Monday, August 6, 2012

Dark knight Rises 3 weeks number one. A trend?

This weekend marked the 3rd weekend in a row that the Dark Knight Rises was number one at the box office. This is that this seems to be part of a trend with summer Blockbuster films.

The summer is one of the seasons that the studios see as an opportunity to generate significant revenue for a blockbuster film. Key to that is the performance on opening weekend, which is why studios spend so much on advertising and print costs to ensure that the film is in as many theatres as possible and that there are as many ‘butts in seats’ as possible in those theatres on opening weekend.

Historically this summer season would see a particular film open as number one and then on a subsequent weekend would be replaced as number one by another blockbuster.

However over the last few of years that pattern seems to be changing. Some films are now staying atop the box office chart for two or three weekends and there are more of those in a season – meaning that fewer new releases are ever number one.

Comparing the same spring/summer period (last weekend in April to first weekend in August) in different years we have seen that fewer films are dominating more weekends.

For instance, in 2007 between the weekends of April 27 to the weekend of August 3, thirteen films topped the weekend box office chart. Of those, two, Spiderman 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End each were number one two weekends in a row everyone else was number one only on its opening weekend. That was a typical pattern.

For the same period between 2010 and to date in 2012 31 films opened over 46 weekends. Iron Man 2, Toy Story 3, Thor, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Think like a Man and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, each was number one for two weekends in a row.

Shrek Forever After, Inception, Marvels the Avengers and now Dark Knight Rises have each been number one for three weekends in a row.

Studios have for some time been using what they call the ‘tent pole’ strategy: Putting all their eggs in one or two baskets, for instance, in hopes of getting a mega-hit for one or both. Now it appears the strategy is not just to dominate opening weekend but maintain that domination even longer. That may also mean concentrating on one film and devoting all necessary resources to it. It is expensive to put a film in three or four thousand theatres on opening weekend. The advertising juggernaut necessary is expensive and so is the cost of producing three or four thousand prints of the film. The studio not only needs to recoup the original cost of production but all these collateral costs. Staying number one longer can help that even though, studios only see about half of gross ticket sales.

Dark Knight Rises saw its box office drop by 61% its second weekend and 41% this past weekend, but it is still number one and still generating more revenue than other films currently in distribution.

Topics for another day: Is the ‘tent pole’ strategy truly viable? Are movies generally really profitable? Is there a better business model for motion picture production?

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