Sunday, June 21, 2015

How and why Jurassic World managed — surprisingly — to break box office records

As if from nowhere, Jurassic World stormed the box office in its opening weekend, setting new records for both domestic (US and Canada) and worldwide earnings.

Though the film was expected to make an estimated $125 million in its first three days — no small figure — it very quickly blew past that estimate on its way to becoming only the second movie ever to score $200 million in one weekend in domestic box office sales alone. Once the rest of the world was factored in, it topped $500 million.

But why did this happen? And what does it mean for Hollywood? Dinosaurs have always been popular — but now they're as big as Marvel superheroes. And the implications of that growth are enormous.
Jurassic World's box office numbers are huge no matter how you count them

Universal (which released the film) initially estimated that Jurassic World would fall just short of the opening weekend record set by The Avengers ($207 million) in 2012. But the final numbers told a different tale: after earning $208.8 million in just three days (plus a few Thursday night screenings), Jurassic World is the new champion.

This is significant, as many people believed The Avengers wouldn't be topped for a long time after its own sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron, opened this past May with "just" $191 million — now the third-best opening in history.

To put this in perspective, let's take a look at the film industry's top five domestic openings ever, paying special attention to how few movies have come close to challenging either Jurassic World or The Avengers:
The common lament here is that ticket prices have grown so hyper-inflated over time that they've rendered box office stats meaningless — especially since the addition of 3D surcharges to box office totals. And while that argument has some validity to it, the common conception of why it's the case is incorrect.

For instance, only 48 percent of Jurassic World's box office was boosted by 3D tickets, which is a hefty percentage but not as huge as you might think. As Indiewire's Tom Brueggemann reports, the film now boasts the third-most attended opening weekend in history in terms of raw ticket sales, and the vast majority of the films it's competing against also carry a substantial 3D box office of their own.

But what about inflation? Truth be told, it's not a factor. Here's how the opening weekends for the first three Jurassic Park movies stack up to Jurassic World's when adjusted for inflation:

None of them even come close. Indeed, Jurassic World's first-weekend earnings nearly triple Jurassic Park's.

What has changed over time, however, is just how much a film's total box office earnings for its entire theatrical run are driven by its opening weekend. Back in 1993, Jurassic Parkended up making $357 million after a $47 million opening weekend. That's a multiplier — the total box office, divided by the opening weekend box office — of 7.6. If Jurassic World were to somehow manage that feat, it would make $1.58 billion in the US alone. But it won't happen.

The reason? These days, a much greater proportion of a movie's overall box office tally is weighted toward its opening weekend. That wasn't the case in 1993, when home video releases took longer to arrive and films stayed in theaters longer. Jurassic Park was still playing in some theaters well into the fall of 1994, a run that would be unthinkable today.

Look at the below chart to see how the opening weekend (in red) has gradually crept up to become a greater and greater part of a film's total box office.

Jurassic World's domestic box office ceiling is likely $700 million

Jurassic World performs similarly to The Dark Knight, then it could cross the $700 million mark domestically.

How much money will Jurassic World ultimately make? It's impossible to tell, but that doesn't mean we can't make some guesses. The closest comparison point is The Avengers, which ultimately banked $623 million domestically after a huge opening; that's a multiplier of just barely over 3. If Jurassic World attains the same success, it will make $624 million. (Avengers made $1.5 billion worldwide, but in an era when several territories were just beginning to distribute American films more widely. Jurassic World should easily surpass that number.)

However, Jurassic World has far less wiggle room than The Avengers did. The Avengersdebuted in early May and had a whole summer to play with. Jurassic World didn't launch until mid-June (a six-week loss), and will begin competing against several other would-be blockbusters in just a few weeks. But the film's late start is also a possible advantage. With school no longer in session, kids can take in weekday screenings. Indeed, the film's first Monday earnings set a new record for a non-holiday Monday, with $25.3 million. That's a terrific number.

Jurassic World also lacks newness. When Avengers came out, nothing like it had ever been attempted — but Jurassic World is the fourth film in a franchise that has otherwise lain dormant since 2001. A lot of people who saw The Avengers out of curiosity might've already made up their minds about Jurassic World based on what they knew of the franchise already.

We'll know more after the film's second weekend, but for now, a multiplier between 2.5 and 2.75 seems like a safe bet, based on typical modern blockbuster multipliers. That would put the final domestic total somewhere between $520 and $572 million.

However, the film from which Jurassic World stole the non-holiday Monday crown was 2008's The Dark Knight, which had many of the same disadvantages as Jurassic Worldand still posted a 3.4 multiplier. If Jurassic World can achieve the same feat, it will make $709.9 million, becoming only the second film in history (after Avatar) to clear $700 million domestically. If $520 million is the floor, then just north of $700 million might beJurassic World's ceiling.

A fun box office trivia note: it will be very difficult for Pixar's Inside Out, which launches June 19, to top Jurassic World's second weekend, but it should perform well enough to set a new record for the biggest domestic opening weekend without taking the top spot. (In other words, it will likely open with a whole lot of money, but not enough to overtake the first-place movie.) The current record-holder in that category is 2004's The Day After Tomorrow, which made $68.7 million in its first three days, not enough to overtake then first-place film Shrek 2.

Jurassic World owes its success to a perfect storm of variables

After his major success in Guardians of the Galaxy, Universal chose to sell Jurassic World almost entirely on the back of Chris Pratt. It worked.

While Jurassic World's box office domination surprised almost everyone who follows this sort of thing, hype for the film had been building for weeks — it's just that no one realized how much there really was. All in all, Jurassic World benefited from a number of different factors.

The timing of Jurassic World's release was key: Above all else, Jurassic World got lucky because of the calendar. The last blockbuster to open was Avengers: Age of Ultronon May 1, and while several modest hits have debuted since then, the box office hasn't seen a single other film top $200 million. Plus, potential megahits like Tomorrowland ultimately struggled to make an impression. People were craving a big summer movie, and only Jurassic World really fit the bill.

Jurassic World is different, but not too different: Recent box office champs have largely been either comic book movies or adaptations of young adult novels. But both 2014's Mockingjay — Part 1 (the latest Hunger Games film) and 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron have fallen a bit short of expectations. Granted, said expectations may have been too lofty to begin with, but the perception persists. Perhaps the audience, as the thinking goes, is looking for something outside of those two genres — in which case Jurassic World is a perfect fit. But it's also not so different as to be alienating. People know exactly what they're going to get.

The Jurassic Park franchise has always been popular: The first two Jurassic Park films set opening-weekend records, and even the much-reviled Jurassic Park III managed to rake in more than $180 million in 2001. The nice long break between Jurassic Park III andJurassic World allowed both nostalgia for the franchise and anticipation for the new film to build, and gave box office analysts plenty of time to forget what a monster performer the original trilogy was. Jurassic World also enjoyed a minor bump from half-pretending the second and third films didn't exist, though this may not have been creatively optimal, as Screencrush's Matt Singer notes.

Jurassic World's marketing campaign smartly focused on the movie at hand: The press tour for Jurassic World didn't spend lots of time focusing on future Jurassic movies, as Forbes's Scott Mendelson pointed out. It didn't involve teasing an expanded dinosaur universe. Universal's promotion of the movie was ubiquitous, yes, but it never felt quite so in-your-face as some of Marvel's campaigns have. That allowed Jurassic World to seem like an underdog, at least as much as a movie about dinosaurs eating people can seem like an underdog.

Everybody loves Chris Pratt: The entire cast of Jurassic World is solid — even Bryce Dallas Howard, whose character is impossible to play. But Universal chose to sellJurassic World with Pratt as its central hero after 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy became such a big hit. What's fascinating is that Pratt isn't even the true protagonist of the film; it's Howard's character (who goes from being obsessed with her job to feeling more maternal, an arc that has drawn criticism for being sexist) who has the much more traditional storyline. Pratt's character pretty much remains the same throughout the whole movie, and the actor clearly struggles with the part. (It's his weakest big-screen work to date.) But Pratt is much loved on the press circuit, and he's always a charming presence onscreen.

What effect will Jurassic World's box office triumph have on the industry?
Get ready for so many more Chris Pratt vehicles, America!

Obviously, the biggest beneficiaries of Jurassic World's massive success are the executives at Universal, who are on an incredible hot streak right now. In 2015 alone, they've released 50 Shades of Grey, Furious 7, Pitch Perfect 2, and now Jurassic World, all massively successful hits. But there are three other parties who will benefit:

More work for Chris Pratt: If Guardians had him riding high, then Jurassic has solidified him as the hottest up-and-coming actor out there — sort of the male equivalent of Jennifer Lawrence. (Conveniently, the two will soon be starring together in a sci-fi romance called Passengers.) It's rumored that Pratt is in the running for a new Indiana Jones movie, and if he has any passion projects he'd like to try winning an Oscar for, now is exactly the time to explore that path. There will come a time when people get tired of Pratt — it always happens, eventually — but that time is far, far away.

More opportunities for indie directors: Colin Trevorrow, director of Jurassic World, built his reputation on the quirky Sundance comedy Safety Not Guaranteed, which managed to tell a time-travel story on an independent film budget. Giving him a blockbuster budget was a big leap of faith on Universal's part, but it clearly paid off.Jurassic World is far from perfect, but it builds to a satisfying ending, and Trevorrow has proved himself more than capable of staging big dinosaur action. His success will only embolden studios to hire interesting indie directors and put them on big, franchise films, though that approach has misfired (Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man films) as often as it has succeeded (Gareth Edwards's 2014 Godzilla remake).

More '90s nostalgia: Around the middle of every decade, Hollywood suddenly realizes that the pop culture of 20 years ago will now appeal to people in their late 20s and 30s, who are in their prime years as consumers — and who just might have kids of their own to share their favorite properties with. And sure enough, right on schedule, the onslaught of '90s nostalgia projects has already begun, with Jurassic World's behemoth box office offering a vote of confidence to other potential sequels and remakes. There aren't a ton of '90s-driven films on the docket right now, but 2016's Independence Day 2 should be telling. If that sequel to the 1996 original does well, Hollywood will almost certainly open the floodgates and develop brand new entries in other '90s franchises, like Speed, The Matrix, and Forrest Gump. (Don't laugh at that last one. A sequel was almost made in 2001, and it could very easily be revived.)

Of course there will be more Jurassic films. Universal will almost certainly be making sequels to Jurassic World, and Pratt is reportedly signed on to star, though Trevorrow has said he will not be returning.

The next step for Universal should be an obvious one — hire Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum to star in the next sequel and unite the two generations of Jurassic casts in one giant dinosaur roundup. Who wouldn't want to see that?

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