Much of the box office reporting coming off the weekend made some mention of the failure of established tracking services like MarketCast and NRG to accurately predict the boom and, in most cases, bust of some of the biggest Hollywood releases of late. Deadline and Variety dedicated whole stories to the disappointing phenomenon.
August kicked off with “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which had many projecting a debut in the $70 million range. Instead it put up $94.3 million. That was followed up by “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” which the most bullish firms had topping $50 million. It did $65.5 million of business.
Last weekend, both “The Expendables 3″ and “Let’s Be Cops” were looking at openings of more than $20 million, but both fell short with $15.8 million and $17.8 million, respectively.
This weekend was just as bad. If I Stay was tracking in the low 20’s and will come in at $16.3M; Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For was tracking at anywhere between $16M to $19M and came in at $6.4M. When the Game Stands Tall was tracking between $10M and $11M and came in at $8.7M. Tracking companies are driving the studios into a hell of their own making.
I say that, as consumers, we should not be dismayed that Hollywood’s long-held system of divination is going the way of the Ford Pinto. As Anita Busch points out in her Deadline article, not only do studios use the feedback from these tracking agencies to decide where to spend millions of advertising dollars, “they are also looking at those numbers to help determine what kind of genre projects to greenlight.” Maybe it’s better for us that motion picture executives can no longer predict what will pull audiences into the theaters. It’s possible that this development could shake up the business of Hollywood a bit, allowing for more creative risks in moviemaking, more filmmakers, producers, and studios willing to take chances on a good story rather than a presumed sure thing. Maybe.
The stronger likelihood, of course – as alluded to in both stories quoted above – is that execs will begin to develop and lean on less traditional methods of tracking a film’s base and popularity. These methods will include taking better account of changing viewing habits, especially among the young and mobile. With any luck, this closer analysis of viewership will uncover niche audiences that can be courted directly, if not by the major studios, then at least by independent filmmakers, resulting in more moderate successes. The upshot being, more people get the kind of movies they want to see.
And, oh yeah, I don’t really understand how no one saw Guardians of the Galaxy coming. The trailer was hilarious – possibly funnier than the movie. Yes, it was a Marvel film with virtually unknown characters. But, for many overwhelmed by the proliferation of complicated, interconnected comic book stories, I can see Guardians’ fresh faces representing something of a reprieve from having to pay close attention to what well-known hero wears what tights and where he or she fits into the serpentine Marvel Cinematic Universe.
As for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – in the light of so many recent action films that take themselves way too seriously – that flick was just pure fun. Say what you want about Michael Bay – who produced but didn’t direct, by the way – TMNT used comic, cartoon violence in a way that was thrilling and enjoyable, not grim or leaden. Certain set pieces reminded me of the epic, over-the-top, underground chase sequence from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. Sure, when I went to see it, the theater was filled wall-to-wall with chortling children, but as long as not one of them cried at the sight of those hideously overwrought talking amphibians, it was a pleasure to be in their company.