ZAMM.COM: Pre-Summer Power

By Martin Grove, ZAMM.com




Pre-summer power: With last weekend's top two films grossing over $80 million and the overall boxoffice hitting $138 million, Hollywood clearly made the right move by turning April into the new pre-summer.

What used to be a sleepy transition month between winter's Oscar dramas and May's early summer arrivals has now become prime real estate on the movie landscape. Last weekend was up about 18 percent from this time last year when the less lively top two films were the biographical sports drama 42 with $27.5 million and the comedy Scary Movie 5 with $14.2 million.

Marvel and Disney's Captain America: The Winter Soldier started the box office ball rolling Apr. 4 with a $95 million launch worthy of summer status. Of course, a Marvel comic book-based fantasy action adventure from an already established franchise is basically a summer movie from the get-go.

The first episode, Captain America: The First Avenger, opened via Paramount July 22, 2011 to $65.1 million and did $176.7 million domestically.

Disney could have given Soldier the same kind of July kick-off that the first episode received, but that would have put it in the thick of summer competition. Going into the quieter waters of April enabled Soldier to be a much bigger fish in a smaller pond.

Soldier accounted for the lion's share of its opening weekend's $166 million total for all films in the marketplace. It ranked first again last weekend with $41.4 million--down only 56 percent, a great hold for a film like this--bringing its domestic cume to $159 million.

Last weekend's number two film was 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios' 3D animated G-rated adventure comedy Rio 2 with a colorful $39 million.

Directed by Carlos Saldanha, it stars the voices of Rodrigo Santoro, Anne Hathaway and Leslie Mann.

Rio 2, from the creators of Ice Age, looked like it would be a box office winner. It was tracking best and about equally well with women under and over 25, the moms-with-kids audience that an animated film needs to strike it rich.

The series' first episode, Rio, opened Apr. 15, 2011 to $39.2 million and did $143.6 million domestically. It took in about $341 million more internationally for a worldwide total cume of about $485 million.

With Rio 2, Fox could have moved to a summer release date and competed for family audiences then, but the smarter move was to stay put in April and have moms-with-kids to itself.

Meanwhile, Apr. 18 will bring moviegoers another potentially strong title with big summerlike boxoffice star power. Warner Bros. and Alcon Entertainment's PG-13 sci-fi action drama Transcendence, opening at about 3,400 theaters, stars Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall and Morgan Freeman. Its director, Wally Pfister, is a first time feature director with impressive cinematographer credits like The Dark Knight Rises, The Dark Knight and Batman Begins.



Transcendence's summer-type storyline revolves around a terminally ill scientist who after downloading his brain into a computer finds his new powers make him truly unstoppable.

Transcendence is tracking best with 25-plus males and nearly as well with females under and over 25. If it connects with the same level of boxoffice success we've seen from Soldier and Rio 2, it will help solidify April's new status as a powerful pre-summer month.

For years, Hollywood distribution executives have said movies are a 52-weeks-a-year business, but they haven't always acted that way. Theater owners, of course, are all for seeing big films open outside the summer and holiday seasons. After all, theaters really are an all-year business and the stronger the titles are that are playing at any given time, the more likely it is that audiences will show up to buy tickets--and, better yet, popcorn and candy!

It's not as easy as it sounds, however, for studios to start releasing big films in traditionally quieter months like April or September. For one thing, the A-List filmmakers who make those movies have a big say in how they're marketed and distributed. In the past, directors would have complained that studios lacked faith in their movies if they were dumping them in, let's say, April. Now, studios can point to the box office strength of a comic book driven title like Soldier and argue that part of its success reflects there being less competition in April to contend with.

Also, with films that can play to adult moviegoers, it typically takes time for that audience to catch up with what they want to see. In the summer, that means that the onslaught of new titles makes earlier releases disappear faster from theaters. By the time adults are ready to see them, they're gone or harder to find. In April, there's a much better chance of holding on to theatres longer.

We'll see an example of this Apr. 25 when 20th Century Fox's R-rated comedy The Other Woman hits theaters. Directed by Nick Cassavetes, it stars Cameron Diaz, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Kate Upton.

Woman's tracking best with 25-plus women and nearly as well with under-25 women. Its story hinges on Diaz's character discovering she's not her boyfriend's (Coster-Waldau) primary lover. That sends her teaming up with his wife (Leslie Mann) and his other mistress (Upton) to plot some major revenge.

Woman should play well to the same female audience that made Bridesmaids a surprise hit in 2011. But Bridesmaids didn't walk down theatre aisles until May 13, in the middle of what was then the summer's first month. It kicked off to a respectable $26.2 million and was able to dig in and grow as word of mouth spread among female moviegoers and they started catching up with it. It wound up doing $169.1 million domestically.

Woman will have the benefit of a three week jump on Bridesmaids, which should help it make a quicker connection with its audience.

Bottom line: April is Hollywood's new pre-summer.

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