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September 03 2005

Serenity in CHUD's Prognosticator for September. Devin's not sure it's gonna do too well at the box office...

Let's prove him wrong.

And for those of us who aren't regular CHUD readers, what is their track record with such things?
At predicting box office returns, CHUD is no better or worse than most people. This guy, Devin, is their most prolific reviewer, who also draws the bulk of CHUD's hate mail. In the past he's been quite openly unenthusiastic about Serenity and all things Joss. This is the nicest thing I've read from him concerning the BDM, which he hasn't seen yet.
It's a tough one to call. He says everything he's seen in Hollywood in the past says he knows this won't succeed - but he doesn't actually say why. What factors? That said, Serenity has a tough mountain to climb. Either people will really take to the concept and it'll do very well, or people won't like space cowboys, and go see Jessica Alba's ass instead.
Every time some Jack-ass describes Firefly as a failed series it makes me want to go out strangle them! There is an enormous difference between a show being canceled and a show being a failure. Describing Firefly as a failed series is a very broad and misleading statement.

On the ‘comparing Serenity to previous movies’ issue, I don’t believe it is possible to do such a comparison, because Serenity is such a unique example. I’ve never know a show like Firefly that has such a broad appeal and such an enormous underground following. It’s almost impossible to predict how many people are going to see Serenity. I know nine people that are going to see Serenity and out of those nine people I'm the only one that has bought the DVD set.

I find it funny that Firefly fans are put into a kind of category separate from other (more normal) people, because I have found that most Firefly fans are just normal people, who don’t fit into the traditional Star Trek Nerd category or even the Buffy Fanatic category. You could give the Firefly DVD set to any random person in the street and after they watched it they would just simply become a Firefly Fan.
Right, Zoic_fan, but bear in mind, this is Hollywood we're talking about, and it operates by its own goofy, goofy rules. "Obvious" successes bomb, "obvious" bombs succeed. And if you stare at the trends long enough, you might be able to start predicting things (a number of sources predicted "The Island" would bomb well before the box office came in.)

And honestly, no matter how much we liked the show, it just barely made it half a season before it was cancelled. This is a very odd pedigree to make a big budget movie, much less a genre film. Yes, the DVD sales are impressive, but no one has made a successful movie out of such elements before. Will this one succeed? We'll find out soon enough.
This didn't sound that bad to me (I expected worse from the thread title). Besides, we don't have to make a billion dollars at the box office, all we need to do is beat our competition head to head, and I think we can do that. As a relatively low budget film we can easily make enough money to warrent sequels, and I hope we get them!
When the release date was bumped from April, I was actually hoping it would wind up in October. Last year The Grudge, released 10/22, raked in $40 million in 3 days. I know a pre-Halloween release helps a horror film, but that doesn't account for that kind of money. The Ring also opened in October a year or two earlier but did only $15 in 3 days. A lot of that had to be SMG fans. Maybe we should start an internet rumor that SMG plays River's sister in the BDM?
Is it September 30th yet??
Firefly wasn't a failure, the Fox network was. Firefly was a success in DVD sales and because it was resurrected as a film. I saw the finished version of Serenity two nights ago and putting my bias aside, I truly think sci-fi fans will love it. I really think Serenity is going to be a sleeper hit.
I'm probably going to be reamed for this but I'm really NOT expecting the movie to be huge. Reasons: Limited fan base (yes, there are a lot of us but enough to have the movie make exorbitant amounts of money? no) and zero promotion outside of the fanbase.

I have YET to see a anything on TV about the movie. The Sci-Fi Channel doesn't really cut it because a good majority of those watching when those things air are ALREADY fans. You don't have to convince them to go see the movie.

I also don't believe you're going to convince enough non-fans to go see the movie to make it a blockbuster. It could be the greatest cinematic achievement in the world but that isn't going to make people go see it.

That said, the simple fact that we Browncoats are even getting a movie means it's a success for us. On the issue of sequels, yes I pray that the movie does well enough to warrant them. If it doesn't, I'm still happy because I got something many fans of canceled shows never get.

More movies, Oscars for our stars and creator, and a gajillion dollars would be gravy but... a chance to see my BDH's one more time and a chance to get some answers to the mysteries that drove the show? I'm so grateful for that opportunity that it's enough for me.
I doubt it will flop at the box office but I don't think it will do huge numbers either. I'm very interested to see how it fares outside the US.

Don't suppose anyone could give a rough estimate of how much money a film makes outside the US as compared to how much it makes inside the US? I'm guessing a 60/40 breakdown but I could be way out.
I have YET to see a anything on TV about the movie.

A segment has reportedly been spotted on Access Hollywood, for whatever it's worth. It's September now, and that's sort of when I expect things to kick off. I think the relaunch of the movie website is a good indication, because promotion invariably will include a URL, so the fact that they just put the full-on site up suggests to me that the PR push is about to begin in earnest.

[ edited by theonetruebix on 2005-09-03 19:55 ]
What we're all forgetting is that a film can't be a "sleeper" hit if everyone's expecting it to be a hit right out of the gate.

A long time ago, at an SF convention not terribly far away, a very, very young version of myself saw a presentation given by Charlie Lippincott. He was a PR emmissary sent to promote "Star Wars," a film who's chance for success were written off by seemingly everyone, even after the trailer came out. Anyhow, after the presentation, I saw that the film was filling a void. An upbeat action-adventure in a time where the public was clearly tired of the "down" films in vogue during the earlier part of the seventies plus a dose of some real imagination. After Lippincott gave us an illustrated version of the first two-thirds of the story (talk about spoilers!), I told the nearest geek compatriot quite calmly that I thought it would make more money than "Gone with the Wind" (then still the reigning box-office champion, since it was re-released every few years).

My friend, quite wisely, told me I was nuts.

When "Star Wars" came out, it was really the title, a tiny bit of positive buzz and the vague impression of gee-wizness that sold it. People wanted to see a movie, any movie, called "Star Wars."

It was the only time I've ever really been writing making a boxoffice prediction, though I also was unsurprised at the massive success of "Titanic" for similar reasons. No one had made an old fashioned romantic melodrama with spectacular imagery for the boys (like "Gone with the Wind") for decades and it's one of the most proven of subgenres, so it was obviously going to be successful if it wasn't horribly bungled.

Now, I don't think "Serenity" is a title that will pull people into the theaters by itself, but I do think that the public has been craving an intelligent action film with snappy dialogue that wasn't pitched only at movie geeks and ultra-violence buffs for, I don't know, decades. The closest thing I can think of is LOTR, which had some of the same elements, though I wouldn't exactly call the dialogue "snappy". In any case, it didn't exactly tank.

Since I'm always wrong (except for that one time)and I really and truly don't expect "Serenity" to hit ultra-phenomenal numbers right off the bat, I won't make any predicitons, but there's a void here.

[ edited by bobster on 2005-09-03 20:20 ]
bobster: thanks for the interesting post, though if TItanic has been called Star Wars, I'm pretty sure I still wouldn't have gone to see it :-)
Don't suppose anyone could give a rough estimate of how much money a film makes outside the US as compared to how much it makes inside the US? I'm guessing a 60/40 breakdown but I could be way out.


Well looking at the boxofficemojo figures for the all time worldwide top 10 with the percentage of US domestic takings 1st and then the overseas percentage:

1 Titanic 32.6% 67.4%
2 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King 33.7% 66.3%
3 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone 32.5% 67.5%
4 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers 36.9% 63.1%
5 Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace 46.6% 53.4%
6 Shrek 2 47.9% 52.1%
7 Jurassic Park 39.0% 61.0%
8 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 29.9% 70.1%
9 The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring 36.1% 63.9%
10 Finding Nemo 39.3% 60.7%

It seems to be closer to a 35/65 average though there are rare exceptions such as ET and Star Wars that actually took more in the US.
I also don't think it'll be a huge hit, but as to the TV marketing: the only films that get TV previews more than two weeks in advance are massive blockbusters. The standard protocol for a mid-level film of Serenity's size is to place TV ads the two weeks prior to release, with the amount of ads increasing closer to the release date. Look at the previews on TV now: they are all for Flightplan, Corpse Bride, Lord of War, the Exorcism of Emily Rose, etc. All those films open before Serenity. Wait till September 16th, then you should start seeing TV ads everywhere.
I would agree with Paul_Rocks that 35%/65% is a reasonable guess in general terms. In the case of 'Alexander' the spilt was actually 21%/79%.

Generally, the combined take outside the US is usually greater than that in the US. There are, obviously, plenty of exceptions to this rule-of-thumb. For example, 'The Grudge' achieved a $187 million box office gross worldwide. The split was 59%/41%. Also, I suspect Hollywood would always look at the US box office gross to assess the success or otherwise of a film.

My own entirely unscientific (and inexpert) guess is that 'Serenity' will pull in approximately $40-45 million in the US and $25-30 million elsewhere.
Also, I suspect Hollywood would always look at the US box office gross to assess the success or otherwise of a film.

Although 'Versal reportedly says that they are looking at the global take for the matter of sequel consideration, saying "northward" of $80 million is the mark.

And I don't believe the idea that it will gross more in the US than elsewhere. The very fact that in other countries the trailers went out of their way to mention "from the creator of Buffy" is because there seems to be a more overt and unashamed following for Joss' work outside the US, at least to some extent.

[ edited by theonetruebix on 2005-09-03 21:35 ]
Well, from what I've gathered, SF and animated films the ones doing better percentagewise in the US than worldwide. Stands to reason too, since those are genres originating in the US (i.e. having a tradition there that isn't as firmly ingrained elsewhere).

OK, off into speculation mode:
Since serenity falls under SF :) we could be looking at a 40%/60% split.

(PS: dashboardprophet: How do you get those numbers if you agree with Paul_Rocks about the 35%/65% split? if you think it'll get $40 mil in the US then we're looking at $70 mil worldwide, if your split guess is correct and a total gross of upwards a 100 million dollar)

theonetruebix: Joss Whedon's "European humor" (which journalist said that again? I'm getting confused) and big following in Europe is offset by the fact that the series hasn't really aired here, except for the NEtherlands and the UK. Meaning the fanbase will likely be the extent of the initial viewers, which as you said is big, but not big enough to pull in $65 mil, I fear.

Where was I? Oh, right, speculation mode:
Serenity is well made SF, is intelligently made with a REAL story (*gasp*), has comedy elements, is visually stunnign (yes it's true, I've seen it), but has no well known leads (sorry you BDHs I think you rock and you are amazing, but you're not known to the general public.... YET) and a first time movie director (Not necessarily something bad IMO, but we're talking about Joe public here) so I'd guess it'LL gross less than $80 mil worldwide. :(

Oh, I but do hope I'm wrong.
And I don't believe the idea that it will gross more in the US than elsewhere. The very fact that in other countries the trailers went out of their way to mention "from the creator of Buffy" is because there seems to be a more overt and unashamed following for Joss' work outside the US, at least to some extent.


You may well be right. I have as much ability to predict the box office 'success' of a film as I do to understand and explain the intricacies of string theory. However, my gut feeling is that ‘Serenity’ will perform better in the US than elsewhere.

I took at look at the “top sellers” list of DVDs at amazon.com and found ‘Firefly’ at number 24. It doesn’t appear in the Top 100 in the top sellers list at the UK amazon. Does this mean anything? Probably not. However, within the sphere of the little world I live in very few people I come into contact with seem to have heard of Joss Whedon and virtually no one has any clue about ‘Serenity’. Once again, that doesn’t mean very much because I am referring to a demographic that ‘Serenity’ is probably not going to immediately appeal to. The point is, though, that from my somewhat distanced vantage point I am not noticing any huge anticipation for the release of the film outside of the dedicated fanbase.

I’m probably wrong but we’ll find out in the next few months. No doubt the reviews in the mainstream press will have an important role to play here.

dashboardprophet: How do you get those numbers if you agree with Paul_Rocks about the 35%/65% split? if you think it'll get $40 mil in the US then we're looking at $70 mil worldwide, if your split guess is correct and a total gross of upwards a 100 million dollar)


I agreed that 35%/65% was a good average in general, but also mentioned the deviations from this rule-of-thumb as way of leading up to my suggestion that 'Serenity' would perform better in the US than elsewhere.

I don't actually have anything to back this up other than what my head tells me. I might well be wrong. The film might perform much better outside of the US. Don't get me wrong, I really do hope the film is a huge success.
It is very hard to judge and I'm trying not to think too much about it so that pessimism doesn't set in. Most of my friends have no idea what Firefly/Serenity is. In fact I think only 1 of my friends other than those that I've personally converted into flans has asked me about it. They all know who Joss Whedon is though, even my parents (though granted that is probably due to my obsession). However, everyone who I've "made" watch Firefly is now a big flan and so I guess I'll just have to redouble my efforts and convert the rest of my friends.
just found something nice here: A method for judging the merit of a movie. Of course you can do that only afterwards, after the results are out. :)
from http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1453362
----------------------------------
But What Did the Audiences Think?

A more interesting metric, [..] is to study the speed at which revenues drop off for a movie. Even terrible films can open well if they feature popular stars and the studios spend aggressively to promote them. However, that won't buy more than one weekend; once bad word-of-mouth takes hold, these films are dead.

Therefore we can objectively study the stinkiness of a film by measuring what percentage of its total gross was realized on the opening weekend. The larger this percentage, the less people like the film.

For example, Forrest Gump brought in $24.5 million its first weekend, on the way to making $329.7 million. Its first weekend percentage was an impressive 7.42%. Clearly, people liked the film, told their friends, and it continued to bring in business for a long time after it opened.

Steven Spielberg's A.I., on the other hand, brought in $29.3 million in its first weekend and $78.6 million total, so the first weekend was an embarrassing 37.4% of the total.

The normal range for this measure is something like 20% to 35%. Films below that range are showing impressive legs; film higher than the range are probably terrible.
---------------------------------------------
I'd like to have a time travel machine and see next year's result of Serenity. Find out if it had legs or not......
All very interesting, Harpy (and welcome!), and yet, strangely enough, Forrest Gump was a horrible movie, IMO, and A.I. was much underrated - although I could have happily cut the last 20 minutes. What price "objective stinkiness" now? For me, box-office return is only important in the exact proportion that it allows Joss, cast, and crew to pursue their own ambitions. All else is fluff. :)
The wild card in all of this discussion, is that no one really knows how big the fanbase is. We know what it was like when the series aired - kinda, we know that there were early good sales of the DVD. We know the conversion stories. That's it.

We don't know how many folks out there that actually saw the series and enjoyed it but aren't active browncoats. We don't know what the DVD sales total is, we don't know how effective everyone has been at recruiting folks - especially if it moves two or three steps beyond the people we've recuited, and we don't know how many people have been hooked by the trailers and re-airing on Sci-Fi.

That's the a lot of unknowns, and we also need to remember that Universal has been trying a different marketing strategy than usual.

I know what I'd like to happen, but I don't know if it will. I don't think anyone really can.
Some things we do know are that it's still sitting high in Amazon's DVD sales ranking (#23 at the moment) and carries a 5 star rating with 1549 reviews. So there are still a few somebodies out there who like it and are just now buying it.

(edited because my grammar went on vacation)

[ edited by MissKittysMom on 2005-09-04 01:54 ]
there are people out there that love Buffy/Angel but dont know about Firefly/Serenity... i dont know if this is a right gauge for this but on myspace a lot of people love Buffy/Angel but never heard of Firefly. I hope those people come out like they did for SMG's The Grudge. That movie made ~$40 million the first week and made up to $110+ million. (of course, i might be wrong about associating the $40 million plus to Buffy/SMG fans)
(my grammar went on vacaion)


That's nice. Did your grampar go with her? I think it's sweet when older couples still like to travel together.
Ha! Sweet! My head is spinning, BTW. All I know is that despite the fact that I *work* at a movie theater and can see movies for free, I'm asking off September 30 and buying a ticket to "Serenity". Yay, Joss!
Paul_Rocks, thanks for the 35/65 breakdown on the all-time top ten movies. I wonder, though, if there's any reason to believe that holds true for the bulk of films. It seems to me that in order to become one of the top ten in worldwide box office, you would need to have generated a great deal of non-domestic business, making it more likely that films with more modest grosses would tend to have a much lower non-domestic percentage of total returns.
This is a really minor point, but was anyone else really annoyed by their write-up of "A History of Violence"? First of all, what the heck is "mere comic book adaptation" supposed to mean? Sure, there are good adaptations and bad adaptations, but would anyone see a "mere novel adaptation"?

Also, what is this nonsense about David Cronenberg finally moving on from "squishy horror movies"? Has he *made* a squishy horror movie since "The Fly" 20 years ago?

Again, really minor, but I needed to whine. Besides, this lack of thought and research makes me take their prediction for "serenity" a lot less seriously.

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