Last week, Vulture ran a story saying a $400 million domestic gross is the new threshold for blockbusters.To put this in perspective, the only movie to reach that number before “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” came out in 1999 was “Titanic.”
Now, if one takes inflation into account, a lot of these trends seem meaningless. And 3D ticket and IMAX prices also play a role. But we’re box office nerds, and we’re sticking with the hard numbers.
The box office climate is changing. With more emphasis placed on international grosses every year, domestic numbers may not seem as important. But 2012 is on the verge of setting a record that just a decade ago was unfathomable: Three $400 million domestic films in a single year… and possibly more.
“The Dark Knight Rises” will easily pass $400 million, the question is by how much. Additionally, Spider-Man’s return to the screen after half a decade, and Peter Jackson‘s “Unexpected Journey” back to Middle Earth have a fighting chance. Let’s take a closer look at our three contenders.
The Amazing Spider-Man (July 3)
Of these three, “Spider-Man” has the toughest road ahead of it. Sandwiched between “The Avengers” and “Dark Knight,” the web-slinger may get lost in the shuffle. Even if it does break out, it has less than three weeks before “Dark Knight” opens and takes its entire demographic.
A breakout seems unlikely with its July 3 release date, a Tuesday. Clearly not making a play to match its own opening weekends (a game it would likely fail), Spidey is instead going for a strategy implemented successfully in the past by “Transformers,” hoping for numbers close to or above $20 million for the first six days (and then the following second weekend). This is a good play to ensure the film wills its way to $300 million, and squeezes everything it can out of its pre-“Dark Knight” days, but it won’t be nearly enough to hit the $400 million Spidey reached over a decade ago. Tracking has it heading for a $125 million six-day opening, but with numbers this big, reviews can sway that tally by tens of millions in either direction.
A lot has changed since “Spider-Man” was the premier superhero franchise (Cough. Christopher Nolan. Cough.), and anything less than stellar reviews could spell disaster (any gross less than $250 million) for this big-budget reboot and hopeful franchise-starter. But “Spider-Man” shocked the world before, and that’s enough to keep it in the conversation.
The Dark Knight Rises (July 20)
We just covered this: It’s not a matter of if this reaches the $400 plateau, but by how much and when.
Can it pass its predecessor? Hype alone will drive the opening weekend to “Avengers”-level numbers (seriously, if you plan on seeing this opening day and don’t already have your tickets, good luck), but does Bane + Catwoman = The Joker? Doubtful. Heath Ledger’s performance was something special, and it drove non-superhero fans to check it out in theatres. Don’t expect that this time around.
Unrealistic expectations for the pic may hurt its legs, though a cushy release date will help prevent that, in what may end up being a weak finish to the summer 2012 box office.
Verdict: Yes. Guaranteed.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (December 14)
The “Lord of the Rings” films were never known for their openings (though they certainly weren’t bad), but rather their impressive legs through December and January. For box office legs, it doesn’t get better than a mid-December release, where a film that opens in the low-teens still has a chance to cross $100 million. Combining holidays and kids off from school with the fact that nothing even remotely good opens between December 26 and Martin Luther King Day, ensures the staying power of quality (and Chipmunk) pre-Christmas fare. It also gives audiences time to see a number of films, so competition from Leonardo DiCaprio‘s two Christmas films, “The Great Gatsby” and “Django Unchained,” won’t be a problem.
Expect part one of “The Hobbit” to follow in this regard. Typically part one of a two-part film may not reach the heights of its successor, but after a decade of waiting to return to Middle Earth, expect fans to come out in droves. Plus, though none of the LOTR films passed $400 million, when adjusted for inflation, they all clear the milestone easily. For these reasons, expect “Hobbit” to be our fourth $400 million earner of the year (even if it takes until 2013 to do so).
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