M from a budget of just $8M. Both movies were very well reviewed and strong word of mouth went a long way to making them the hits they were.

Finally, 2006 had its fair share of disappointments. Snakes on a Plane outstayed its hype by about a month and suffered as a consequence, all but vanishing within three weeks of release. Poseidon had to rely heavily on foreign markets after struggling to recoup its huge $160M budget, setting on a final US gross of just $60M. Miami Vice suffered a similar fate, taking just $63M.

CGI Cartoons The Wild & Flushed Away both proved that kids won’t watch just anything with CGI animals in. The Wild couldn’t get its toys into Toys R Us stores even though the film has a scene set in its flagship store in New York. The $149M budget of Flushed Away meant it would have to perform fantastically in an already jam packed market. Rats just don’t have the appeal of dancing penguins.

There are another fifty stories about the box office this year, another hundred movies or more that have their own story, but for now, this has been the box office report for 2006

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