Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Box Office Recovery

A few weeks ago, I wrote that 2012 might be a great year for film marketing.  So far, someone is definitely doing something right. Ticket sales have been soaring, breaking records and dragging the industry out of the minor slump that was 2011. Previously unknown directors and screenwriters have been spinning low-budget films into box office gold, establishing themselves as new voices and signing on to major new projects. But who or what is responsible for this 2012 uptick? 

It’s very difficult to say.  It’s always going to be hard to read a culture and understand why one film catches on while others fail. I stand by my argument that film marketing is becoming increasingly thoughtful and clever, doing more with less, and studios have become much smarter about targeting their efforts and marketing to the right demographics at the right time. But even these strategies won’t help sell an unsellable film, which suggests that the quality of product being released is better than usual. 

In recent years, studios have tended to dump their worst movies into theaters during January and February.  These months are essentially the “Oscar season doldrums,” when the films being considered for Academy Awards stick around in theaters as more and more people want to see what everyone is talking about.  This doesn’t leave much room in cinemas for additional thought-provoking fare, so studios counter-program with the kind of action film or romantic drama that isn’t likely to win over the critics, hoping to scrounge up a few million dollars in an empty marketplace. 

This year, it seems like studios have been mixing things up a bit, releasing films like The Grey, Safe House, and Chronicle that are as dependent on solid writing and assured direction as they are on Liam Neeson, Denzel Washington, and the superhero trend. These are films that could’ve held their own in the slightly more competitive months of March and April, yet here they are in January and February, cashing in their jackpots.  

Additionally, the studios have truly made an art out of not stepping on each other’s toes.  Generally, when two films that are similar in theme or feature the same star suddenly find themselves scheduled to open on the same Friday, one of the studios will budge and move to another date.  This ultimately is best for everyone involved, as each weekend brings a new option for different types of moviegoers without overcrowding the marketplace. There could be no better example than this past weekend, which saw four movies open with more than $20 million in ticket sales (The Vow, Safe House, Journey 2, Star Wars: Episode I 3D). This is a truly staggering testament to the benefits of studios playing it smart and counter-programming each other.  

For example, This Means War, the romantic-action-comedy starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, and Tom Hardy, abandoned its original plan to open on Valentine’s Day after realizing that it would have to directly compete with The Vow, which proved to be a wise decision. The Vow sold more tickets yesterday than any film ever has on a Valentine’s weekday. Now, This Means War can make its entrance this Friday with some of the excitement over The Vow having already died down.  If the studios continue to play it safe, and play nice, 2012 could be a particularly great year for the film industry.

- Stephen Jannise, Film Program Director

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