5TH Write-thru, Sunday AM: Hurricane Matthew wasn’t that much of a threat after all, as 125 theaters reopened yesterday for business, a majority of them in Florida. What business was curbed was limited to the coast with moviegoing gradually increasing inland. For a No. 1 grossing title like Girl on the Train, business is estimated to be off by a negligible 1-2%. But in no way did Matthew damage business like Snowstorm Jonas did when it left theater chains in a deep freeze during the weekend of Jan. 22-24.
In fact that cold weekend at the B.O. still clicked more ticket sales at $113.6M than this weekend, which drew an estimated $104M. But don’t blame falls less on Matthew than the ennui that’s fallen over the autumn B.O. Autumn tickets sales continue to drop with this weekend per ComScore, off 9% from last weekend and 13% off from a year ago. Essentially there’s a glut of adult-skewing titles in the market, and a lack of four-quad movies like last year’s The Martian (which grossed $100M in 10 days) and Sony’s family title Hotel Transylvania 2. Post Labor Day this year, Sully is the only $100M-plus grosser to date. Magnificent Seven, currently at an estimated $75.9M might get near the century mark. Box office cash registers won’t ding repeatedly until Disney/Marvel’s Doctor Strange arrives during the first weekend in November.
Responsible budget-to-B.O. gross DreamWorks’ The Girl on the Train via Universal posted $24.7M at 3,144 venues off a mid-$40M reported production cost, which marks a good return of the DW label to its former distribution partner of the early aughts. Based on a hot chick lit title, The Girl on the Train was always programmed to win No. 1. But the most intriguing question of the weekend was how Fox Searchlight’s The Birth of a Nation would survive in the wake of its filmmakers’ 17-year old rape accusations which came to light in August, and the answer is not well, with a FSS of $7.1M. For weeks now many saw this critically acclaimed antebellum slave revolt Sundance Film Festival title opening in the single digits, and many in exhibition and distribution point to director/star/producer Nate Parker and co-writer Jean Celestin’s media maelstrom as preventing Birth of a Nation from crossing over beyond its core African American demo (who turned up close to 60% this weekend). Birth of a Nation earned a solid A, and even some A+s among the under 25 sect, but with a $17.5M acquisition cost for Searchlight, a P&A between $10M-$20M, pic’s opening doesn’t have the power to leg out to 12 Years a Slave numbers ($56.7M), which is what the distributor was hoping when they spent a record amount of cash at Sundance.
Many yearned to compare Girl on the Train to Gone Girl given their source material’s fervent readerships. But very early on, it was observed that they’re truly two different types of thrillers, Gone Girl arguably having the higher plot stakes and twists as well as Ben Affleck’s star power, and even director David Fincher’s draw (opening for that October 2014 title was $37.5M, final domestic was $167.8M). But the positive takeaway here for Girl on the Train is that it proves leading star Emily Blunt, when paired with the right material, can open a movie on her own sans a leading male co-star. CinemaScore exits showed that 24% of all moviegoers cited Blunt as the main reason why they went to the movie (that’s a great number for a star), while 59% were fans of the novel. Girl on the Train was sold on her image and its opening smokes Blunt’s previous notable debuts, i.e. The Adjustment Bureau (co-billed with Matt Damon, $21.7M FSS), Looper (with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, $20.8M), and The Huntsman: Winter’s War (Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, $19.4M). A decent packaging of star with property.
Girl on the Train gets a B- CinemaScore, and while that might seem severe, it’s typical for feature adaptations of chick lit: Gone Girl (B), Fifty Shades of Grey (C+), The Devil Wears Prada (B), and The Nanny Diaries (B-). The older femme readers show up with their friends, then deconstruct the pic to death and its departures from the source material. On PostTrak, moviegoers at 53% said they’ll spread the good word on Girl on the Train which is OK. The only demographic to give Girl on the Train thumbs up was the under 18ers who hugged her with an A+, but only 2% of that crowd was able to attend this R-rated thriller. Uni started getting the word out about Girl with a poster reveal and trailer drop at CinemaCon. Social media monitor RelishMix noticed that Girl on the Train from three clips earned a very high viral-spread rate of 26:1 (the average ratio pass-around rate is 10:1). Blunt isn’t socially activated, however, social conversation pointed to the property’s readers wanting to see the film with #TheGirlOnTheTrain along with #GirlOnTheTrain, #GirlOnTheTrainMovie and #GirlOnTheTrainFilm propelling 16.4K unique hashtags over the last month with steady growth last week of 5.5K. The latter was spurred by a post from Girl co-star Laura Prepon (4.3M SMU) clocking 132K Likes from the red carpet.
Business for Girl on the Train didn’t see the low double digit spike on Saturday over Friday that we’ve seen in the past from other bestselling chick lit titles on the big screen, read Gone Girl, Fifty Shades of Grey and even The Light Between Oceans; raising only 2%. Big older female audience here for Girl on the Train at 62% women, 89% over 25. Uni collects a distribution fee on the release. Twenty-two percent of the audience took their spouses or partners while 20% went along with 2-4 friends. Girl on the Train is an upscale audience film and rallied in venues that tout premium amenities and seating. Big stops for Girl on the Train included NY’s Union Square, the Hollywood Arclight, NY’s Lincoln Square, Empire, 84th Street, Arclight Sherman Oaks and the Garden State Paramus.
CBS/Lionsgate has Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life which is landing in seventh with $6.9M. CBS built this $9M title, co-financed by Participant Media and James Patterson Productions, as a mini cash cow once all ancillaries are accounted for; much like the Mae Whitman/Bella Thorne vehicle The Duff which skewed a bit older with an $8.5M production cost, $10.8M opening and $34M domestic B.O. Middle School received a great grade from CinemaScore crowds, A-, which is the same result that Duff earned generating a 3.1x multiple. Duff sold 300K Blue Ray/DVDs according to ComScore ($10 retail) along with 4.4M rentals ($2M) a pop which revenue-wise is close to what it made at the domestic B.O. Middle will hopefully emulate these revenue streams off a domestic B.O. that’s expected to eclipse $20M.
In an effort to stoke kids about Middle School, guerrilla reps for the pic were sent out to elementary and middle schools to hang posters and hold screenings. One rep at a local Castaic, CA school gave a talk to the school about movie marketing too. Social media monitor RelishMix noticed a positive conversation on social about Middle School fueled by the book’s fans with comparisons to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Middle School is also benefiting from Patterson’s involvement. He’s bringing his 3.8M fans and followers to the mix with consistent posts and Middle School materials. But the rest of the cast, from social star Rob Riggle to co-star Lauren Graham (who together count 2.6M followers across social), are moderately plugging the film.
Audience split was 50/50 female-male with 58% under 25. Fifty-six percent of the audience bought tickets because it was a family movie. Middle School earned solid As for its under 25 demo and under 18 (54%) according to CinemaScore. On PostTrak exits, Middle School moviegoers weren’t over the moon with 47% saying they’d recommend the movie to friends. Parents dragged those opinion exits down with a 31% recommendation, but kids were bullish at 60% (very good). Fifty-nine percent of the audience was between 10-12 according to PostTrak with close to 80% of the kids giving it a very good or great grade.
Deadline hears that in some of the African American-demo theater locations where Birth of a Nation is playing, it’s the top title. These cities include Atlanta, New York City, Chicago, Baltimore, Norfolk, VA and in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood of L.A. Overall, the majority of the business for Birth of a Nation was in the South. Based on the film’s A CinemaScore, it’s apparent that the film still emotionally affects crowds as it did during its Sundance Film Festival premiere. Producer Kevin Turen has said in interviews that there have been “screenings where 90% of the audiences are left in tears”.
Fox Searchlight focused on a ‘call to action theme’ in its provocative posters and in Birth‘s trailer, which featured Andra Day’s “Rise Up” R&B anthem. There was also a grass-roots campaign with Searchlight sending sermon pamphlets to 80K churches and study guides to 30K schools with private screenings of Birth of a Nation being held for groups such as the Congressional Black Caucus and the Conference of National Black Churches. The Mayor of Compton, CA, Aja Brown, also held an advance screening. Despite Searchlight harnessing these opportunities, or any arguments that its marketing campaign was too fierce (re: a one-sheet of Parker’s Nat Turner being hung by the American flag) or any debates whether the movie should have been platformed – all of this is for naught in regards to its impact on the B.O. Parker/Celestin’s past at Pennsylvania State University took the spotlight and is attributed by many in the distribution and exhibition community as the biggest thorn in the film’s side, preventing it from crossing over to a broader audience. I hear that Birth of a Nation wasn’t confined solely to specialty houses,…