Movies live or die by their opening weekend grosses. Or so the not-so-old saw goes.
If a blockbuster wannabe doesn’t connect with audiences right away its chances of doing so over the long haul are limited.
And that’s being kind.
Why? The public typically rushes to see “event” films on opening weekend. The crush of media behind a given film is loudest right before its release date. And, most importantly, subsequent weekends feature shiny new releases clamoring for our attention.
“The Greatest Showman” isn’t playing by the usual rules.
The Hugh Jackman musical opened to a soft $8 million following its Dec. 20 release. That’s hardly encouraging to the studio’s bean counters. Given the tremendous competition during any given December film schedule, it seemed like “The Greatest Showman’s” box office hopes would deflate like a carnival balloon.
Only “The Greatest Showman” persevered.
Week after week the film’s box office results dropped modestly, compared to other films at the cineplex. Blockbuster films typically see their audiences dwindle by 50 percent (or more) from week to week.
“Showman” showed sturdy legs instead.
In fact, the film only dropped 14 percent over the current Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend. More impressive? The film hauled in $11 million during that frame … more than its opening weekend.
It begs the question … why?
- It’s that rare, PG-rated film that isn’t animated or directly aimed at the kiddies.
- Word of mouth still matters, sparked by passionate social media conversations.
- Jackman is not only a talented song and dance man but less divisive than most modern stars.
- Oh, that irresistible music from the team behind “La La Land,” Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
20th Century Fox shrewdly upped the ante this weekend. The studio released a special version of the film in 300 theaters flashing the songs’ lyrics on the screen. The sing-a-long format is a brilliant marketing ploy to play up the film’s undeniable strength.
There is a caveat to all the good news. The film’s budget, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, is $84 million. That means simply crossing the $100 million mark at the domestic box office, a given at this point, could be a minor victory, at best. Marketing and related costs suggest the film needs to make it least double that budget back before the studio can start breathing easier.
The overseas tally stands, at the moment, at $88 million. Not bad, but hardly a blockbuster.
What about the soundtrack sales?
The original soundtrack currently sits at no. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. It’s also atop the iTunes charts in more than 60 countries. Plus, the film’s signature song, “This Is Me” (performed by Keala Settle) took home the Golden Globe for Best Original Song in a Motion Picture.
Could a golden statuette for Best Original Song be far behind?
That synergy can make up some of the budgetary costs. If the film eventually sparks a Broadway adaptation that changes everything.
The era of the movie musical is long gone. Yet whenever Hollywood dips its toe in the past the results are often startling. “La La Land” came thisclose to winning the Best Picture Oscar last year, but it earned near universal acclaim along with $151 million at the box office.
The 2012 version of “Les Miserables,” also with Jackman, netted $148 million. Two years later, “Into the Woods” earned $128 million.
“The Greatest Showman’s” remarkable journey wasn’t helped by film critics. The film earned a mild 55 percent “fresh” rating at RottenTomatoes.com. That’s compared to a robust 90 percent “fresh” score from site readers.
The people are speaking, over and again. Will Hollywood listen?