Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Superhero Film vs. A Space Epic

As we all know, Walt Disney Animation Studios' Big Hero 6 will be opening November 7th this year. Disney nabbed that spot a while back, October 2012 to be exact.

Christopher Nolan's sci-fi space-bound epic Interstellar is also set to open on November 7th. Warner Bros. grabbed the date in June 2013. This is Nolan's first film to not be a summer release since 2006's The Prestige. They probably picked this weekend because The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 opens two weeks after that...

It would've been nice if Warner Bros. pulled a Gravity by giving it an October release (it would still open high and perform well regardless of the release date), but they aren't doing that unless they make some last-minute announcement and please moviegoers everywhere by excitedly saying "You get your Nolan movie a little earlier than expected!"

So now Disney's very risky animated superhero action film is being pitted against a new and original Nolan film. Interstellar, I think, will partially be big for the following reasons. Nolan's name is a draw, I bet the name and resume alone helped Man of Steel open with as much as it did. Inception probably would've done okay business had it not been a Nolan film, but of course, WB wisely and obviously noted in the trailers that it was from the Dark Knight director on top of making it look incredible. Also, it's an original, not a sequel or a superhero film, I think audiences will flock to it because it's something different for a change. Nolan's been locked up in superhero world since the days of The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel, now he's back to new stuff.

Now... Let's look at other times when animated films were released against big live action blockbusters...

In 2008, WALL-E opened the same weekend as Wanted, the latter being a big blockbuster action film with star power like Angelina Jolie. It opened to $50 million, WALL-E won the race by roughly $13 million. Neither films really seemed to affect each other, but Wanted had average legs while WALL-E held on, being a high quality Pixar film. This was also a very risky film, as it had less dialogue than most American animated features and had a post-apocalyptic setting of all things! It did just fine.

Three summers later, Paramount opened DreamWorks' Kung Fu Panda 2 against The Hangover Part II. Hangover II opened really high, Panda 2 underperformed. That release did hurt it, but so did the very lazy marketing that made the film look like more of the same name. So you had a movie that sucked away a lot of the teens and adults, and a poor marketing campaign. Still, the film did well enough domestically and worldwide. It just didn't do as well as it should have, which is unfortunate.

The following summer, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted went head-to-head with Prometheus. Ridley Scott's divisive sci-fi film was set in the same universe as Alien, had an excellent marketing campaign behind it and a lot of pre-release hype. It had a lot going for it, it opened with $50 million while the zoo animals took in $60 million. Both movies didn't seem to really affect each other, either. DreamWorks' film did well because the marketing did its job and the goodwill from the previous two films helped.

For some non head-to-head examples, Wreck-It Ralph survived in the face of Skyfall in November 2012, Tangled opened fine after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 was just opening up. Ditto Frozen and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Now Bolt performed poorly against Twilight back in 2008 because the marketing for Bolt was by-the-numbers, Winnie the Pooh wasn't going to be huge to begin with, and the non-existent marketing made matters worse, Potter or no Potter.

So now we get to Big Hero 6 and Interstellar. Big Hero 6 has the Disney name, a potentially strong marketing campaign and the success of Frozen behind it. The poster already says "From the creators of Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen", which ought to give it a major boost. Interstellar has Nolan's name, a satisfying trailer and since it's going to be a PG-13 live action film, the audiences (aka millennials that are around my age who don't know any better) who avoid animation will go see it.

Yesterday, I talked about the release date with fellow Disney and animation fans David Daut (aka Illusion0fLife, check out his blog) and ThemeParks4Life (who also has a blog that you should check out), here's what they had to say...

Daut talked about a possible October release for the film, even though the teaser poster already establishes that it'll hit in November...

"... I think that an October release would only benefit Disney. It'd open basically uncontested and have a lot more time to make money before the holiday movie season starts. Of course, all of this assumes that Disney would be in a position to release the film 2-4 weeks early, which may not be true."

An October release would actually be a very good idea in many ways, because The Lego Movie just proved that you can release a family-friendly animated film any time of the year. As long as the marketing makes it look like something worth seeing in the theaters, it'll do fine - no matter what season it debuts in. Something like Gravity fared very well in October, so any month can be home to any potentially big movie.

Daut is right though, a first week of October release or something like that will give the film more than enough room to breathe. By the time the holiday competition comes out, Big Hero 6 would already have strong word-of-mouth on its side, so it'll fare well in the face of the competition.

But then we have a slight problem... LAIKA's The BoxTrolls opens on September 26th and Reel FX's The Book of Life (a film, as a lot of you may know, that I'm really interested in) opens October 17th. If Big Hero 6 were to move to, say, October 10th, Book of Life would have to move... But where? August? That has Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but that's bound to disappoint and Book of Life could be a little ParaNorman-sized film.

To elaborate, Reel FX spent $55 million on their first film Free Birds and it did well enough for them. The Book of Life should cost around the same amount, but that film looks to be a game-changer for computer animation (I've heard that the animation itself will really resemble concept art come to life!), so I'd like to see it do as well as it can. When we talked about this, ThemesPark4Life suggested that the film should be moved to January 2015 if August 2014 is not doable.

No animated film is scheduled for January 2015, and The Nut Job showed that you can release a small-scale animated film in that spot to success. Maybe distributor Fox should move The Book of Life, so it has enough room of its own to breathe. By the time it opens, the latest animated film will be The Penguins of Madagascar... That opens November 26th, and it will have run its course by mid-January.

If Disney ever does move Big Hero 6 to October, this - I believe - would be a good schedule...

August 22, 2014 - The Book of Life (or mid-January 2015)
Sept 26, 2014 - The BoxTrolls
October 10, 2014 - Big Hero 6
November 26, 2014 - The Penguins of Madagascar

ThemeParks4Life added that The Penguins of Madagascar could pose a possible threat to Big Hero 6's run. Now animated films don't cannibalize each other, but most of the time, a currently-playing animated film does drop quite a bit when a new one opens. This is because of the loss of screens and 3D screens, which causes a sharper decline than usual. The decline does hurt the preceding film in some ways, as it now won't make a gross that's bigger than the one it ends up getting.

That being said, let's compare Wreck-It Ralph's run with Frozen's...

Wreck-It Ralph had good legs at the box office, though it did have more competition than Frozen did. In its way stood Rise of the Guardians, The Hobbit and some blockbusters. Had a lot of those films not been there, Wreck-It Ralph could've possibly had a slightly stronger run and be the only animated family film playing that slowly but surely gains lots of momentum. I believe this is what happened to Frozen, since it had only a blockbuster or two to go up against. Word of mouth was very strong for that one too, had the advantage of having a bigger opening and judging by the multiplier, it did have wider appeal than the wrecker tale with audiences. (Though to be honest, I think Ralph could've held on just as well had it opened with above $60 million.)

Also, Frozen opened closer to the holidays and vacation time, I think that really helped - both families and adults off from work were free to see it just as it was fresh and new. Wreck-It Ralph was an early November release, and probably ran its course by holiday break. That's box office these days, unfortunately, the opening is usually the biggest weekend the film gets and then it's smaller numbers from there.

Unlike Frozen, Big Hero 6 is Wreck-It Ralph all over again. A major animated film opens later in November, there are blockbusters around as well, it's legs probably won't be fantastic unless the movie miraculously connects with damn near everybody like Frozen seemed to do. By the time the holidays come around, it will have run its course. But we shall see...

ThemesPark4Life also added, "if they market it with 'Based on the Marvel Comic' that would give it a good boost." I have not seen the whole teaser, since it's not up until tomorrow, but it would be great if Disney inserted a 'Based on the Marvel Comic' line into that teaser, and it can get Marvel fanatics interested alongside the people who flock to the MCU films who don't read the comics. They most likely will do that, well I hope they do!

An opening weekend north of $50 million should be fine for this film, let's just hope it opens above that total no matter when it's released. Disney needs a big hit on their hands with this film, pun intended.

Do you think Big Hero 6 should be moved to October? Do you think it'll do just fine in its November spot? Do you think it'll surprise in some way no matter when it hits? Sound off below!


  1. So, how does this affect the predictions you've previously made about these films' grosses?

    1. I still think the film is going to open with $60M+, that is if the marketing improves over the months. I see it topping $200M domestically.

  2. $60M+? I can see it opening in the high 50s, but not any higher with Interstellar and Penguins breathing down its neck.