Redefining the Blockbuster?
by Josh Grossberg
The Matrix Revolutions, opening tomorrow (!), will almost certainly gross $100 million. In its first week.
The safe odds are that, between The Matrix and Christmas, at least a half-dozen films, from Elf (November 7) to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (December 17), will join Neo and crew in the vaunted nine figures.
The question is: Is $100 million alone still vaunted territory? Is it still the definition of a blockbuster?
“I still think it’s a valid benchmark,” says Paul Dergarabedian of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations, “but it’s not the rarefied air that it used to be.”
Indeed. Twenty years ago, just two films grossed at least $100 million. Ten years ago, eight films made the grade. Five years ago, 18 films crossed over.
So far this year, 21 films have joined what no longer seems an elite or exclusive club. By the time Dick Clark anoints 2004, nearly 30 films, more than ever, likely will have hit the baseball equivalent of 60 home runs.
Not that hitting 60 home runs in baseball is a Ruthian feat these days. Which is precisely the point.
Just as expansion and poor pitching have inflated batting statistics, multiplexes and healthy ticket prices have inflated box-office grosses.
“It’s much easier today to get to $100 million because tickets cost more and movies are released in more theaters,” Dergarabedian says.
Box-office expert Brandon Gray, of the Website Box Office Mojo, says that, all things considered, perhaps $200 million should be considered the new blockbuster benchmark.
The numbers bear out the argument. A $200 million-grossing movie today would have been a $107 million movie in 1983, per Lee’s Movie Info.
Back in 1983, a $50 million take (roughly today’s equivalent of a $100 million grosser) was the sign of a hit (14 films made at least that much), whereas $100 million was the sign of a line-around-the-block blockbuster (only Return of the Jedi and Terms of Endearment made at least that much).
That math seems to hold today, where How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is among a throng of good-sized performers (with $105.8 million), but only Finding Nemo ($338.7 million), Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl ($301.2 million) and a handful of others packed ’em in week after week after week.
The obvious culprit in box-office inflation is ticket inflation. Since 1994, ticket prices have moved in only one direction: Up. According to the National Association of Theater Owners, the average ticket in 2002 was $5.80, which will come as a surprise to every New Yorker or Angeleno who’s paid nearly twice that for the pleasure of seeing Scary Movie 3. In 1994, tickets could be had, on average, for $4.08. That’s an increase of more than 40 percent in less than 10 years.
Despite all this, $100 million remains important because the people who make the movies believe it is.
“For psychological reasons, it’s still a benchmark to see those nine digits,” Gray says. “It’s why The Italian Job was relaunched. It’s why Charlie’s Angels was relaunched.”
Both The Italian Job and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle received late-summer pushes, in the form of additional theaters and increased advertising, in order to break the $100 million barrier. In the case of the low-key and moderately budgeted heist film The Italian Job, it was a matter of capping off a surprisingly strong run. In the case of the big-budget and bigger disappointment Charlie’s Angels, it was a matter of saving face.
Still, with rising budgets and rising costs, Dergarbedian foresees an era when a $150 million or $200 million gross will become the new standard of success. The new $100 million.
“Maybe in 10 to 20 years, if the average ticket price is $20,” he says.
Can’t hardly wait.
Here’s a look at 2003’s $100 million (or more) club, through last weekend, according to Box Office Mojo:
1. Finding Nemo, $338.7 million
2. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, $301.2 million
3. The Matrix Reloaded, $281.5 million
4. Bruce Almighty, $242.7 million
5. X2: X-Men United, $214.9 million
6. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, $150.4 million
7. Bad Boys II, $138.5 million
8. Anger Management, $135.6 million
9. Bringing Down the House, $132.7 million
10. The Hulk, $132.2 million
11. 2 Fast 2 Furious, $127.1 million
12. Seabiscuit, $119.4 million
13. S.W.A.T., $116.5 million
14. Spy Kids 3D: Game Over, $111 million
15. Freaky Friday, $108.6 million
16. The Italian Job, $106.1 million
17. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, $105.8 million
18. American Wedding, $104.4 million
19. Daddy Day Care, $104.1 million
20. Daredevil, $102.5 million
21. Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, $100.8 million
Redefining the Blockbuster?