Sunday, January 31, 2016

DreamWorks' Slate: What Should/Needs To Move?

Every once in a while, I talk about the release dates Fox/DreamWorks pick for the animation powerhouse's upcoming films...

Sometimes, I'll object to a few. The ones I wasn't too fond of in the past were ones that the studio ultimately changed. A few years ago, DreamWorks intended to release The Croods 2 and Puss in Boots 2 on 11/3/2017 and 11/2/2018 respectively, until Disney nabbed both spots. Originally holding Marvel movies, the former date holds Thor: Ragnarok and the other holds a currently undetermined live-action remake of an animated classic.

DreamWorks moved Croods 2 to 12/22/2017. Puss in Boots 2 went to 12/21/2018 before DreamWorks rejiggered their entire slate following the layoffs and downsizing of last year. The Croods 2 still holds that date, the kitty on the other hand has to wait for a new release date...

Well guess what came crashing in a few weeks back? Star Wars: Episode VIII.

Delayed from a May 2017 date, it is now opening in mid-December much like its predecessor. Smart move on Disney's part, for sure. What does it mean for The Croods 2?

The Croods was a sizable hit back in the spring of 2013. After much skepticism, the film opened with a solid $44 million. It had barely any competition in its way for quite a few weeks, thus it had the legs to climb to a $187 million domestic gross. Overseas audiences were quite charitable, too. It made $587 million worldwide. It's a good example to throw at someone who argues that movies often flop because of quality, but The Croods wasn't quite warmly received by critics, now was it? Audiences ate it up, because audiences have their tastes.

At the same time, Episode VIII is most likely not going to replicate The Force Awakens' amazing $900 million+ domestic gross for a good reason: Hype. Force Awakens was the return, the first legitimately good Star Wars movie in over 30 years, the first sequel to the original trilogy, the new beginning. It had juggernaut written all over, much like The Avengers, the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man, and other phenomenons of that order... Star Wars itself being the best example. No matter how much better The Empire Strikes Back may be in most of our eyes, it didn't outdo Star Wars when released in 1980. Star Wars was fresh and new three years prior to that, everyone and their brother went, including people who probably wouldn't bother going to their local cinema more than once or twice a year. The novelty is gone the second time around. The same happened to those others films I mentioned, Age of Ultron and Spider-Man 2 had no hopes of replicating the domestic grosses that their predecessors achieved. Worldwide is a whole different story altogether...

I feel Episode VIII will go the same route. Opens huge enough, does incredibly good business, but doesn't come close to topping its predecessor. It's still, however, a threat to The Croods 2, in that a lot of the hype is still there and that all of the demographics will flock to Star Wars. The Croods 2, being a PG-rated family film, is meant to get all four quadrants... But so is Episode VIII.

DreamWorks understood this when it came to Kung Fu Panda 3. The film opened with a good $41 million this weekend, it probably would've been knocked out by The Force Awakens had it stuck with its original 12/23/2015 release date. Given that DreamWorks is making films that cost $120 million+ to make, and probably the same amount to market, they can't just settle for a ho-hum domestic run and a solid overseas gross. It's why Penguins of Madagascar is considered a flop, but Home isn't, despite the fact that they cost the same amount to make, and made virtually the same amount worldwide.

Suffice to say, I think The Croods 2 should move. But where to?

I think the studio should either stake out the summer of 2017, around mid-July. 7/21/2017 sounds about right, its only major competition being Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk. It has room to open big, so that later competition doesn't give it trouble. Dunkirk is not a sequel or franchise entry, unlike other July 2017 releases like Marvel's Spider-Man film, War of the Planet of the Apes, and the Jumanji remake. Nolan's name means a bit, but it didn't help Interstellar open bigger than Big Hero 6 the same weekend. I suspect Dunkirk could be a similar case, where it's not really that much competition to The Croods 2, if the cavemen comedy sequel appeals from the trailers to all ages.

Or they should opt for late January 2018. Pull a Kung Fu Panda 3 with it. Why's that? The Croods was a big hit in China, grossing a very impressive $63 million over there. I won't be surprised if the sequel is upgraded to co-production status, where it's made by both DreamWorks and Oriental DreamWorks in Shanghai. Kung Fu Panda 3 settled for the seemingly-unusual late January slot because of the Chinese New Year. Why not do the same for The Croods 2? Not like the other January 2018 animated release - Sherlock Gnomes - is going to be much of an obstacle, anyways.

Plus, animated films don't cannibalize each other. At worst, the newest picture nabs screens from the previous one, which hurts in some ways but doesn't kill it.

So yes, I'd say The Croods 2 is either safe in 7/21/2017 (so long as production really moves forward in order to make it to such a date), or 1/26/2018.

Then there's Trolls, set to open against Doctor Strange on 11/4/2016. Back in 2014, DreamWorks was reported to have been concerned about Doctor Strange, which I think they should be. Doctor Strange, a PG-13 Marvel Cinematic Universe installment, will most likely skew the four quadrants. It's best that Trolls take a date like 10/14/2016, so it has more room to breathe, and more weeks till Disney Animation's sure-to-be-huge Moana comes out, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as well. Either that, or the marketing really needs to step it up and make the picture look appealing to adults. If only kids are interested, you won't be going very far, if you want your $120 million picture to break even. This isn't Norm of the North we're talking here!

Why Fox still has the date, I don't know. It seems like they'll stick with it, since the teaser for the film is now out. But it could change. Puss in Boots' marketing began when the film still carried an 11/4/2011 release date, before DreamWorks/Paramount changed it to 10/28/2011. They should do the same with Trolls. Give it a weekend to itself to open fine, and then deal with the competition from there.

Larrikins' release date was dodgy from day one. 2/16/2018 initially put it one weekend after a currently undetermined Warner Animation film, but now it's the same day as Marvel's Black Panther. Time to move it, DreamWorks. Heck, push it back a weekend. 2/23/2018 places it a few weeks away from Disney Animation's Gigantic, so it has some room to breathe!

Everything else is fine. Boss Baby has a solid mid-March date in 2017, How To Train Your Dragon 3 has the late June 2018 slot all to itself. Should open fine and then have no trouble with competition in the following weeks.

Do you think DreamWorks should consider different release dates for their films? Sound off below!

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