Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Disney and Fox's Release Date Wars

Disney and Fox are playing a pretty heated game of movie release date chess… Have been…

The House of Mouse and the studio known for an iconic booming fanfare have been going at it for months. In what way? Release dates. Disney locks some, Fox puts a movie against theirs. Sometimes Fox gets a date first, Disney then leaps onto it…

Here's what the situation looks like right now…

April 2012: Pixar locks 6/19/2015 for Inside Out. Back then, however, the film is untitled and is just known as "The Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes You Inside The Mind".

September 2012: DreamWorks rolled out a massive slate that capped off at fall 2016. How To Train Your Dragon 3 was pegged for a 6/17/2016 release. Another film is set to come out 12/18/2015. Around this time, it's an untitled Bollywood musical.

October 2012-April 2013: Disney locked 11/25/2015 for an untitled Pixar film back in October 2012, and in April 2013, a newly-announced Finding Dory filled the slot.

Fox does a little DreamWorks switcheroo. Kung Fu Panda 3 and Bollywood Musical switch spots. Kung Fu Panda 3 is now set for 12/23/2015, with Bollywood Musical taking the 3/18/2016 spot.

May 2013: Disney unveils two slates: One for Walt Disney Animation Studios, and one for Pixar. One of the dates they picked for a Pixar film was 6/17/2016…

Disney Animation's dates were 3/4/2016, 11/23/2016, 3/9/2018, and 11/21/2018.
Pixar's dates were 6/17/2016, 6/16/2017, 11/22/2017, and 6/15/2018.

June 2013: Fox retaliated, and scheduled an animated film (be it DWA, Blue Sky or Fox Animation) to open the same day as a Pixar summer 2017 release: 6/16/2017.

The dates they claimed were 3/10/2017, 6/16/2017, 7/21/2017, 11/3/2017, 12/20/2017, 3/23/2018, 6/29/2018, 7/20/2018, 11/2/2018, and 12/21/2018.

12/18/2015 is picked for a fourth Alvin and the Chipmunks movie.

September 2013: To make matters worse, Pixar's The Good Dinosaur booted Finding Dory out of the 11/25/2015 slot. This was because the director was removed at this time, and the project had to be pushed back in order to be restarted from scratch… What slot did Finding Dory end up in? 6/17/2016! Now the dragons had Dory as their main rival.

November-December 2013: Disney then announced that Alice in Wonderland 2 would be opening 5/27/2016. A month later, Fox announced that X-Men: Apocalypse would open the same weekend. Around the same time, Fox moved The Fantastic Four from 3/6/2015 to 6/19/2015, the day Pixar's Inside Out is set to open. Prior to this, Assassin's Creed had that spot. It was moved to 8/7/2015.

Then in late November, the big one came… Disney announced that Star Wars Episode VII would open on 12/18/2015. A mere five days before Kung Fu Panda 3

Fox also moved Blue Sky's Anubis from its intended 7/15/2016 release date. It filled the 3/23/2018 spot they claimed back in June, and it has stayed there since.

March 2014: An untitled Ridley Scott film is set to come out 3/4/2016. The project ended up being The Martian, a sci-fi that Scott is hard at work on right now. A Disney Animation film got that date first, Zootopia.

Fox sets dates for new X-Men projects. Wolverine Untitled is pegged for 3/3/2017, The Fantastic Four 2 for 7/14/2017, and an untitled film for 7/13/2018.

May 2014: Disney announces that the first standalone Star Wars film will open 12/16/2016. For some odd reason, Fox moves the unanticipated Alvin and the Chipmunks 4 to the same date. It was originally set to open 12/18/2015, before Episode VII landed in the spot.

June 2014: DreamWorks' slate is updated…

In an unusual move, DreamWorks claims 1/13/2017 and 1/12/2018 for Captain Underpants and Larrikins respectively.

Bollywood Musical fills the 3/10/2017 spot, The Croods 2 lands in the 11/3/2017 slot. Bollywood Musical's original 3/18/2016 slot goes to a project called Boss Baby.

Madagascar 4 claims a date that Fox/DreamWorks never locked before: 5/18/2018.

Puss in Boots 2 fills the 11/2/2018 slot.

July 2014: Disney plays dirty. Two untitled Marvel films land in the 11/3/2017 and 11/2/2018 slots. Another Marvel film is pegged for 7/6/2018, the week before Fox/Marvel's untitled July 2018 release.

August 2014: Ridley Scott's The Martian moves up to 11/25/2015, same weekend as The Good Dinosaur.

The Croods 2 and Puss in Boots 2 are moved out of the original spots now that Marvel films are sitting in both. The Croods 2 is now set for 12/22/2017, and Puss in Boots 2 is set for 12/21/2018.

September 2014: How To Train Your Dragon 3 is finally whisked out of the 6/17/2016, leaving Finding Dory alone. It's now set, however, for 6/9/2017. That's one week before whatever Pixar releases on 6/16/2017. The Fantastic Four is moved away from the 6/19/2015 that Pixar locked back in early 2012. A small drama called Paper Towns now occupies that slot.

Confusing, eh? I'm probably missing a few other instances of this petty game the two companies are playing (Disney scheduling Spielberg's The BFG to open against Independence Day 2), but… Someone is going to win most of those slots, and if history shows anything… It'll be Disney.

Most of Disney's releases are very high profile and promise smashing returns at the box office. However, some of Fox's films don't need to move. Also, let's put it this way… Warner Bros. thought they could pit Batman v Superman - a film that, if you happen to live under a rock, has pretty much everything riding on it - against a Marvel Studios film set for 5/6/2016. At the time WB started this game of chicken, the 5/6/2016 slot was reserved for a mystery Marvel movie. In April 2014, after Captain America: The Winter Soldier took off like a rocket and got critical raves all across the board, Disney proudly announced that Captain America 3 was Marvel's 5/6/2016 release.

Only recently did WB blink, and some top execs later admitted that they thought they could bully Disney out of the 5/6/2016 slot. Batman v Superman is now set for 3/25/2016. Now think about that… Batman v Superman, no matter how good or bad it turns out to be, is pretty much locked to challenge the opening weekend record. It's Batman and Superman meeting on the big screen for the first time! Two of some of the most iconic, well-known superheroes. This is arguably an Avengers-sized event!

Captain America 3 will undoubtedly be big. At the moment, I'm thinking it'll make Iron Man 3 numbers given the fact that it opens after Avengers: Age of Ultron and already has the goodwill of Winter Soldier behind it. However, Batman v Superman would logically open a lot higher. $150 million seems to be the floor for it at the moment, unless it happens to look really bad from trailers, but I doubt that, WB is obviously going to pour their all, their all, into this film. It's their biggest event film in the coming years, outside of Justice League, which is eying a 2017 release.

Disney and Marvel made it clear that they were keeping the 5/6/2016 slot, no ifs, ands, or buts. WB backed down because they had no reason to barge in on Disney's slot in the first place, especially when there were a ton of other 2016 dates they could've claimed for the Superman/Batman film. It was petty and foolish of them do so, and they ended up doing the right thing. 3/25/2016 is the perfect spot for Batman v Superman

So if WB realized that they couldn't put Batman v Superman up against something like Captain America 3, surely Fox would learn a similar lesson, no?

Well, for starters, having Paper Towns open the same day as Inside Out isn't stupid. It's a small-scale drama, whereas Inside Out is a tentpole aimed at all demographics. Everyone from kids to adults, and what's in-between. It's a Pixar film, no less.

Now let's jump to the autumn of 2015. Should Fox release The Martian the same day as The Good Dinosaur? Well that's tricky, because Fox released Ridley Scott's Prometheus the same day as Madagascar 3 back in 2012. Back then, DreamWorks movies were distributed by Paramount. Prometheus was actually good counter-programming, being an R-rated film rather than a tentpole aimed at the widest audience possible. Prometheus also had the Alien connection and excellent marketing (side note: every time I saw that trailer in theaters, the audience went dead silent) behind it. It opened with $50 million, the zoo crew took home $60 million. Nobody cannibalized or hurt each other.

I have no idea what audience The Martian will be aimed towards. Will it be a PG-13 blockbuster aimed at wide audiences? Or will it be adults-only, carrying an R-rating? If it's the latter, I think it'll be fine where it is. If it's PG-13 and aimed at the blockbuster crowd, I'd said suggest that Fox should move it from Pixar's film. Scott has a spotty track record at the box office, for every Gladiator there's a Kingdom of Heaven. The Martian, being a sci-fi original, is already risky. But Fox will probably market it like mad, and if it appeals the same way something like Gravity did, it should be fine. What will be the budget on it, anyways?

Kung Fu Panda 3, beating the dead horse once more, can not stay in that 12/23/2015 spot. Episode VII will overshadow it, crush it, yadda yadda yadda. Since DreamWorks is pretty much releasing B.O.O. in summer 2015, Kung Fu Panda 3 should settle for a better autumn date. Mid-October, I think, is the way to go. The spot gives it breathing room, so it can open well enough and then word-of-mouth does the work from there…

DreamWorks' Boss Baby and Trolls are fine where they are, though King Kong origin film Skull Island - being a big tentpole from Legendary that looks to build off of the success of Godzilla - could pose a threat to the latter. We'll have to wait and see on that one…

As for Alice and X-Men, well even though Disney got the date first, I think they should move. Alice in Wonderland 2010's success was a result of the stars lining up: 3D enthusiasm after Avatar, strong marketing, and not much else playing in the theaters in terms of big budget/event/spectacle stuff. X-Men: Apocalypse is riding off of X-Men: Days of Future Past, which was the series' biggest entry since the original trilogy that has also helped restore interest in the franchise. X-Men: Apocalypse could play like Fast Five if it looks really good. Alice in Wonderland 2 arrives six years too late, and if anything, it'll only benefit from the revisionist/gritty fairy tale craze that's going on right now. Maleficent, and the upcoming Disney-made Cinderella and Jungle Book live action films, will boost it… Hmmm, that's kind of a tough one to be honest, but someone has got to move.

I still say Disney should move Alice, considering that enough April 2016 slots are currently open. Plus, late May/June is traditionally reserved for X-Men films. Yes it would be strange of Disney to be the one to move, but it would be the wise option. That way, they can distance it from all their summer releases. (Cap 3, Finding Dory, et al.)

As for The BFG and Independence Day 2 opening 7/1/2016… I think both films won't make that release date. There are a ton of other films set to open that same day anyways, so no. Moving on…

How To Train Your Dragon 3 shouldn't open a week before Pixar Untitled 6/16/2017. Find a better slot for it, Fox/DreamWorks… There are a good number of summer dates you can take that are open, and the film is going to need it since 2 didn't have the same legs the beloved first film had.

Now we get to Croods 2 and its fishy December 2017 date. Right now, it's alone and it seems safe… But let me tell you something, it won't be. Guess what Disney is going to do…

Disney's goal is to release a Star Wars episode every two years, with a spin-off film in-between each. That would mean that Star Wars Episode VIII will be a December 2017 release. Croods 2, like Kung Fu Panda 3, should settle for an October date so it's out of the way and it has time to breathe. The same goes for Puss in Boots 2, which is coming 7 years after its successful enough predecessor. A Star Wars spin-off will most likely open in December 2018, so again, October for Puss.

But now here's a bigger problem… A big blue problem to be exact…

Avatar sequels!

James Cameron is going to film the next three films in the series back-to-back, meaning that each installment will be an annual event. Cameron's been eying 2016 for Avatar 2, with Avatar 3 obviously following in 2017, and Avatar 4 capping things off in 2018.

But Fox hasn't made a peep when it comes to release dates. Obviously December will be eyed, since Avatar was a December release back in 2009. December was most likely picked because Cameron's mega-blockbuster record breaker Titanic was a December release back in 1997. Don't be surprised if Fox plays dirty in the coming months and states that Avatar 2 will open 12/16/2016, three will follow 12/15/2017, and four will land on 12/14/2018…

Clustercuss, clustercuss…

Now if Star Wars or Avatar claims anything, studios will obviously back off or reconsider some of their ideas. Croods 2 and Puss in Boots 2 are not good where they are, because things like Star Wars and Avatar will stomp anything out. They'll suck in all of the demographics, everybody in the family, all casual moviegoers.

Can you even imagine a Star Wars film duking it out with an Avatar sequel at the box office? That would probably not end too well, and having something like a DreamWorks film open in the mix? It'll most likely be casualty of the battle, especially when a big budget is riding on it.

So what's the main concern here if longevity truly matters most?

Opening… Weekends…

You know how the entertainment press is. Opening weekends are everything to them.

Your $140 million+ movie opened with around $35 million at the domestic box office despite the fact that it's got months to grow legs, and it has the international box office on its side? FLOP! FLOP! The press puts a stain on your movie, and douses it in a bad smell that can never be gotten rid of. It also does a good job at making audiences think the movie in question is a bad film, because sadly a lot of people equate the term "flop"/"bomb"/"dud" with "bad quality movie". Waterworld, John Carter of Mars, etc.

A film doesn't entirely succeed on opening day because of the quality. Before the movie comes out, no one other than critics have seen it. However, it is very important that the marketing successfully sells the movie in question. Let's look at the critically acclaimed blockbuster Gravity… What did that film have behind it before trailers began popping up? Director Alfonso Cuaron… Is he really a household name like Spielberg or Scorsese? No, but "Director of Prisoner of Azkaban" is probably enough…

No, what really sold Gravity were those trailers. It looked awesome, and yet so simple. WB put together an excellent marketing campaign for that movie, so anticipation was already there before critics' reviews came out. Gravity opened with $55 million, so it already had an excellent start. It cost $100 million to make, so the press didn't deem it a flop when it opened. It was already all set, domestically. Then word of mouth did the rest of the work…

This was an October movie less. People think a blockbuster simply can't open in a month like October, or January, or February. No, a big movie will be big no matter when it comes out. Gravity, The Lego Movie, all of those movies are proof of that. What people need to realize is that January and February are considered dumping grounds for destined-to-be-bombs/films that aren't meant to be huge, but the months can be suitable for blockbusters too.

Now if Gravity wasn't marketed correctly and ended up opening with $25 million, the press would cry "FLOP!" It could even effect the word-of-mouth, despite the reviews being good. Fortunately, audiences loved Gravity. A movie has great word-of-mouth if audiences love it. When an audience doesn't love your movie, no matter how well-received it is by critics (this year's Godzilla is an excellent example of this), it has horrible legs.

It all boils down to what audiences like. Godzilla opened with a strong $93 million and reviews were fine, but audiences mostly disliked it ("Not enough Godzilla in the movie!") and the movie had an incredibly weak 2.1x multiplier. Really bad for any film! But it has a fine percentage on Rotten Tomatoes and got good reviews. Meanwhile, a poorly received rom-com can open low but pull fine legs because lots of audiences love these things. Never be shocked when something like, say Grown Ups 2, pulls a 3x multiplier.

So it's always a gamble when it comes to tentpoles. Some are destined to win, obvious examples being Marvel movies, Star Wars, sequels to films that audiences really liked, etc. Others, well we never know. Avatar, despite Cameron's box office luck, was declared dead on arrival. The obituaries were already written, but since it's a James Cameron film, that did not matter. Other films, not so much. John Carter of Mars and The Lone Ranger, anyone?

It isn't the 80s or early 90s anymore. Movies have a short life in theaters these days, and you sadly gotta bang out as much bucks as you can on opening weekend. Movies open big, then drop. Most people seem to go and see a movie only once in theaters, or once. Period. If you see a movie a month late, you feel like you're late to the party. The movie in question will be playing on the screen at the far end of your local multiplex, and very few people come in the theater as you wait for the trailers to begin rolling. Heck, I saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier for a second time just two weeks after it opened. The theater in my local multiplex showing it, on a Friday no less, was like a ghost town! I had caught Edge of Tomorrow about 3-4 weeks after it opened, same thing. Ghost town!

Maybe a new release model will come along in the next couple of years and solve many problems, and perhaps create new ones in the process. But one thing's for certain, Disney and Fox need to stop this. Both are at fault here, and blockbusters need to be given space in order to breathe. Same with animated family films aimed at the widest audience possible that carry a G/PG rating. Most studios are smart, they distance their releases from others and know how the playing field works. I just wish Disney and Fox knew this…

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