Feature Blogs

Investor Alert: Action Flicks Suck


Films today are marketed to excess. You see advertisements everywhere (if you’re paying close enough attention). There are posters at bus stations, giant displays in cinema foyers, happy meal tie-ins at fast food restaurants, repetitive ads on television, and more trailers than ever before in cinemas.


2005 was talked about as a bad year for cinemas. Box-office receipts were down with many people having their say as to why. The time it takes from a movie to go from cinemas, to DVD and eventually to pay TV is shorter than it’s ever been. 10 years ago, there wasn’t pay TV and there weren’t DVDs. If you didn’t want to see a movie, your only option was to wait over six months for and then rent a VHS cassette at “new release prices”. You had to wait at least another six months if you wanted to buy the VHS cassette – you could only rent at first.


Nowadays, the window from cinema to other mediums has been reduced. If you look at this week’s main video releases, Cinderella Man and Stealth, you’ll find that it was only released in cinemas on Sep 22. So that’s only a 4 month turnaround from cinema to video. If you want to see it, you can get down to your local Blockbuster on a Tuesday and rent it for just $1. So instead of paying around $50 for a family of four (excluding snacks) at Birch Carroll & Coyle cinemas, you can watch it together at home for $1. And if you’re lucky enough to have a state of the art home theatre system, you’ll hardly be missing the “cinema experience”.


You have more options though. Most movies these days are available to buy at the same time they are available to rent. If you like Cinderella Man, you can get to your local DVD store (my favourite is JB Hi-Fi) and buy it for $30. So once again, not only is this cheaper for a family of four, they get to keep the movie and watch it over and over again!


If you couldn’t be bothered wandering down to the video store and enjoy the wonders of digital Foxtel, you can wait a little longer and watch these movies without paying a cent (except for the Foxtel itself). This month’s Sunday night premieres on Showtime are The Phantom Of The Opera (in cinemas Dec 2004), Taxi (Nov 2004), Dodgeball (Sep 2004) and Man On Fire (Aug 2004). If you prefer your Movie One channel, the Sunday night premieres this month were Ella Enchanted (Dec 2004), Around The World In 80 Days (Aug 2004), Ocean’s Twelve (Dec 2004), Cellular (Feb 2005), Walking Tall (Aug 2004).


As you can see, you’ll not be waiting much longer than 15 months to see any film and if you’re lucky (like with The Phantom Of The Opera and Cellular), you’ll be waiting less than 12 months!


The question must now be asked – why bother going to the movies? Why do I waste my time and money? Well, there’s one thing that cinemas deliver that no one else can. It’s not a “big screen experience” like their current television ads are promoting because many people can get this at home now (without the worry of unclean seats, people talking and mobile phones going off). What cinemas offer is that chance to see the movie first. Ok, the wait to other mediums has been shortened but it’s still there. When Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire came out, were people prepared to wait four months to watch it at home on DVD? The answer was no. Ditto for Star Wars Episode 3 and The Chronicles Of Narnia.


Looking at the U.S. box-office results statistically, there’s an interesting point to be made with last year. Here’s a list of the number of films which made more than $100m and $200m at the U.S. domestic box-office:


2005 – 8 films over $200m, 19 films over $100m

2004 – 6 films over $200m, 24 films over $100m

2003 – 6 films over $200m, 29 films over $100m

2002 – 7 films over $200m, 24 films over $100m

2001 – 6 films over $200m, 20 films over $100m

2000 – 3 films over $200m, 22 films over $100m

1999 – 4 films over $200m, 21 films over $100m

1988 – 2 films over $200m, 18 films over $100m


When you consider that movies are costing more than ever to make (with their special effects and highly paid movie stars), the fact that only 19 films could make $100m or more in the United States must be a concern for the industry. They may pick up additional revenue through DVD sales and pay television deals but the revenue isn’t coming in where the bulk of the marketing budget is being spent – at the cinemas.


My personal belief is that the reason cinema attendances are down is because studios aren’t making enough movies which appeal to people. They are pumping millions into making predictable, formulaic rubbish which people are finally sick of. Because interesting is falling, moviegoers are prepared to save the cash and wait a few months to see the film at home. If they were really passionate, they wouldn’t wait – they’d be at the cinema during its first week of release.


Here now is a look at the hits and misses of 2005. You never really know which films are successful because once a film has been out for a couple of weeks, the posters have been pulled and the movie sinks back into oblivion. All the talk is a new film.


So here’s the list of what I believe are the year’s best and worst performances at the box-office. The results may surprise you…


Grossing Over $200m


Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge Of The Sith ($380m)

Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire ($284m)

The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe ($264m)

War Of The Worlds ($234m)

Wedding Crashers ($209m)
Charlie & The Chocolate Factory ($206m)

Batman Begins ($205m)

King Kong ($204m)


All of these films got people off their butt and to the cinemas. The three most surprising performers for me were Narnia, Wedding Crashers and Batman Begins.


These figures are as of the current date and Narnia could very likely pass Harry Potter at the box-office. Who would have predicted that? It’s a sure indicator that Narnia sequels will be on the way. The performance of Wedding Crashers was outstanding. It’s not easy for a comedy to make $200m and very few have achieved this status. Wedding Crashers was talked about by many and received much repeat business. As for Batman Begins, the word of mouth helped build its takings. When you consider the last Batman movie, Batman & Robin, made just $107m, it shows there’s new life in the franchise.


Grossing Over $100m


I won’t go through them all but the best results have to be from Madagascar ($193m), Mr & Mrs Smith ($186m), Hitch ($177m) and The Longest Yard ($158m).


I didn’t like any of these films but it shows that star power can still lure an audience. Someone once told me that celebrities are to the United States as what the royal family is to Great Britain. American’s idolize their celebrities and shows like Entertainment Tonight feed their desires for celebrity news. Thanks to their strong public premise, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Will Smith and Adam Sandler showed they can still draw them in.


The award for best celebrity marketing goes to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Their first public appearance together was on April 29, 2005. Tom’s film, War Of The Worlds, was released two months later on June 29, 2005. Katie’s film, Batman Begins, was released on June 15, 2005. What great timing, huh?


Not all films which grossed $100m could be considered a success. Fantastic Four made $154m at the U.S. box-office but it did cost $100m (before marketing). Where did they spend that money? It certainly wasn’t on the script.


Chicken Little has made $132m to date and Robots made $128m. Not bad results but competition is a lot more intense in the computer animated industry and it’s a lot tougher to make the huge sums of money that films like Shrek and Toy Story have done. They aren’t cheap to make either. Robots cost $75m and Chicken Little cost $60m. Ten years ago, the original Toy Story cost just $30m to make and reaped $191m from the U.S. public.


Box-Office Disasters


Now it’s time to turn to the real stinkers of 2005. You may have liked these films or thought they were successful but think again. They tanked. Studio executives will be looking for someone to make a scapegoat out of.


I have to laugh about The Passion: Recut. Mel Gibson released an edited version of the film in Easter 2005 in the United States on 954 screens across the country. It made just $449,000. That’s an average of approximately $470 per theatre. To put that into perspective, the original release of the film at Easter 2004 saw it make $370,233,000 with a theatre average of $108,636. Phew! That really does stink. Oh well, I’m sure Mel can afford it.


I really liked the film but Stay (with Ewan McGregor and Ryan Gosling) took in a mere $3.3m. It cost $50m. Do the math.


That loss could only be matched by Son Of The Mask (starring Jamie Kennedy). Don’t ask me how but it cost $74m to make this nonsense. It’s box-office take was only $17m and deservedly so.


Some films are so bad that they don’t even get released in Australia. Alone In The Dark (with Christian Slater, Stephen Dorff and Tara Reid) was filmed back in 2003 but finally shown to the “awaiting” public in 2005. At a cost of $20m, it could manage only $5.1m and is currently ranked at the Internet Movie Database as the 20th worst film of all time.


Keira Knightley is an outside chance at an Oscar nomination for Pride & Prejudice but she was also responsible for two box-office disasters. Domino made $10.1m at a cost of $50m. The Jacket (with Adrien Brody) made $6.2m at a cost of $29m. Oops.


I declared Elektra one of the worst films of 2005 and many people agree it seems. This sequel to Daredevil (starring Jennifer Garner) cost $43m but took in a meager $24.3m. I’m glad I wasn’t an investor. The same applied to many action releases including Lord Of War, Unleashed, Serenity, Aeon Flux and Doom. None of these films topped $30m at the U.S. box-office and yet they all cost $40m or more. Want more proof that audiences are tiring of repetitive action?


How about XXX 2 (with Ice Cube)? I ranked it as the 2nd worst film of 2005. Its takings were $26m. Its cost was $87m. My reaction to the loss is priceless.


Don’t forget The Island with Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. $122m was wasted putting it together for a return of just $36m.


There has to be a winner however. What was the biggest flop of 2005? Well, you can see it on video from this week! Stealth (with Josh Lucas, Jamie Foxx and Jessica Biel) cost $130m before marketing. The total gross was $31m. A nice tax loss indeed!


Friends know that I’m not the biggest fan of the action genre but these results are staggering. It seems that for every action hit, there are about 5 misfires. They are very expensive to make and they are not producing the returns that studios would hope for. More money needs to be spent on scripts and less on stunts and special effects.