If those folks in Hollywood have had their way, by now you’ve plunked down your dollars and checked out X-Men: The Last Stand, The Da Vinci Code, and Superman Returns, and you can’t wait to spend more money on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest when it opens tomorrow. All the while, however, you may have missed the fact that we’re now closer to 2007 than to 2005 — time flies when you’re having…oh, you know. That’s right, we just passed weekend No. 26 of 2006, and if my math is correct, that means we’re due for a little mid-year box office report card.
So where do we stand? Fox’s X-Men: The Last Stand is the top domestic earner so far, having scored the year’s highest three-day opening of $102.8 million (that’s the fourth best ever), and depositing a total of $228.7 mil in the bank. Sony’s The Da Vinci Code has also cracked the $200 mil code domestically (bringing in $211.2 mil, to be exact) while emerging as the latest example of the importance of overseas income (it has made a stellar $500 mil-plus abroad). Eight movies have earned over $100 mil, which is about average, and only one of those, Universal’s The Break-Up ($111.7 mil), is neither animated nor based on an existing story — which is about average.
Overall, movie grosses are much healthier than they were last year. Receipts of $4.6 billion are up nearly 5 percent versus 2005 (those figures, like most others in this story, come from my best buddy Paul at Exhibitor Relations). And that’s quite pleasing: It shows that last year’s much-publicized slump didn’t continue. However, there is a big caveat, since grosses from a year ago were so bad that there was virtually no way distributors would do worse this time around. And compared with 2004, this year is still down 3.5 percent. (Similarly, while the total number of tickets sold is up 1.8 percent from last year, it’s down a whopping 9.3 percent from two years ago.) In other words, there’s plenty of good news and a smattering of the bad. But who have been the true winners and losers? Read on.
Sony Pictures It’s not just that the studio rebounded from a super-sad end-of-2005 (with underperformers The Legend of Zorro, Zathura, Rent, and Memoirs of a Geisha) to take in around $600 mil domestically so far this year. It’s that virtually every one of Sony’s releases has scored. The Da Vinci Code is a global smash to the tune of over $700 mil. Marketing muscle steered poorly reviewed fare like The Pink Panther ($82.2 mil), RV ($68.1 mil), The Benchwarmers ($57.6 mil), and a slew of scary movies to success. Adding to that impressive consistency, the studio’s mark of seven No. 1 movies (a good total for a full year) is four better than the closest competitor’s. You’d half expect the execs in Culver City to be coasting in a year between Spider-Man flicks, but they haven’t been — and they’re all the richer for it.
X-Men: The Last Stand So what if director Brett Ratner tends to come off as a tad…crass? And so what if you think that he’s a hack? He’s having all the laughs now. Ratner stepped in late in preproduction and piloted X-Men: The Last Stand to a shockingly stupendous opening; it’s the biggest earner in its series and it’s really 2006’s only smash hit to date. That’s especially good news for star Hugh Jackman, who stands to profit immensely from his own Wolverine spinoff franchise.
Vince Vaughn I’ll say it again: Our little boy is all growns up! His stardom came and went once before, so Universal’s The Break-Up was a true test following Wedding Crashers. Moreover, the actor/producer/story conceiver had plenty else to lose with The Break-Up, given his — ahem — personal investment in it. But its likely $125 mil final take (on a minimal production budget of $50 mil) far exceeds the highest hopes. Making money is so money.
Horror Movies I’m haunted by how well they keep doing. No, really, I am, because they’re rarely good. But since when did that matter in box office land? They’re cheap to make and they make money, particularly during slow periods like late winter. Halloween is still months away, but already Underworld: Evolution ($62.3 mil), Final Destination 3 ($54.1 mil), The Omen ($53.7 mil), When a Stranger Calls ($47.9 mil), Hostel ($47.3 mil), Silent Hill ($47 mil), and The Hills Have Eyes ($41.7 mil) have triumphed. And cashing in the most was Scary Movie 4 ($90.2 mil), which spoofed the super-consistent genre to garner the year’s No. 9 domestic gross.
Tyler Perry You may not have seen Lionsgate’s Madea’s Family Reunion ($63.2 mil), but a ton of other people did. The entrepreneurial renaissance man’s latest low-budget movie improved on the gross of his last, 2005’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman, by more than 20 percent. His fan base is increasing.
Brian Grazer Of course the producer got an expectedly huge windfall with The Da Vinci Code. But that’s not the most impressive thing he’s done in 2006. By putting faith in stars Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster, in director Spike Lee (helming his biggest release), and in the woefully neglected smart adult thriller genre, Grazer saw Universal’s Inside Man through to a $88.5 mil domestic gross — the year’s best for an R-rated movie.
The Environment Even if you won’t go see Al Gore’s global-warming-warning, Paramount Classics’ An Inconvenient Truth, or you didn’t buy the arguments therein, there’s no denying that the film has forced a pivotal issue into the center of the political and moral conversation. Its $13.4 mil gross is fourth best ever for a non-IMAX, non-concert documentary.
Tom Cruise I had been hoping for a better celebration of the 20th anniversary of Top Gun (a.k.a. The Greatest Movie Ever Made), but I guess it just was not to be. Reduced in the course of a year from box office titan (remember how War of the Worlds made $591.4 mil globally?) to some sort of Michael Jackson-esque circus sideshow, Cruise suffered one of the biggest disappointments of his career with Paramount’s Mission: Impossible III. The movie’s $132.5 mil take in the U.S. and Canada (on a budget north of $200 mil) has probably killed the franchise. Yes, he still shows signs of life elsewhere on the planet (the movie has earned over $200 mil overseas). But let’s be clear, execs won’t be jumping on any couches over these numbers; more likely, they’re reaching for their Prozac.
Warner Bros. It’s still too early to call Superman Returns ($108.1 mil) sluggish, but with a production and marketing outlay of more than $300 mil, it’s a safe bet that the movie needs to earn some $600 mil worldwide to break even (don’t forget that studios usually have to split a movie’s theatrical take with exhibitors 50-50). So execs at the studio (which is also a part of EW.com’s parent company, Time Warner) should be sweating. Regardless, the weather in Burbank hasn’t been sunny. The well-reviewed V for Vendetta ($70.5 mil) underperformed, as have Firewall ($48.7 mil), The Lake House ($41.3 mil), 16 Blocks ($31.8 mil), and, most of all, Poseidon, which has sunk with $59.1 mil domestically (and only around $100 mil abroad) on costs in excess of $200 mil. It’ll take a while for the studio to catch its breath after having released the year’s highest-profile disappointment.
Lindsay Lohan Has the starlet turned into the female version of Tom Cruise, with her off-screen shenanigans stealing interest from anything she does in her day job? It may be a bit early to tell. After all, lots of people — especially critics — still tend to love her work, and while Picturehouse’s A Prairie Home Companion ($15.6 mil) may not have made a mint, Lohan did draw kudos for her small role. Then again, her latest vehicle, Fox’s Just My Luck, did virtually no business at all, making a piddling $17.1 mil and drawing frowns all around. Things look gloomier when you combine that with Herbie: Fully Loaded‘s middling returns last summer and then realize that she’s only ever starred in two bona fide hits, Freaky Friday and Mean Girls. She totally needs another one, like, now.
Aging Action Stars Schwarzenegger’s still my governor, for better or worse, but things haven’t been so sweet for his 1980s blockbuster brethren. I’ve already dealt with Tom Cruise. Elsewhere, the tale of the tape has Harrison Ford beating out Bruce Willis at the 2006 box office, but that’s cold comfort when neither Firewall nor 16 Blocks could clear $50 mil domestically. What’s there to say? It’s a fact of life. People get older, people change. And to paraphrase the immortal words of Peter Brady, when it’s time to change, you’ve got to rearrange — and start looking into meatier character roles.
Basic Instinct 2 You’ve probably already forgotten that Sharon Stone’s long-awaited sequel came out — and earned a humiliating $5.9 mil — this year. I’ll just leave it at that.