Sunday, April 21, 2019

Weekend Box Office

Animation in the current cycle has only one entrant the Top Ten (see above), but super heroes? Going like gangbusters! (Mostly) ...


1) The Curse of La Llorona -- 3,372 -- $26.5M -- $26.5M (1st weekend)

2) Shazam! -- 4,183 (-123) -- $17.3M (-29%) -- $121.3M

3) Breakthrough -- 2,824 -- $11.1M -- $14.6M (1st weekend)

4) Captain Marvel -- 2,653 (-322) -- $9.1M (+6%) -- $400M

5) Little -- 2,667 -- $8.4M (-45%) -- $29.3M

6) Dumbo -- 3,225 (-481) -- $6.8M (-28%) -- $101.2M

7) Pet Sematary -- 3,146 (-439) -- $4.8M d(-50%) -- $49.5M

8) Missing Link -- 3,437 (+24) -- $4.3M (-27%) -- $12.9M

9) Us -- 2,264 (-504) -- $4.2M (-37%) -- $170.4M

10) Hellboy -- 3,303 $1.3M -- $3.8M (-68%) -- $19.6M

Only the well-reviewed but under-performing stop-motion feature Missing Link resides in the big list. But several other cartoons are still in circulation ...

14) How To Train Your Dragon 3 -- 1,062 -- $817k -- $159M

25) The LEGO Movie 2 -- 222 -- $134k -- $105.6M

74) Asterix -- 7 theaters -- $5,272 -- $1.3M

Other box office news (most of it weeks old but interesting to moi): Fathom Events, in collaboration with Turner Classic Movies, rolls out old classics in pristine condition and showcases them in chosen theaters for a few days during a given month. Recently they've distributed My Fair Lady and Ben Hur, but last month the 80th anniversary release of Gone with the Wind grossed $2.23 million in six nationwide screenings on four dates — a record for a classic film Fathom. (The previous record was set in January by Fathom’s re-release of the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz with $2 million.)

My question: though producer David Selznick sold his ownership stake in GWTW in the early 1940s (a truly short-sighted move), older brother Myron Selznick's estate still owns a small percentage of the picture ... and what kind of cash flow could the heirs of old Myron still be getting? Be interesting to know.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Animation Derivative Takes a Dive

Men with capes = box office gold!

The weekend box office results are in, and for last week's #1, the totals are not pretty...

Three Days of Grosses

1) Shazam! -- 4,217 -- $53.4M -- $56.7M (1st weekend)

2) Pet Sematary -- 3,585 -- $25M -- $25M (1st weekend)

3) Dumbo -- 4,259 -- $18.2M (-60%) -- $76.2M

4) Us -- 3,512 (-231) -- $13.8M (-58%) -- $152.3M

5) Captain Marvel -- 3,573 (-412) -- $12.6M (-39%) -- $374.1M

6) Best Of Enemies -- 1,705 -- $4.5M -- $4.5M (1st weekend)

7) Five Feet Apart -- 2,484 (-361) -- $3.7M (-40%) -- $41.5M

8) Unplanned -- 1,516 (+457) -- $3.2M (-50%) -- $12.4M

9) Wonder Park -- 2,281 (-1,023) -- $2M (-59%) -- $41.9M

10) How To Train Ur Dragon 3 -- 1,928 (-857) -- $1.98M (-55%) -- $156.7M

For animation reboots like Dumbo, and original animated features like Wonder Park, it was not the weekend was not the best of three-day experiences.

The little elephant fell 60%, the biggest tumble of any feature in the Top Ten, and it didn't open like gang-busters to begin with. (Part of Dumbo's problem is it was an expensive picture to produce and heavy with CG animated characters and effects. Unfortunately there are no superheroes in the plot-line so the turnstiles haven't been spinning at a sufficient rate of speed to push this circus movie into the black.)

Meantime, the Paramount cartoon Wonder Park dropped 59%, and now has a total of $41.9 million in the till after a month on domestic screens. Not good.

Even How To Train Your Dragon 3, which has done solid business over the past seven weeks, has racked up good but not great grosses. Happily, Dragon has produced big numbers overseas and has a worldwide total of $508,092,245 against a budget of $129 million.

The high flyers on the current Big List are movies with characters wearing spandex and bright-colored capes.

Friday, April 5, 2019


As culture evolves, so do the movies and TV shows that reflect it. Case in point:

Joining [Netflix's] roster of LGBTQ-friendly programming, which already includes a team of drag queen superheroes with Super Drags, is Q-Force, a new half-hour, adult animated comedy from Will & Grace star Sean Hayes, Parks and Recreation creator Mike Schur, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine writer Gabe Liedman.

Q-Force tells of “a handsome secret agent and his team of fellow LGBTQ super spies.” Images of Sterling Archer’s undercover twink-on-rollerskates disguise immediately come to mind.

Liedman will showrun the 10-episode series and executive produce with Schur ...

There was a time when the only gay characters who appeared in movies were broad, comedic caricatures of which film-makers made vicious fun. The same held true for the handicapped (Chaplin striking a match on a hunchback's deformity), and minorities (Butterfly McQueen in "Gone With the Wind").

Kindness and enlightenment don't always proceed in an upward trajectory, but here in the 21st century, more former outcasts are being brought into mainstream entertainment, and that's a good thing, yes? The days of nothing but white, Anglo Saxons in movies are O.Ver.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Theatrical Animation -- The Good and the Bad

There are a lot of animated projects (some of which are hybrids) that are burning up the world's turnstiles during their theatrical runs. And (sadly) there are those that under-perform their first weekend, flutter to earth, and wither quickly away. Here are some recent totals, which illustrate what I'm talking about:


Dumbo -- $73,498,849 -- $48,871,832 -- $122,370,681

Wonder Park -- $14,400,000 -- $38,398,179 -- 52,798,179

How To Train Your Dragon 3 -- $348,900,000 -- $153,479,970 -- 502,379,970

The Lego Movie 2 -- $78,700,000 -- $104,714,947 -- $183,414,947

Ralph Breaks The Internet -- $326,984,483 -- $201,050,178 -- $528,034,661

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse -- $182,658,075 -- 190,173,195 -- $372,831,270

There have been no Captain Marvel equivalents in animation, no billion-dollar monsters, over the last twelve months. Disney and DreamWorks Animation have created solid hits with Ralph Breaks the Internet and How To Train Your Dragon 3. Both have gone over the half-billion mark ... and The Grinch, recently departed, hit the $511 million mark.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse was profitable at $373 million (a production budget of $90 million helps), but its worldwide grosses might have been held down a bit because animated features with U.S. locations don't seem to perform as well overseas.

The Lego Movie 2 looks to be under-performing its predecessor and Wonder Park seems to be a robust money loser for Paramount, since it was still-born on its opening weekend. (Yikes!)

The hybrid Dumbo, though it opened at #1, came in below expectations. With its high price-tag (close to $200 million?) the elephant picture doesn't look to be much of a cash cow going forward.

(To quote Sam Goldwyn: "When they don't want to go watch your movie, you can't stop them.")

Friday, March 29, 2019

The Rabbit And The Little Gold Man

Note: We're not talking here about Bugs Bunny, but the second winner of the Academy Award for "Best Actor". It's a post about live-action.

One hundred and ten years ago today, the actor Warner Baxter (seen above) was born. He won himself an Oscar thirty-nine years after his arrival into the world because of a bounding jackrabbit.

The year was 1928. Veteran director Raoul Walsh was already deep into production of the Western "In Old Arizona", one of the first sound films to be shot outdoors and on location. Walsh, who had started as an actor before becoming a director of big-budget movie epics like "The Thief of Baghdad" and "What Price Glory" was also starring in front of the camera as the Cisco Kid. (He had portrayed John Wilkes Booth in "The Birth of a Nation").

But mid-production, a jackrabbit leaped through the windshield of Walsh's car as it sped through the desert. Glass shattered, and in those days before safety glass, Raoul Walsh lost an eye.

Walsh also lost (obviously) the ability to continue in the role of the Kid. Or direct the picture. Irving Cummings stepped in to helm the feature, and Warner Baxter took over the role of Cisco. Several months later, Baxter won himself an Oscar for the role.

Warner Baxter went on to star in "A" pictures throughout the 1930s, and by the middle of the decde was the highest paid actor in Hollywood. His career gradually declined, however, and he shifted to lower-level programmers in the 1940s (along with smaller paychecks). Only vaguely remembered today, he died in 1951 at age 62.

And Raoul Walsh? He recovered from the encounter with the jackrabbit, and went on directing movies for the next forty years. Most were high-budget productions, and Mr. Walsh put most of the major stars* of the era through their paces. He retired in 1964 and died in 1980 at the age of 93.

* The biggies Walsh directed include James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, John Wayne, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Marlene Dietrich, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Gary Cooper and numerous others. (Director John Ford observed late in life that he and Walsh were often mistaken for one another, since they both wore eye patches.)

Thursday, March 28, 2019

World Animation ... Moving On Up

The global reach of animation has grown steadily over the last few decades. According to a new report entitled “European Animation & VFX Industry: Strategies, Trends & Opportunities”, that won't be changing anytime soon:

The total value of the global animation industry was [US] $259 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach $270 billion by 2020. The spend on special effects as a percent of production cost is about 20%-25%. The traditional form of content viewership is giving way to a sharp increase in streaming video consumption.

The total value of the European animation industry was [US] $45.6 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach $46.2 billion by 2020. The size of the European video gaming industry was [US] $19 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach $21.5 billion by 2020. ...

For years, cartoons short and long were a sleepy little subset of motion pictures and television. There was animation being made in France, Germany, Britain and other European countries, but it didn't amount to much. Most U.S. animation happened in Southern California, divided between Disney, Hanna-Barbera, and a smattering of small studios that made cartoon commercials, cartoon series, and the occasional feature-length animated cartoon that didn't come from walt Disney Productions, Inc.

Disney, in those simple, long-ago days, was a relatively minor player. It was a smallish live-action studio (six to seven productions per year) that was attached to a huge chunk or real estate containing amusement parks, and ... oh yeah ... also operated an animation division that made long-form cartoons.

Today the landscape is very much different. Now the entertainment conglomerate known as The Walt Disney Company operates three feature animation studios and three television animation studios. Beyond Disney, the conglomerate NBC-Universal-Comcast owns DreamWorks Animation, DreamWorks Television Animation, Universal Cartoon Studios, and Illumination Entertainment.

The conglomerate Warner-A.T.&T. owns Warner Animation Group (features) and Warner Bros. Animation (TV product, mostly). And beyond all that, there are sub-contracting animation studios, independent studios in the U.S. and Canada, and a wide range of production work going on in Europe, in Asia, in Africa and Australia and South America.

What's driven the explosive growth in animation has been ongoing audience hunger for content and evolving technology. In the age of super-heroes and muscular visual effects, computer generated animation is a large part of live-action. C.G. animation is also a major driver of theatrical animated features and computer games (a billion-dollar industry that barely existed four decades ago).

And as delivery systems have changed, from network broadcasts to syndication, to cable and (most recently) streaming services, companies have come to realize that animated product attracts young eyeballs, and Netflix, Amazon and others are working to establish long-term viewing habits with the elementary school set. Therefore, more and more cartoons; more and more cartoon employment.

It's all considerably different from where animation stood in, say, 1985. But as the commercial and technological universes have changed, the world of cartoons has changed along with them.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

21st Century Disney

The deal is done:

Walt Disney Co. completed its $71 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox Inc.’s entertainments assets, and now must get to the task of squeezing out promised cost savings. ...

The deal is one of the most dramatic in the current wave of entertainment-industry mergers, shrinking the number of major Hollywood studios to five from six and putting the irreverent Homer Simpson and “Family Guy” in the same stable of cartoon characters as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. ...

The Fox film studios began in 1915 under the leadership of businessman William Fox. By the late 1920s, Fox Film Corporation was a dominant player in Hollywood, and William Fox came close to taking over M-G-M dominated the industry and its CEO came very close to taking over M-G-M. But then the stock market collapsed, William Fox lost most of his fortune AND control of the Fox Film Corporation, and five years later the Fox Film Corporation merged withan upstart film company called 20th Century Pictures, founded and led by the hard-charging Darryl F. Zanuck.

There were ups and downs for 20th Century Fox after the merger, what with sell-offs of backlots, the start of a TV network, the takeover by an Australian newspaper mogul named Murdoch. But today the 104-year-old company was officially eaten my an entertainment conglomerate who's company logo is a mouth.

And the fact that th Walt Disney Company swallowed a major 104-year-old film company ... and most of its subsidies ... whole is jaw-dropping when you focus on it. Because Disney started in a Hollywood garage, amost went bankrupt before World War II, was still a minor player in the 1970s and had to fight off a hostile takeover in the 1980s. And yet today it's the largest entertainment behemoth in the world, operating amusement parks, a half-dozen animation studios, multiple live-action facilities. It's two parts movies and television, one part tech, three parts real estate.

And now it's the Godzilla of all media.