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February 17 2006

Out of the Red and Into the Black? A poster to the Newsarama boards does a break-down of Serenity's financial performance so far, saying it's not "exactly made a huge amount of money" but is "no longer climbing out of the red."

Click through for the whole item. He seems to try to account for the split of the take between studio and theaters, for example, but industry stuff like this makes my head hurt.

So, to those who understand such things: Does this seem correct to you?

This doesn't even factoring in international DVD sales and rentals. I just went and checked out the sales ranking for Serenity in Australia and at it is ranked as number 1 and which sells the tin case Serenity has the top two spots with the tin case at number 1 and non-tin case at number 2.
One thing that seemed off was the rental amount of $10M. The studio won't get any of that.

The other thing is that the amount of profit off of the DVD is probably closer to $9 and not $12. Without going back and redoing his math, Serenity is probably at breakeven (without trying to factor in the time-value of money in the initial investment) with the first few weeks of international DVD sales. He also didn't factor in PPV licensing revenue, airplane release, or other licensing.

His $11M in profit is probably a bit ambitious.
DVD sales are doing fantasticly in Oz, with the UK about to get it also. I think it may make a little bit of money yet.
Airplane release? Don't you think Serenity would be kind of, I dunno... panic attack inducing if you watch it in the air? It's no Final Destination, but the whole lost power/crashlanding thing wouldn't go over too well with nervous flyers.
Lol, I'd love to watch FD on an airplane.
TamaraC- I think your partial right and so is Matt I think if you see Universal as a whole Corporation then the $12 a DVD then Matt is right but if you break it out to the particular divisions. The production div and the home entertainment div then you are correct in thinking that the actually production company tool in $9, while the home ent div took in $3 per DVD sold. Now if the production company breaks even and the home ent div makes any profit they might help kick in some of the cost of a straight to DVD release.
Yay!! Maybe there is hope yet for a sequel of some sort someday - I'd be happy with big screen or direct to DVD!
RavenU, here is my thinking on the DVD per unit net (and I am talking net profit here): My estimate is a $12 wholesale price to the retailer, out of that $2 to $3 is materials, shipping, inventory costs, and overhead. Thus, I get to the $9 net to Universal with or without considering the home entertainmetn division.

I think there are a lot of expenses that almost all of these fan profit estimation completely overlook. I am no expert in Studio and DVD finance, but I do know a (very) little something about corporate finance.

I still think Serenity will be nominally profitable eventually. I just am estimating that it isn't there yet.
One thing that seemed off was the rental amount of $10M. The studio won't get any of that.

But they do get the money retailers paid for their units of the film. So while they may not see the $10M rental profit, they still made money when rental outlits had to pay $30 per copy.
Maybe there is hope yet for a sequel of some sort someday

Well we can hope, but I'm just not ready to invest in that to be honest.
The Dark Shape, I may be wrong, but I assume that is accounted for in the DVD sales and we have all heard the stories on how few copies rental outlets have on the shelves.
I think Universal have really dropped the ball when it comes to the Serenity DVD in the U.S. I live in Australia and I finally got to see the actual U.S. cover a couple of weeks ago and have to say that I thought the cover was even worse than the online images. It just looked like a complete mess and rather hard to make out in low to normal light, you needed a rather bright light to see what was actually on the cover.

On the other hand I walked into my local video rental store in Australia a couple of days ago to see a fairly large number of Serenity DVDs with the Australian cover and I have to say that I thought it had the most outstanding cover in the new release section.

To say that the Australian DVD has a more appealing cover than the U.S. DVD is the understatement of the year.
I 100% agree with you there Zoic_Fan!
Uni Home Ent have out done thenselves in Oz
"One thing that seemed off was the rental amount of $10M. The studio won't get any of that."

That's what I thought too, but someone on Home Theater Forum explained that some of the larger chains (not the independent mom and pop places) have some kind of arrangement...the details of which completely escape me.
I hate to burst anyone's bubble but the costs seem way off to me. This estimate doesn't seem to consider distribution costs, MPAA fees, print production etc. which as far as i'm aware are all treated separately to production budget. And the advertising budget seems pretty conservative too given that there were numerous TV spots in multiple countries as well as posters, press junkets etc. all needing to be paid for.

This site has a breakdown of a typical box-office success story (tho' FSM knows why) 'Gone in 60 Seconds' and it's really not encouraging for those of us hoping for a sequel (to the BDM that is, not, heaven forfend, Gi60S). 'Serenity' is almost certainly still in the red.

Agree tho' that the Aussie edition is far better than the US one (even tho' I think the US cover looks OK on the shiny paper). My signed slipcover release came from JB-Hifi last week and it so purty (apart from the typo, grr, aargh). Not watched the extra extras yet, probably get to them this weekend (don't wanna blow 'em all in one go ;).
It didn't break even on opening weekend. That was the determining factor. It's very doubtful Universal will take another risk on a second film. If it had made forty million by the time it got out of the theaters we might have seen a straight to video sequel, but it only grossed twenty-five according to IMDb. Even if Universal or some other company invests in a sequel, it won't be a forty million investment. It might be a little over half that, and I doubt they'd be able to afford Joss and the cast, then have enough after salaries to pay for actual production, at a twenty-five million price tag.

I'm still hoping that FOX will come to its senses and revive the series for the little screen, perhaps on a cable network, but it's a vain hope. If FOX doesn't do it, another company would have to buy the rights off them, THEN be able to afford actual production. Sadly we've probably seen all the stories Firefly has to offer in terms of television or the silver screen. Fortunately, there's comic books and novels and the like. There's still more stories here, but not enough of a mainstream audience to get those with money to gamble on our Big Damn Heroes.
I think it is way too premature to suggest that there most likely won't be a Serenity sequel. The movie is still selling in the US (#16 on Amazon at the moment) and is just being released this month in OZ and the UK. Plus, if a US Special Edition DVD is released, it will sell which adds more to the money pot for Universal. Serenity is still selling on DVD and will continue to sell. Also, as has been stated on this site in previous posts, there are several examples of movies that didn't perform well at the box office and went on to sell enough on DVD to get sequels. The Transporter is one example and Duece Bigalow is another example.

Even if the Serenity blew away the box office, a sequel most likely would not be announced for atleast a year if not more. Even Joss has stated himself in numorus articles and posts that he doesn't know what the future holds for the franchise. How can we think we know if Joss doesn't even know? We just need to be patient and let the DVD sales contiune to increase and see what happens in a year or two IMHO.
Joss has to film Wonder Woman. And then presumably will go straight onto Goners. And if the Spike tv movie does get greenlit, that would take up more of his time. So even if Universal are willing it would be probably be two years before a sequel could happen.
Unfortunately this poster hasn't included things like print costs (millions), international translation costs (thousands), international marketing costs (many millions) etc. It's a boat load of money.

Personally, I'd say give it 2 years and it'll probably be into the black for Universal.

That said, studios tend to make sequels for franchise material, or that will just make a lot of money. Serenity, I'm not sure if it worked as a movie franchise. Really great movie, really hard sell.
international marketing costs (many millions)

Are you sure about this kind of figure? I mean, in france, the marketing cost was probably 2-3 euros maximum... :P
Well, they did fly nearly the entire cast (minus Alan and Ron) and many of their partners, Chris Buchanan, Lisa Lasek etc over to Edinburgh.. And Nathan, Summer and Joss back for the London premiere. And do multiple rounds of prescreenings here. Some with cast. Etc. Plus we had TV adverts, magazine promos, tube promos. The UK bill alone will be impressive, and Oz had similar treatment.

Which, of course, I'm not saying is a bad thing: 2005 was a really cool, really surreal year for me, and a great many of us I'm sure. It really was a party at Universal's place for Whedon fans.
Yikes! First time I've done something that was linked to and a bit embarrassed as quite a few things such a rental money were bad assumptions. Still good to get input from other people here to help understand things more. I've never taken such an interest in the outcome of profit of a movie and have learned a lot about how the movie industry works because of Serenity.

As I posted on, with so many different costs and incoming revenue it's no wonder there's such thing as "Hollywood accounting" where they make successful movies look like they haven't made any money.
Y'know, i sat with my girlfriend last weekend and we watched Serenity again (twice actually ... it's mid-month and we had no money to go anywhere, okay?!? :p). I still cannot get it into my head how this movie didn't do about one hundred times better than it actually did. My other half isn't a massive Joss fan and even she believes that Serenity is easily one of the best science fiction movies in recent memory. There being a sequel shouldn't be a question, it should be a law.
The UK bill alone will be impressive, and Oz had similar treatment.

UIP in Oz were given a budget of a million big ones.
Is that a million big Australian ones ? So about £420k or, what , $700k ? Not really all that much considering there was the Sydney Q&A as well as the press interviews, posters, TV spots, cast accommodation etc. to fund.

Which is to say, well done UIP Oz for making the money stretch (even if that's US dollars, it still seems fairly frugal, not that it's not a lot of money to me but y'know as far as these things go, not so much. It's probably Tom Cruise's teeth whitener bill per movie).

Hey, Matt_Fab, the whole film accounting thing is a very tangled web which I knew absolutely nothing about before 'Serenity' and now know nearly absolutely nothing about. At least you're staying positive ;).

edited cos Sidney is some bloke who probably wouldn't welcome a Q&A, whereas Sydney is a large city down under

[ edited by Saje on 2006-02-18 18:03 ]
Gossi, wasn't the Serenity premiere in Edinburgh part of the film festival? In which case the festival would have paid that part of the bill.
Gossi, wasn't the Serenity premiere in Edinburgh part of the film festival? In which case the festival would have paid that part of the bill.

Ooh. And aaah. I didn't realise that bit. Yeah, it was premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in August (actually world premiered, but that bit got lost).

UIP in Oz were given a budget of a million big ones.

Actually, I heard a similar figure for the UK. In terms of currency rates it'd work about double, though.

[ edited by gossi on 2006-02-18 19:25 ]
Here's the explanation for why Variety does indeed report the studio's grosses from video rentals: "Rather than a simple sale to the largest retailers, studios often use a revenue sharing model where the chain buys DVDs at a highly discounted price and pays the studio a portion of the rental fee."

So the ten million in rental revenue is correct. That's the revenue the studio got from rental. Beyond that, the rental chains also made money.
That's not my understanding of it, willbueche. I believe the retail rental figures are the business it's done, not figures representing the studio profit.
I was always rather positive on having a sequel made, but after the DVD sales to date, I no longer think so. Studios, like any business, aren't trying to break even, or even just 'edge' into the money. They generally want to make a significant profit. Going into Serenity, the thinking at Universal had to be that worst case it would about break even at some point, but that there was a real chance that it would become a nice sized hit. To throw out some very rough hypotheticals, let's say that they thought 75% chance it would break even vs 25% they'd make a lot of money. So the calculation for their estimated profit would be something like: 0*.75+100,000,000*.25=25,000,000.

Risking 50+ million to make a 25 million profit makes some sense, especially when you can increase the profits if you have a success by way of sequels. However, now that it seems clear that Serenity will be only marginally profitable, what would such a profit estimate look like for Serenity 2? If you say that it only has a 5% chance (which is, if anything, generous at this point) to make serious profit, then the calculation would look like this: 0*.95+100,000,000*.05=5,000,000

Risking 40-50 million to make 5 million just doesn't make any sense. Just put your money into treasury bills and you can make 5 million after 2 years, without any risk (other than inflation risk, I guess).

Perhaps a straight to video sequel might make financial sense but only if the budget is seriously slashed, and I would think it would have to be cut by much more than the previously mentioned 40-50%.

[ edited by rkayn on 2006-02-18 23:18 ]
Lest we forget, the only numbers we have to go on are the gross estimated box office revenues.

To follow up on what gossi said, costs can eat up nearly all the foreign gross that "appear" to make even a hit movie profitable. Overseas, Serenity was reported to gross $13M. However we don't know what sort of distribution arrangements, revenue-sharing, pre-sales or other exchanges may have been made prior to the production.

The author of the Slate article listed above keeps a site with examples of how various accounting arrangements can make studios money, or lose them. Of particular interest is this discussion of "The Foreign Mirage" using the example of Gone in Sixty Seconds, which grossed $129M in foreign receipts, of which Disney ended up with only $17M.

The writer points out that after all the expenses, "the studios are lucky to wind up with 15% of what is reported as the foreign gross." In the case of Serenity, that's less than $2million.
You know the secret of turning a profit? It's love...
There is also the account of many markets internationally were slashed for theatre release. So I think a lot of those markets will help as well since the dvd is the first chance they have of seeing the movie.

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