Earlier this week, I considered the absence of female-oriented blockbuster fare in today's Hollywood. The staggering weekend success of "New Moon" and the "Twilight" phenomenon overall both point to the value in catering event films to a wider market of viewers. It's a point driven home by the fact that James Cameron's "Titanic" still owns the number one spot on the list of top-grossing domestic box office performers now, more than 12 years after its release.
Clearly, a mix of action and romance works wonders for building a crossover audience. The first "Twilight" film was more than a modest success with its $70 million opening weekend, but "New Moon" doubled that figure. It leaves me wondering what we can expect for the franchise moving forward, and how "New Moon"'s second week numbers might inform our understanding of the possibilities. Not content to wait, I got in touch with Jeff Bock, box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations, to gather some insight from an expert.
"With such a strong opening [like 'New Moon'] you're guaranteed a 50-60% drop [in attendance]," Bock explained. "If we look at what the original 'Twilight' did over the exact same year -- so we have a pretty good comparison -- it dropped 62% [from week one to week two]." Even if "New Moon" attendance drops by half, it will still earn in its second weekend as much as "Twilight" did in its first.
"It's doubtful that ['New Moon'] will be able to [hang onto half of last weekend's viewers]. I think something... along the lines of $50 million is probably more likely," he said. "That is a steep drop, but still, any film that would gross $50 million in its first weekend would be considered a success, much less the second weekend."
No matter how safe or reckless you are with your predictions, it's pretty clear that "New Moon" is in for another impressive weekend performance. If more than 60-65% of viewers are shed, that too is something worth discussing. But looking at the "Twilight" craze, it seems more likely we'll be seeing the opposite, a better-than-expected second weekend.
"You have to look at it in terms of, this is one of the top-tier franchises in Hollywood right now," Bock explained. "And it does have the buzz behind it that studios crave, and obviously ['Twilight'] is outside the studio system. We're still talking about 'New Moon' being leaps and bounds above what 'Twilight' was able to do [in domestic box office performance], which was $200 million."
Bock also points out that domestic figures are just part of the puzzle. "Twilight" seems to have a global appeal, after all. "We're talking about a worldwide phenomenon now, where grosses can get up to $700 million."
Here we come back to the core question, of whether or not the "Twilight" franchise has the legs to join "Titanic" in the ranks of widely accepted female-oriented blockbusters.
"With ['Eclipse'] jumping off in seven months, are we talking about the next billion dollar franchise, a la 'Harry Potter'? That's what we're looking at, how fast this ['Twilight' phenomenon] has snowballed and how it's really become a part of the cultural zeitgeist right now," Bock said. "You just can't plan for something like that. It's a rare occurrence when it happens."
This is especially true when you consider the disparities between "Twilight" and "Potter." Both series' are spawned from books, but where J.K. Rowling's work was and is almost universally held in high esteem, Stephenie Meyer's books draw in a smaller, more specific audience. And while that audience is sizable, the phenomenon we're seeing has the trappings of a much wider audience.
"It seems like within [the 'Twilight'] franchise, the movies are more popular than even the books," Bock explained. "I would say the reverse is still the case with 'Harry Potter,' even though you're talking about a billion dollars internationally. We haven't seen that [level of success] yet with 'Twilight,' but i expect we will by the time this plays out with 'New Moon.' We will see that international grosses are going to be larger in the long run... probably exponentially as the next two films are released."
The big litmus test now is the coming holiday break. "Weekend two will tell us a lot. It's all about expanding the brand. [Summit Entertainment] definitely have. ['New Moon'] was still 80% women [in attendance] opening weekend," Bock said. That female audience is "a lock" as he describes it; it's the male viewers that Summit needs to reach now.
"[Last weekend] was just such an enormous [turnout] that you couldn't really tell that the male fanbase had expanded too. It obviously has," he said. "I mean, if you look at the trailer for 'New Moon,' you'll see that it's action-oriented, and it features vampires and werewolves, obviously something that males can hardly say no to at the box office."
"[Summit] already knew that they had the females in their back pocket, so it was a question of 'how can we get more of the male demographic to this film,' and I think they did. And I think they will continue to do that with ['Eclipse' and 'Breaking Dawn']," Bock continued. "If they do, yes we are looking at a film that could become one of the top 10 films of all time. That's the key, crossing over to both demographics equally."
Looking at the larger picture, it appears that evolving the technology of motion picture storytelling is less important than getting a wider array of people into the movie theaters. That's certainly Bock's take on the situation. "The most interesting thing about this is that I think it really nails home the point that 3-D is not... cinema's savior. The answer is appealing more to the female demographic on a consistent basis. On a week-to-week, month-to-month basis."
Do you think the "Twilight" phenomenon owes more at this point to the movies than the books? Fans: which do you prefer? What sort of weekend do you think "New Moon" has in store?