November Preview: Money, Money, Money…Money

One could argue that, from a business perspective, November is the most important month of the year for Hollywood. Typically the month finishes just below the summer months for total box office which might make you think it is not as important as May, June or July, but that isn’t taking into considerationan odd fact about November. If you add up the total grosses of the films released in November, not just what they made that month but what they made over the course of their theatrical runs, November is actually the biggest month of the year. The movies released last November went on to gross $1.5 billion domestically. That is an insane number. By comparison the movies released in July of 2011, the highest grossing month of all time, only did $1.25 billion (the month itself was bolstered by June holdovers, specifically Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Cars 2, to create the biggest month ever). Seven movies released last November went on to gross over $100 million (Skyfall, The last Twilight, Wreck-It Ralph, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi and Rise of the Guardians) and another fell just short (Flight). Are there that many potential hits this November? Maybe not but what is at the top might be as strong a 1-2 punch as November has ever seen.

For the studios November is the last best hope to make share holders happy, to change the narrative, to save your job or to put the cherry on your cake. Who’s hoping for what? Let’s take a look.

We’ve Played It Safe All Year, Now We Are Cashing In (Lionsgate)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (November 22nd)

Lionsgate is your buddy that goes to Vegas and actually keeps with his budget. All of those articles that were written this summer about ‘why don’t studios make movies that don’t cost $200 million?’, they obviously didn’t look at Lionsgate, because that is what Lionsgate did. Now You See Me, Red 2, Snitch, Tyler Perry’s…, Warm Bodies, this is a studio that lives in the middle of the road. But they have had an ace in the hole the entire year. Katniss belongs to Lionsgate and Katniss can make any studio look awfully good.

I haven’t read the books, so I can’t comment on whether this story will or should work better or worse as a film. What will be curious to see is where we are. Are people more excited after seeing the first movie? Will there be a Jennifer Lawrence backlash? Or will this movie do everything we expect it to? Skyfall holds the record for the biggest movie ever released in November with just over $300 million in domestic box office and over $1.1 billion world-wide, how short of that will Katniss have to fall to be considered a disappointment? The Hunger Games surpassed $400 million domestically a year and a half ago, so I wouldn’t rule record breaking possibilities out for the sequel. For Lionsgate the point is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is their year. If its a mega smash they are the smartest guys in the room, if it’s not they are the 7th or 8th highest grossing studio (that’s not good if you were wondering).

Let It Go Already! Yes, The Lone Ranger Was A Bomb Everyone In The World Could See Coming But Guess What, We Own Marvel (Disney)

Thor: The Dark World (November 8th)

You know why Disney can roll the dice on John Carter and The Lone Ranger? Because they own Marvel and Pixar and Star Wars. That gives Disney a cadre of guaranteed hits. Iron Man 3 shot past $1 billion world-wide this past summer and while it is an understatement to say Thor: The Dark World won’t match that if it does half the business Iron Man 3 did it will be a huge hit for Disney and would give the studio four movies that surpassed $200 million at the box office in 2013, something no other studio could say.

The real plus side to all of this is that Thor: The Dark World looks great. I’ll admit that Thor was my favorite Marvel superhero when I was a kid, so I am certainly biased, but Loki and Thor teaming up to save the world, who doesn’t want to see that?

Oh, And Did We Mention That We Are Still In The Princess Business Too? (Disney)

Frozen (November 27th)

That’s right, if Thor wasn’t enough of a year end spike for Disney, they are also trotting out Frozen, a wintery/christmasy classic Disney princess movie. How many of those didn’t work?…I’m thinking….still thinking…oh, that’s right, they have all worked. Could this be a Wreck-It Ralph size hit? I suppose it could be but even if it lands somewhere between Wreck-It Ralph and Rise of the Guardians, last November’s two big animated flicks, that would still put this movie in the $140 range, which is pretty terrific. And look, when I say ‘they always work’ I don’t just mean financially. Disney knows how to make this kind of movie, it’s in their DNA. Frozen is going to be everything you want it to be, and I mean that in a good way.

Okay Disney, Hold On, You Aren’t The Only Studio With Another Potential Hit (Lionsgate)

Ender’s Game (November 1st)

Usually I feel pretty confident about predicting a movies financial viability and probable quality. Am I wrong sometimes? Obviously. But usually when I am wrong the movie is just more than what I was thinking. I thought The Lone Ranger would be a disappointment but I still assumed it would stumble into a $100 million movie, I was wrong because it bombed more than I thought. Ender’s Game is going to land. Could this movie be un-watchably bad? You bet. Would it be surprising if it was really good? Nope, not at all. Could it be an international sensation at the box office as the myriad of fans from the book flock to see the movie? Sure. Could it bomb at the box office because fans of book don’t necessarily want to see their books become movies? Just as the Mortal Instruments folks about that. I just can’t get a feel for this thing. Even my 9 year old son, who is often a great guage for the excitement kids are feeling toward a movie, can’t seem to decide if he wants to see this. One week it’s ‘no dad, I don’t think so’ and the next it’s ‘dad, Ender’s Game looks cool’. In the end, even if it does bomb Lionsgate will still point to Katniss as if that cures all ills (and maybe it does). My point is I can usually tell in which direction a movie is going to end up. I say this because I have absolutely no idea where

We’re Going To Win The Batting Title This Year, Did You Know That? (Paramount)

The Wolf of Wall Street (November 15th)

Paramount has only released five movies in 2013 so far, but only one of them wasn’t a hit. Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, G.I. Joe Retaliation, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (solid overseas performance has sparked talk of a sequel) and Pain & Gain. You know what, Pain & Gain only cost $26 million to make and has already grossed over $80 million world-wide, I take it back, they are five for five. And The Wolf of Wall Street will make them six for six. That is pretty impressive in todays ‘swing for the fences’ hollywood, where boom or bust is the rule of the day. By comparison WB is the #1 grossing studio of the year thus far with over $1.5 billion (Paramount has $727 million and is the #6 studio), but they have released 16 movies so far in 2013. Those 16 movies have brought some huge hits (Man of Steel, Gravity, We’re The Millers, The Conjuring, The Great Gatsby to name a few) but they have also had some unmitigated disasters (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Beautiful Creatures, Bullet to the Head). As a whole WB is batting somewhere in the .625 range for the year, which isn’t horrible, but Paramount is batting 1.000!!

Why am I so certain The Wolf of Wall Street will keep Paramount’s streak alive? Scorsese/DiCaprio. Even when they miss as a pairing (Shutter Island) they don’t miss badly and this is THE big budget adult drama of November and is almost guaranteed to generate Oscar buzz even if it doesn’t actually garner a lot of awards. Will the true story of a young man’s rise to wealth and power on Wall Street that gets him tied up with the mob and the federal government until his world comes crashing down resonate? Well, the last true story Scorsese did about a guy’s descent into crime and ruin was Goodfellas. I’m just saying.

We’re Playing With The Big Boys Now (Relativity)

Free Birds (November 1st)

What does Free Birds have going for it? Well, let’s see.

  • It has NO competition until Frozen is released later in the month. Look what NO competition has done for Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 for the last month.
  • It has a hook that is obvious and easy for kids to get. Always surprised by how few animated features get this, kids want to ‘get’ the movie before they see it. Wreck-It Ralph, got it right after seeing the first trailer. Turbo, I still don’t get it (the snail races in the Indy 500? Against cars? Why doesn’t one of the cars just run him over?). Two Turkeys going back in time to the first Thanksgiving to ‘get Turkeys off the menu’, boom! Got it.
  • It has a funny trailer. So important for a kids movie. Every kid that saw Cloudy…, every kid that saw Despicable Me 2, every kid that saw Planes, they all saw this trailer and they have all been bugging their parents about seeing this movie.
  • It has a holiday theme, but not Christmas. Talk about brilliant strategies. There are something nearing a gazillion animated Christmas movies out there, how many animated Thanksgiving flix have there been? Not only will this movie do well in the theaters, if it is even a little bit good it will live on forever as ABC’s Sunday Night Movie on the weekend before turkey day.
The long and short of it is Relativity, a studio with the oddest assortment of movies released this year imaginable (Safe Haven, The Family, Don Jon, Movie 43, 21 and Over), has a hit on its hand, a hit that has an outside shot at matching the grosses of the rest of its films combined (around $175 million, which would be a stretch, my guess is it will end up closer to $125).
Did You Here How Much Money Despicable Me 2 and Fast & Furious 6 Made? (Universal)
About Time (November 1st)
The Best Man Holiday (November 15th)
While Disney had the hits that you would expect this last summer (Iron Man 3 and Monsters University) and therefore get no real credit for the success, Universal had the two movies that blew box office trackers away (particularly international markets) with F&F 6 and Despicable Me 2 so no one talked about R.I.P.D. or Kick Ass 2 or Riddick the way they did about The Lone Ranger. All of that is okay with the execs at Universal, I’m sure. With About Time and The Best Man Holiday Universal has two movies that are locks to make money just as they are locks to have little impact on the movie going public at large. About Time is from the people that brought you Love Actually and Notting Hill, two absolutely charming British rom-coms that have had long lives on cable TV. I’m not sure About Time will reach those heights, but I am fairly certain it will be charming date night fare and not a bad watch on HBO in six months. 
The Best Man Holiday is a sequel to The Best Man. A little trivia for you, The Best Man, probably more than any other film (sorry Tyler Perry), showed hollywood that there was/is a market for African-American centric movies. The film was released in 1999 and made a solid $39 million and only cost $9 million. This film is looking at similar (albeit inflated for ticket price increases) numbers and will be another profitable feather in Universal’s cap, even if it is a feather few will notice.
These Guys Are Still Movie Stars, Right? (CBS Films)
Last Vegas (November 1st)
When The Last Exorcism Part II is your big hit are you really a studio? I suppose it doesn’t matter, and neither does this movie that yet again thinks that bundling old stars together in semi-contemporary ways will work. It doesn’t. I have actually been surprised to see how many ads they have run for this film of late. Clearly CBS Films is hoping that the same people that love their procedural dramas will see old pros, none of whom, with the exception of Kevin Klein, have ever done comedy that well, do the geriatric hangover. It seems crazy to me.

So, Who Gets Credit For This? (Dreamworks, Disney, Buena Vista)
Delivery Man (November 22nd)
Dreamworks doesn’t do distribution and technically neither does Disney. Bueva Vista, which is owned by Disney, does distribution for Disney as well as for many Dreamworks movies. Why tell you all of this? Because this Vince Vaughn vehicle is a Dreamworks movie that is being distributed by a Disney owned company, making its categorization in this silly format mildly tricky. Does it matter? Not really. Why? Because of The Dilemma, The Watch and The Internship. Bomb, bomb, bomb for Vince and this one is being released opposite The Hunger Games. Could Delivery Man get some run as the only man-child comedy out there? Possibly, a little, but the reviews would have to be other-wordly to push this movie into big hit territory. My advice, wait a month and see Anchorman 2.

Oh, Hey, We Have Alexander Payne’s Movie Too (Paramount)
Nebraska (November 22nd)
Speaking of batting 1.000 how’s this for a streak, Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants. Alexander Payne knows how to make good movies, absolutely no question about that. Nebraska was a bit of a sensation Cannes earlier this year. Bruce Dern is already getting best actor buzz for his portrayal a booze-addled father who travels from Minnesota to Nebraska to see his estranged son and collect a Mega Sweepstakes Marketing Prize. That shouldn’t be a huge surprise because Bruce Dern is awesome, what is a little more surprising is that SNL Alum Matt Forte is getting all sorts of praise for his dramatic work has the estranged son. Then again, Alexander Payne has a knack for finding unsuspectingly talented actors (Thomas Hayden Church, Matthew Lillard), so I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. Payne filmed this movie in black and white, which is kind of cool for this kind of a thing (I don’t really have a point to share about the black and white thing other than that). The movie looks terrific, I’m sure it is terrific and it will certainly keep Paramount’s batting average right where it is.

How About 3 Out Of 5, Is That Good? (FilmDistrict)
Oldboy (November 29th)
A bizarre year for FilmDistrict. They have had two unqualified hits (Olympus Has Fallen and Insidious Chapter 2) and two absolute disasters (Parker and Dead Man Down), this makes Oldboy the make or break film for the studio. 3 out of 5 is respectable, particularly if at least two are significantly over performing hits, as Olympus… and Insidious… were. 2 out of 5 is not good, particularly when two of the bombs were really big bombs, as Parker and Dead Man Down were. Where will Oldboy fall? It’s a tough call. Could I see this being this years Killing Them Softly (Brad Pitt’s hit man drama last December that was well reviewed and not seen by anyone)? You bet, in fact that may be the most likely scenario. Could this be something closer to Flight from last year (well reviewed and seen, although by no means a monster hit)? Yup, I could definitely see this playing well, particularly if the reviews are glowing. In the end Oldboy, like most things in life, will land somewhere in the middle. It will makes a modest profit for the studio but fall short of the expectations everyone had for it.

Conclusion

There are a few other movies coming out in November. The Weinstein Company has Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom coming out with Idris Elba in the titular role, and I do love Idris Elba. Black Nativity from Fox Searchlight is also coming out starring Jennifer Hudson and, as always, some number of independent movies and documentaries I am unaware of will find their way into a theater or two, but let’s be honest, November is about Thor and Katniss…they should make a movie where those two get together. Who wouldn’t want to see that?

But hey, what do I know? I’m fat.