Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Holiday Box Office Lowest Since 2001

This was a Memorial Day Hollywood would love to forget.

Typically the fourth weekend of May is one of the biggest of the year at the box office. This year, the industry’s estimated take between Friday and Monday in the U.S. and Canada was $190 million, according to Rentrak. That is the lowest since 2001—particularly bad when considering that average ticket prices have risen 44% over that time, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.

The key reason for the empty multiplexes was the weak performance of “Tomorrowland,” the weekend’s sole new big-budget movie and a rare misfire for Walt Disney Co. Borrowing its title from an area at Disneyland but featuring an original story, the science-fiction film garnered mixed reviews and opened to an estimated $41.7 million over the four-day holiday weekend.

Last year, “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” grossed $110.6 million on Memorial Day weekend. The prior year, “Fast & Furious 6” opened to $97.4 million.

“Tomorrowland” featured a rare attempt by the company to spend big money—$180 million in this case—on a movie that didn’t feature characters or a fictional world already well known to audiences. Like “The Lone Ranger” and “John Carter,” more-expensive attempts by Disney to jump-start franchises, “Tomorrowland” has had difficulty drawing audiences.
The studio behind “Tomorrowland,” Walt Disney Pictures, has struggled to launch new film franchises, though it has had recent success with live-action adaptations of animated classics like “Maleficent,” based on “Sleeping Beauty,” and “Cinderella.”

Particularly disappointing to the company was that the PG-rated movie, directed by Brad Bird of “The Incredibles” and “Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol” fame and starring George Clooney, wasn’t a big draw with families. Only 30% of audiences Saturday were families, according to exit polls.

“I do think an original [story] plays a part in parents waiting to hear from other parents,” said Disney’s executive vice president of distribution, Dave Hollis. “We also played on the mystery” in the marketing and “weren’t as explicit about what it is.”

Despite the disappointing holiday weekend, Hollywood has high hopes for the rest of the summer, pinned on much-anticipated “tent-pole” movies including “Jurassic World,” “Terminator: Genisys,” “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” and the “Despicable Me” spinoff “Minions”—all jumping off from existing fan favorites.

Disney’s Mr. Hollis said he hoped “Tomorrowland” would perform better with families in the coming weeks, as there isn’t a new PG-rated movie until Disney’s own “Inside Out,” from Pixar Animation Studios, on June 19.

International audiences were even less willing than Americans to take a risk on an a movie with an unfamiliar premise. “Tomorrowland” opened to a weak $26.7 million in 65 foreign markets.

Its highest grossing foreign country was Russia, with just $3.6 million. By contrast, “Mad Max: Fury Road” opened to $6 million there last weekend. In the U.K. “Tomorrowland” opened to $2.1 million, while “Mad Max” outgrossed it with $4 million on its second weekend.

“It’s less than we hoped for on the international side, but it’s a little too early to judge how we really feel,” said Mr. Hollis, pointing to the film’s high-stakes opening in China on Tuesday.

“Tomorrowland” barely beat “Pitch Perfect 2,” which grossed $37.9 million over four days. The hit a capella sequel from Comcast Corp. ’s Universal Pictures has now collected a strong $125.4 million domestically and $187.1 million world-wide.

Also new in theaters this weekend was a remake of the 1982 horror classic “Poltergeist,” which was released by 21st Century Fox ’s Twentieth Century Fox and co-financed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. It opened to an estimated $26.5 million, a decent start for a film that cost $35 million to make.

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