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October 20 2005

(SPOILER) Serenity shuffles off this mortal coil. Scott Nance over at SyFy Portal does a post-mortem on the movie's box office performance.

Well. That is certainly depressing.

And, hey, about him saying that they only make sequels to movies that turn a profit...Serenity's going to turn some profit on DVD. I mean, they're making a sequel to last year's Punisher, which died just as slowly as Serenity is unfortunately dying now, and which barely made its budget back. It found its audience on DVD, and I'm sure as hell that Serenity will find a huge audience when it hits disc.

I already know of several people who want to see it, but who either don't go to the movies often or who wanted the chance to see the series first...

Serenity will grow. Oh, yes. It will grow. Not now, not at the box office, but wait, and it shall.

[ edited by UnpluggedCrazy on 2005-10-20 21:28 ]

[ edited by UnpluggedCrazy on 2005-10-20 21:29 ]
Its that cult fanbase, and the impressive sales of "Firefly" DVDs it accumulated, that first convinced Universal to make a movie about a canceled TV show in the first place.

Completely untrue. Serenity was in development at Universal before the DVD was even released.

But it's also that built-in fanbase that ultimately doomed "Serenity."

Okay, so having a built in fan base dooms a film? Well, Brad Pitt is fucked then. I can see where the writer is going with the point, but the reality is there is room for a franchise to retain core fans and reach out.

Serenity mostly failed to reach outside in the US. Well, an estimated 60% of the first weekend were non-fans according to Universal's exit polls, but it should have been higher than that.

While Joss has much to be proud about "Serenity," he is now saddled with his movie debut being a commercial flop.

That's shit, plain and simple. Serenity will make it's money back, after international, DVD sales and licensing. It's not a blockbuster, but it's not possible to label it a financial flop.
How can a film that opens at number 2 in the US, and number 1 in the UK, and that definitely will make it's money back be considered a flop?

And no, I dont think we can all agree with him that there won't be any sequels, it'll require impressive DVD sales (which I'm sure it will get), but I'm still not convinved we've seen the last of the 'verse on the big screen. Of course some of that is the same blind hope that makes me believe we will one day see some of the Buffyverse characters again.
I'm not convinced that it will definitely make its money back.
I also disagree that you have to have been a fan to "get it." That has been solidly and categorically refuted in countless reviews and exit polls.

This was a hard movie to market, but, those that went, enjoyed the film. The trick was to get them in the door, and that was less successful than hoped. Not a failure, just, not as strong as we'd all have liked.
I don't waste my time arguiing with people who believe in these statement.
When people say Cult Following, they always picture a Star Wars fanbase. We're a large groups, but browncoats are still a small group compared to the "Jedi Knights" or "Stormtroopers".

There was a limit to what we could do, for the marketing choices that Universal made, so it's not flop. it's not a huge success either, but a sequel is still possible.

As a sidenote, I'll finally be able to watch the movie tomorrow, got my ticket two days ago. Can't wait for it.
Impossible - I think it will, eventually. DVD sales wise, it will struggle to beat $10m.. Which is going to leave a gap, I agree. That said, with other licensing (TV, roleplaying etc) it should reach the $80m mark at least. It actually needs around $100m to be a financial success, as far as I know. From what I've seen of the numbers so far, I'd say I'm pretty confident it'll break even for Universal.

Although, sequels.. I'd be surprised, truth be told. But then, I never thought Universal would green light this in the first place, so obviously I know shit.
The decision to release the series on DVD came long before Universal green lighted the movie.
Numfar PTB, glad you'll finally get to see Serenity!

k8cre8, I don't buy that "you have to be a fan to get it" line of reasoning, either. I sat in three audiences of mostly non fans recently and without exception, there was enthusiastic applause at the end of Serenity. Like it's already been said, once their butts were in the seats, people liked it. A lot!
Just to put this into perspective, the UK has taken $4m now with Serenity. There's very few Firefly fans in the UK -- Firefly never aired a 'proper' (as in, watched) TV station here. There's no millions of fans here, it's in the thousands.

Yet we took $4m in two weeks. From nearly all non-fans. And the figures show word of mouth was very strong during the week, with a rise from the initial Friday to Saturday.

In other words, if the movie is marketed properly, people show up. The UK figures prove that, without a doubt.
Sadly, I think we can all agree on one thing: There will be no grand parade of sequels to Joss Whedon's Serenity."

Oh, god, this common statement is annoying me to no end! It's too soon to tell whether we'll get a sequel. The DVD hasn't even been released yet. Give it time. Talk about jumping the gun.
I also disagree that you have to have been a fan to "get it." That has been solidly and categorically refuted in countless reviews and exit polls.

And just general observations of non-fan audiences watching the movie.

Which isn't to say that everything else the article says is necessarily wrong, it's just to agree that the actual evidence (what there is of it) doesn't mesh with the "we told you so" taunt.
Frankly, in a large sense I think Serenity was somewhat of a a victim of Firefly's and Joss Whedon's earlier artistic success. So many of the people who have written about this movie -- including many writers from the big papers and magazines -- are fans of "Firefly" and most of those tended to lay down numerous head trips about what non-fans would be missing.

Ironically, by my reading, the non-fan reviews tended to be straight up positive for most part, while the fan-written reviews (both in the fan and mainstream press) were often full of equivocation and sometimes outright negative.

And of course "Serenity" is not dead. Of course, in the long run, this thing will make a profit (though in Hollywood, very, very little officially makes a profit). It's all just a matter of when. Will it be soon enough for a sequel? Only my Magic 8 Ball knows for sure, and it's not telling.

I don't know why this guy is so confident of his prognostication. I've recently, however, decided what to call this annoying tendency of us media types to quickly declare movies, careers, trends, entire genres and political ideologies. "dead" with utterly unjustified certainty. It's creeping David Spadism and it must be stopped!
While I think the reasons for Serenity's poor performance are multiple and complex, I do think a good bit of the blame must be laid at the way the film was marketed. It's not that Universal didn't advertise the film enough, it's that the posters and trailers didn't really tell the non-fan what the film was about, the trailers were too short and the content rushed, and the advertising basically targeted the fan base -- which already knew about it and was already doing its best to convert non-fans to fans. (And we discovered that the fan base is smaller than we all thought.) And I agree with everyone who said that it should never have been marketed as having been based upon a "failed TV series." Of course, hindsight is 20-20.

On the other hand Universal gave it a shot and didn't meddle, and we should be thankful for that. We did get some closure on the series, whether or not there are sequels, and Joss can be happy with the knowledge that his first film was critically acclaimed. He is not in any threat of being out of work, and his actors are already getting other work. The studio will likely break even when all is said and done, so despite the low numbers and our disappointment that what we love failed to reach others who would have loved it, too, had they gone to see it, this was a win-win result.
Every non-Firefly fan I brought to the many showings I attended love it, couldn't stop talking about it, asking questions and wanting more.

It's probable that every reviewer who said that fans wouldn't get it, helped that come true, but it was a tough sell and I think Universal, while doing a lot of things right, did rely too heavily on fan support. Where were the bus billboards? Where were the trailers in theaters, months in advance? The theaters in my area who played Serenity didn't even have posters up. I didn't see a TV ad until about a week before the film came out.

Don't get me wrong, Universal did a lot of things right and I'm grateful to them for all of them. But they didn't market Serenity like it was The Next Big Thing for them, they marketed it tentatively like they were too afraid it would lose money to invest very much in the way of marketing dollars.

Too many people I talked to about it had no idea what it was. It's true that strong marketing can't make a bad movie do well, but Serenity is a good movie and most of the reviews it earned were positive so believe that stronger marketing *would* have made a difference.
I really dislike the attitude that anyone who hasn't watched Firefly won't "Get" the relationships or the situation. We never got any back story on Han or Chewy but we went along for the ride with them and most of the back story was just made up as Lucas made II, III and so on. It didn't stop people working out what was going on in the first movie.
The one glance Kaylee gave Simon as River and the others left told anyone with half a brain everything they needed to know. The wave conversation between Mal and Inara likewise. Did anyone out there watch that scene and ask "What? Does he fancy her or something?"

My one bugbear is the trailers having one liners out of context. In the movie they're great, cut together in a twenty second advert they fall flat. My opinion (with wonderful hindsight) is that trailer showing the movie as a straight, "serious" action/drama would have been far better. Let the humor be an unexpected bonus for newbies.

And the problem with doing a lot more advertising is every dollar spent needs another three or four back at the box office. The more you spend the more you move the goalposts away...

[ edited by zz9 on 2005-10-20 22:48 ]
While disappointing I don't think Serenity's box office can be called poor by any means. With overseas takings and dvd sales (remember there will be good overseas dvd sales as well) it looks pretty certain that it will take Universal out to the black. A $40M dollar movie that is pretty much guaranteed not to lose money is not something a studio is going to sneeze at. Its also a film that looks like it was made for a lot more than $40M, and thats also something the studios are going to notice.

Why it didn't take off is a mystery to me and anyone who thinks they have an explanation should be applying for the job as head of marketing at Universal.

It got good reviews and as far as we can tell it got good word of mouth. There aren't even many trolls out there who claim it was a bad film. They've just latched onto the box office as the only thing to taunt people with. In the UK, at least, it got good publicity as far as I could see. Worldwide I think Universal tried to be creative. They didn't insist on putting in stars or messing with the script. I think they did a good job. In retrospect it wasn't enough, it was missing some unknown magic ingredient, buts that's 20/20 hindsight.
I'm waiting patiently for Joss to announce that he has saved the Serenity trilogy by forging a deal to continue the story in the form of a TV series.
Yes, Galvatron, that would be a wonderful bit of irony.
I didn't mind this article, really, it did seem sort of appreciative of Serenity, but just commenting that it had a poor box office performance.

I disagree with the idea that all of the Browncoats went to see it in the first weekend and it sank after that because they had already seen it. The vast majority of us have seen it multiple times, which suggests that there were an awful lot of people who went to see it with no experience of Firefly.

And really, the fairly sharp decline in its box office performance was almost expected, as people have mentioned for similar sci-fi films, and considering some of the films it was up against.

To be honest, I'm not in the business of pointing fingers, and I'm not doing it now, but I do think a stronger marketing campaign could have helped. It's not enough to have an astounding film like Serenity if not enough people know about it. I do think Universal got a lot of things right, and the campaign overall has been okay, but in my own experience I have barely seen any promotion. I don't watch a huge amount of TV, but I do watch for several hours per week, and I only saw a Serenity advert once. I haven't seen any billboards, or posters on buses, nor anything like that, save the movie posters in the cinema itself, which usually every film gets.

I think that a lot of the weight of supporting this film was laid on the fans, and we have all done an admirable job, but we could not win this war alone, and I think some more widespread, innovative marketing could have done wonders. It's not enough to appeal to people who are already fans by releasing stuff on the Internet or encouraging fans to do all the work. Perhaps Universal underestimated the size of the fanbase, who knows?

But I've said it before and I'll say it again, Joss and everyone involved can hold their heads high because they've done themselves proud, and all of us fans too. I also applaud Universal for their faith in Joss and the project.

Serenity will more than likely go down as a cult classic which might only see moderate success in the next few years, but will hopefully gather a much larger following in time, and Joss will definitely be even more commercially successful in the future which will draw attention to his earlier projects.

Once you've been reeled in by Joss, you never escape, and you never want to.
I had a class the other day, and my teacher arrived late (it was a Lit. class by the way.) I asked the class, 35 students etc. if anyone else had seen Serenity, out of all 35 students, only ONE other person had HEARD of it. The fact that I can promise you 90% of these people have heard of "Doom" speaks volumes about Serenity's advertising. Personally, as a fan, I found it underwhelming, with the first trailer being rather shoddy, and the second barely showing. I saw very few TV spots, and the ones I saw while decent, said very little about the film itself to non-fans.

In fact, if I wasn't a Joss Whedon fan already, I doubt I would have heard very much about it, nor had any interest in seeing it in theaters. Non-fans I know who saw it all loved it, although all of them commented on not caring about the character besides Mal and River, because there wasn't a chance to love them. Several of the big events in the film (you know what I'm talking about) had very little impact as a result. However the film itself was a fun romp for all of them.

[ edited by rabid on 2005-10-21 01:30 ]
but it was a tough sell and I think Universal, while doing a lot of things right, did rely too heavily on fan support

This is something I can't blame the studio for-- they saved quite a bit on marketing by relying overly much on fans and non-traditional sources of media. If it had worked, I would be calling them geniuses by now. It was a gamble and didn't, unfortunately, pay off. It reached a certain segment of the population, I agree, but among real-life people, I knew of ONE person, and his girlfriend probably, who had heard of the movie outside of me telling them. When a movie has to rely on pre-existing fans to even get the word out that it exists, much less that it's any good, it's not going to set the world on fire.

And, secondly, something I haven't seen mentioned much recently, but the release date was all wrong. When the movie was pushed back from April, I felt my stomach drop because sci-fi and actiony fare do not traditionally do well in the fall. Now is the time for oddball movies, like romcoms and horror flicks, things that are acknowledged to have limited appeal and can't compete in the spring or summer. Look at the only other movie coming out now that is anything like Serenity: the terrible-looking Doom. It looks like an after-thought on the studio's slate. April really was the perfect month to release it. Now we're suffering Sky Captain's fate, and that movie had 3 huge stars, a much bigger media blitz and lots of fan-support.

I'm OK with cult status, by the way. The one amazing thing about this little movie is that all the people I and my friends managed to get into the theaters liked it. Do you know how shocking and cool this universal liking is? Very cool.
All I can say is....if someone gave Duece Bigalow another movie, Serenity should be a trilogy, no matter what has happened.
Oh, I don't blame Universal for relying on the fan support. Not at all. As I said, they did a lot of things right, starting with producing the film and then staying out of it, all the way through inviting the hardest of the hardcore fans to see the premiers.

The fact that a company like Universal did *any* of the things they did for this film is remarkable. Kudos to them. Seriously.

I'm just saying that more mainstream marketing would have helped. There were other factors, like the fact that people do start looking for reassuringly bland films in the fall and other things mentioned above. There's no easy answer and I'm not trying to start or fan a blame flame. (That's mine by the way. If anyone so much as says the term "Blame flame", I'm going to send Fox's lawyers after them!)

I just want to add my voice to the throngs that say the battle has really been won with the strong reception the film has gotten from the people who saw it. As bummed as I've been by some of these numbers, it's nothing compared to how nervous I was as I cumpulsively checked Rotten Tomatoes ten times a day. When I saw that 80% Fresh, the battle was mostly won, in my mind.

I'd be very surprised if, in some way shape or form, we don't get our sequel. I just hope I don't have to wait thirty years for it, 'cause by then Summer will probably actually have to use a stunt double.
I'm thankful that Universal gave the movie a chance in the first place and I do think they tried to market it but where I think they failed miserably is in the television trailers that were just chopped up bits of the full trailers that we had seen online and on the Sci-fi channel (which I only saw once). I also think they shoulda got the movie reviewed by Ebert & Roeper before it opened and if they had opened it in as many theaters as Flight Plan had gotten it would've beaten that movie it's opening weekend and got all the attention for being the #1 film.

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