Box Office Autopsy: Fall Report Card

The fall is typically a slow time for the movie business, but this year things seemed especially sluggish. For the first time since 2008, no October release topped the $100 million mark. Several high-profile releases gave the box office a jolt in November, but aside from four big hits, nothing else has had much impact. Only ten November releases have crossed the $10 million mark as of 11/30.

So to give a sense of what did well and what didn’t, here’s my Fall box office score card. I’ve graded each major studio from A to F based on the performance of their films. I’d like to note that this has nothing to do with film quality, and everything to do with financial prospects. Without further ado, my Fall Report Card.

Buena Vista (Disney): B-

A B- might sound harsh, considering Disney is currently leading every other studio at the domestic box office by more than $600 million so far this year. It’s easy to focus on the stellar performances of Doctor Strange ($208 million) and Moana ($89.5M), and forget about their flops: The Light Between Oceans ($13M) and Queen of Katwe ($9M. It remains to be seen how well Moana will do in the long run, but it will probably end up somewhere between Tangled ($201M) and Frozen ($401M). Too early to tell exactly how high the box office will end up. Doctor Strange managed to combine a strong debut with solid legs, and should end up earning around $230M by the end of its run. Still, neither of these movies have gone beyond industry expectations. They’re hits, not grand slams.

Disney’s “Moana” took #1 over Thanksgiving, with the biggest animated opening of Fall.

On the other hand, it’s difficult to say anything positive about The Light Between Oceans or Queen of Katwe from a box office perspective. Neither film was too expensive, and Disney’s expectations were probably low. Even so, before marketing costs are taken into account, the films represent a $22M loss for the studio, enough to bring its grade down to a B-.

Disney will release Rogue One on December 16th, making it easy to imagine the studio topping $3 billion domestically this year–the largest sales of any studio in a single calendar year.

Warner Bros: B

Warner Bros is currently the #2 studio domestically, and the Fall season did little to change their fortunes. While they’ve almost completely avoided releasing any outright bombs (The Nice Guys notwithstanding), many of their films have under-performed, and none of them have over-performed.

“Fantastic Beasts” had the lowest opening for a film set in J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world.

Warner Bros had the #1 film of both September and October. Sully ruled September with $124M against a $60M budget while The Accountant’s decent but unimpressive $83M was enough to top an emaciated October. Storks dramatically under-performed with $71M, and while Fantastic Beasts ($163M) appears to be racking up a lot of dough, it is earning dramatically less than its Harry Potter predecessors. Of the four Potter films released the weekend before Thanksgiving, it is running ahead of only Chamber of Secrets. Calculate fourteen years of ticket price inflation, and Fantastic Beasts starts to look pretty puny.

The year is basically done for Warner Bros, with only Collateral Beauty and Live by Night left in the calendar year. While Live by Night could do well, it’s limited Christmas release means we’ll have to wait for 2017 to find out.

20th Century Fox: D-

Fox had the misfortune of releasing three major bombs and having only one $100M+ earner this fall. Fox’s year prior to this was full of hits. Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse and Kung Fu Panda 3 all broke the half a billion mark worldwide. The last three months have been devastating by comparison.

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” failed to be Tim Burton’s return to form, at least from a box office perspective.

Fox opened the fall season with Morgan ($4M), which sputtered coughed and died at the starting line. The sure bet Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children did relatively modest business, failing to break out with $86 million in the till domestically. Adding insult to injury, audiences shunned the unfathomably bland Keeping Up with the Jones’s, earning only $14.8M domestic on a $40M budget.

The one bright spot for Fox was the surprise success of Dreamwork’s Trolls. Even so, it’s current $136.5M domestic tally is a far cry from the heyday of Dreamworks Animation, and nowhere near the level of recent animated fare from Disney or Illumination.

“Trolls” was the 2nd highest grossing Fall release (although “Moana’ is certain to surpass it)


Fox’s thanksgiving release, Rules Don’t Apply ($2.6M) had one of the worst openings for a film debuting in over 2,000 theaters. It should come as no surprise, since the marketing and hype for this picture was non-existent, and the trailer was confusing. Lukewarm reviews were the final nail in the coffin. Unfortunately for Fox, the coffin cost $25 million to build.

Considering the risky ventures that await in December (Assassin’s Creed, Why Him?, Hidden Figures) I can’t imagine Fox executives are feeling too bullish right now.

Universal: B

While Universal didn’t release anything too flashy or spectacular this fall, what they did release managed to make money. Excluding marketing costs, all of their films went into the black by the end of Thanksgiving.

Emily Blunt in The Girl on the Train.

Their highest grossing film of the season was The Girl on the Train with $75 million domestic. While it failed to emulate the success of Gone Girl ($168M), it managed to turn a profit almost as large as its $45M budget and claim the title of the #2 October movie.

Kevin Hart: What Now and Bridget Jones’ Baby both failed to do much business domestically, both taking in about $24 million total. In the case of What Now? its low low budget meant it still made money. In the case of Bridget Jones, it was still a big hit overseas.

Ouija: Origin of Evil earned a commendable $35 million. While it is less than the original Ouija ($51M), considering how disliked that film was, it’s a bit of an achievement. It turns out making a film unrelated to its predecessor in plot, tone and style, can pay off. Especially if it’s made dirt cheap.

“Ouija: Origin of Evil” was the #1 Fall horror movie.

Universal’s model of making films with modest budgets, and only breaking out the big bucks on the safest bets (except Warcraft) continues to work out well for them. But no guts, no glory, so I can only give them a B.

The only remaining release for Universal this year is Illumination Animation’s Sing! Made on the cheap with broad appeal; I’d be a dummy to bet against it.

Sony: D

Sony has not had a banner year at the box office. Only Ghostbusters and Angry Birds have topped the $100M mark domestically (although Sausage Party came close) and only one of their fall features broke out past $35M.

“Magnificent Seven” was the #2 movie of September.

The Magnificent Seven did about as well as one could expect. It’s $93M domestic ranked #2 for September. Unfortunately, the overseas money just wasn’t there for the western remake, and it ended up representing a small loss for the studio. Inferno on the other hand subsidized its embarrassing domestic numbers ($34M) with size-able overseas sales ($182M). When the Bow Breaks, didn’t break-out making just under $30 million, profitable only thanks to its modest $10M budget.

The big red ink for Sony came from Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. The divisive but mostly disliked Oscar-bait movie hasn’t made an impact and will probably end up with a little over $2 million domestically. Considering the subject, it’s hard to imagine it will do very well overseas either.

Not all is lost for Sony, however. Passengers (12/21) looks like one of the safest bets of the holiday season, and has a good chance at being their biggest picture of the year (as long as Star Wars doesn’t destroy everything in its path).

Paramount: C-

If fall looks encouraging for Paramount, it’s only because the rest of the year has been an outright disaster for them. Prior to Jack Reacher 2, the only Paramount film to turn a profit this year has been 10 Cloverfield Lane. Every other picture resulted in a loss (in the case of Ben-Hur, an astounding loss).

“Jack Reacher: Never go Back” fell short of its predecessor.

Jack Reacher 2 took in $57 million domestically, significantly less than its predecessor’s $80M take four years ago. Still, with the aid of foreign markets, it was enough to yield a modest profit (although with marketing costs that profit almost certainly disappears). Better news for Paramount came with the release of sci-fi drama Arrival. While it got off to an unimpressive start, the film has shown solid legs, breaking even over thanksgiving. With $65M domestic and a bright future ahead, it could end up being a bona fide hit for Paramount.

Of course, any hope brought on by Arrival was canceled out by the disappointing numbers from Allied. It has so far made only $21M domestic on an $85M budget. While this includes little more than it’s opening weekend, it’s hard to imagine this will make it much higher than $50M all told. Overseas money should alleviate this slightly, but it’s still the latest in a long line of crushing defeats for Paramount.

Their planned December releases of Office Christmas Party and Fences are not inspiring enough to prevent the entirety of 2016 being written off as a loss for the once dominant studio.



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