Why is that? Well, by the time studio executives go to bed on Friday they pretty much know (with some measure of certainty) whether or not their film will hit their projections. Once the Friday numbers are in, from there you can almost run the numbers like a formula. Typically a film’s Friday box will be one third of its initial weekend box office. Friday represents the median number, Saturday’s numbers are usually a little higher, Sunday’s numbers are usually a bit smaller. So if you run $16.6 million x 3 you end up with an opening weekend box office for Ratatouille of about $50 million. That would be a full $10 million less than Cars $60 million and $20 million less than Brad Bird’s last film, The Incredibles’ $70 million. And if you take the opening weekend box office you can multiply it by about 3.5 to get a decent idea about where the film will finally bow out of theaters. That means that Ratatouille runs the risk of being the first Pixar film to gross less than $200 million domestic box office since A Bug’s Life’s $168 million. This just weeks after audiences proved that animation can still score big, evidenced by Shrek the Third’s take of $311 million (and counting). Ouch. It’s surprising that Ratatouille didn’t do better considering the enormous 95% fresh rating from RottenTomatoes.com and countless other critics’ enthusiasm for the film. Animation vets have been calling it the “best animated film since Pinocchio”. Wow, heady stuff. Of course things can change, but I’m just looking at the typical outcome for any given film based on opening day numbers.
Granted, a $50 million open pretty much ensures that Ratatouille will make money for Mickey and friends — just not as much as they’d like, especially when you consider that those rat themed merchandising deals aren’t going to be pulling as much weight as those for Cars did. It does kinda boggle the mind, though. It seems like Bird can’t win for losing. He makes great films that are almost universally loved by those who see them, but folks just don’t flock to see them. This isn’t an Iron Giant redux, either. Unlike Warner Brothers Disney marketed the snot out of this film. So why did less than half the people who watched Shrek the Third go see it? Is it really the rat thing? The cooking thing? No big name stars thing? Is it a French thing? Puzzling indeed.
(note: I haven’t seen it yet. I was on a plane back to Brazil the day it came out in the U.S. It’s available here in western Brazil, but only in Portuguese. I want to see it in the original english, so I have to wait for the DVD this christmas. Poo. )
Meanwhile, Sony’s rather entertaining little ditty Surf’s Up is limping its way out to a run of about $70 million domestic box office. That’s too bad because I kinda thought it was a refreshing change of pace. I didn’t care much for the main penguin character or his love interest, but the penguin played by Jeff Bridges was nicely acted- both in voice and in puppet. Most of the things I liked about Surf was the surrounding cast of characters. There were some fun ideas and performances there. The problem was that the lead character kinda came off whiney and hard to like, which usually doesn’t translate into big money for animated films. If you make him funny and whiney then that can work, but playing him straight and whiney… not so much. I did like the mockumentary conceit, but I felt they wobbled in and out of it and the overall affect was less consistent. The water was indeed brilliantly executed, but families usually aren’t big on watching Siggraph demo reels. Still, I thought it was a fun film. It’s just too bad that it’s getting drowned by bigger waves this summer. I’ll get the DVD, though. So far Sony Animation has some pretty looking films, but they haven’t found their first big hit yet. Hopefully they don’t get discouraged and pull out of the game. It’d be nice to see them keep developing their style.
Monday July 2 Update: Well, turns out I was a wee bit generous in my guesses. Disney-Pixar’s Ratatouille turned in the lowest opening weekend box for a Pixar film in 10 years- $47.2million. Unless this thing grows legs like Finding Nemo did (it opened with $70 million but kept going strong enough to top out over $300 million) then Ratatouille is on track to pull in well less than the “normal” $200 million we’ve come to expect for a Pixar film. Again I’m kinda puzzled by it all, but I guess there’s no accounting for taste with the American film going public. *shrug*