This scorecard looks at the box office success of the sci-fi and fantasy movies that have received wide release over the last few months (September start or later). Here are the definitions of the five categories (with a fair amount a leeway thrown in to the measurements):
- Hit: The film grosses at least twice its budget in domestic ticket sales and makes at least five times in global receipts
- Success: The film exceeds its budget in domestic ticket sales and makes at least four times in global receipts.
- Moderate Success: The film grosses at least twice its budget in domestic ticket sales or makes at least three times in global receipts
- Disappointment:The film grosses three times or less its budget in global ticket sales, and earns less than its budget in domestic receipts.
- Flop: The film grosses two times or less its budget in global ticket sales, and earns less than its budget in domestic receipts.
Note that the measurement of success will vary from film to film depending on its circumstances and how much “Hollywood accounting” is applied to the ledger (i.e., as of 2009, Lucasfilm claimed that Return of the Jedi still had not turned a profit!).
Here is the Tale of the tape:
Hits: Lower Budget Films Show A Good Return On Investment
While the Hollywood number counters may not look at either The Blair Witch or Ouija: Origin of Evil as hits, the fact is that both have seen a nice return on their investment considering their low budgets. With only a modest amount of production costs to recoup, both of these took care of that in their domestic theatrical runs and then nicely padded their tallies with additional receipts from the foreign box office. As I have said before, this demonstrates why studios should get plenty of these modest to low-budget films in the mix, as they are low risk and tend to turn a profit.
Successes: Bigger Budgets Set A Higher Threshold
With all the hype that has been out there, it sure seems like both Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them as well as Doctor Strange should be counted as hits, but based on my projections, I believe they will fall just short of that. Not that they will be losing any money, but they won’t see the percentage returns that truly count them as a box office hit. And that of course comes down to their exceptionally high budgets. With both pushing $200 million in production costs, it’s hard to make as much money, even when the receipts look good. Neither of these movies will make twice their budget based on ticket sales in the States, meaning that both have to rely heavily on help from the foreign box office. And the studios don’t get as much of a piece of that pie, so the profits are eroded. Both of these films will still see a nice profit, but they will likely not count as breakaway hits.
Moderate Successes: These Two Films Look Like They Are Headed At Least To The Break-Even Point
Arrival scored well with critics, but it still looks like it will be no better than a moderate success at the box office. It will fall a little short of doubling its budget in the States and it doesn’t look likely to triple its budget with its global tally. This is not a high-dollar film, though, so it could still get well into the black once it becomes available on home video. In the theaters, though, the best it will do is break even. Debuting this last weekend, Incarnate could also reach the moderate success level, but it opened in less than two thousand theaters and it hasn’t seen much exposure overseas yet. If this one gets yanked after a couple of weeks, it will end up as a disappointment. But given a few solid weeks in theaters, it could recoup its modest $10 million budget.
Disappointments: These Two Films Have Fallen Short Of Expectations
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was looking like it could hit the break-even point based on its strong early performance overseas, but ticket sales have slowed notably on this one by its tenth weekend, and it now looks like it will fall short. The fact that it couldn’t even match its budget with its US ticket sales has definitely hampered this one, and the overseas tally just couldn’t make up the difference. Inferno is another one that did poorly in its domestic run, but was bolstered by the foreign box office. It was looking like it might make it to three times its budget in global receipts, but activity has slowed to the point that it now appears it will fall short of that. The fact that it made less than half its production budget in US ticket sales really hurts it.
Flops: The Studios For These Two Films Apparently Gave Up On Them
The two flops on this list, Max Steel and Shut In, both look like movies that studios gave up on very quickly. Neither had a very high budget and could have performed better if given a wider release (both movies opened in only about two thousand theaters) and some exposure overseas (neither had a foreign release). Of course, both were panned by critics (with a 0 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes), so perhaps the decision was to cut bait on these knowing that they have a better chance of recouping their modest budgets once they get their home video release.
What film surprised you most this year?