Monday, August 02, 2010

Failed Inception

Oooooof. Don't let the mainstream media fool you -- this was not a good weekend for "Inception". Sure, by Sunday night "Inception" had barely edged out Steve Carrell's "Dinner for Schmucks" -- another movie I can't even believe somebody made -- for its third straight week of the top movie of the week honors. And yes, after three weekends the flick has grossed over $190 million worldwide, meaning that Chris Nolan and everybody else involved with the film is pretty much happy from a financial perspective. This thing has made back the studio's investment in it and then some, and there is something to be said for that regardless of the actual quality of the underlying film.

But, back to this past week's performance for the movie, the truth behind the spin you're seeing is how close that battle this week really was for "Inception" to hold on to the top spot for one more week, after less than three weeks of release so far in the U.S. After busting out with just a shade over $100 million in sales in its first week of release, Inception's box office dropped by more than a third in its second week to $65.6 million, reflecting the less than stellar word of mouth for the incomprehensible pyschodrama. But it was this third week -- once all the diehard fans who already knew they would see this movie no matter what have by now gotten out there and seen it -- when the real dropoff occurred. By Week 3, this is when you're basically looking at a few stragglers who haven't had any free time yet to get to the theater, but mostly otherwise it is a word-of-mouth audience. Third- and fourth-weekers are mostly comprised of people seeing a movie for the second or third time (who would ever pay $12 more than once to be confused by a blithering idiot?), and people who might have skipped this like most films but instead heard from someone they trust that it was worth seeing. Word of mouth is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to a movie either becoming an icon of pop culture, or being forgotten in a few months when the next "blockbuster" hits theaters. And on that front, "Inception" is, of course, failing fast. In its third week, the movie took in just over $27 million in gross receipts, reflecting a drop of around 60% since week 2 and now nearly 75% since its first-week gross.

Now I know there are you smart-alecks out there who are going to try to insist that this is a very typical performance for a great movie, I don't know what I'm talking about, etc etc etc. So let's just back this up with some facts as always, and then you can go on your merry way blowing the movie, mmmmkay?

Let's start with "The Matrix". I'm picking this movie because it is one I have heard compared to "Inception" several times by several people, and even the movie's creators have cited "The Matrix" as a critical inspriation for much of the filming and the direction. "The Matrix" opened to a paltry $10 million gross in its shortened first week of release, but then exploded by over 330% to over $41 million in Week 2 as people started talking about how this movie changed their world view forever. By Week 3 there was of course a dropoff, but only of 26% compared to Week 2 as "The Matrix" raked in over $30 million in its third week of release, as word of mouth was incredibly strong for the sci-fi thriller. The dropoff in Week 4, again mostly a word-of-mouth audience -- was even smaller, just 22% from Week 3's take to $23.4 million. While "Inception" saw its audience tumble nearly 60% from Week 2 to Week 3 as the have-to-see-it crowd ran out of steam and the word-of-mouthers avoided this thing like the plague, "The Matrix" continued to roll on strong, never seeing a weekly drop of over 31% in a non-holiday week until Week 16, and never once in its entire run in theaters recording a week-to-week drop in gross receipts of greater than 51%. So people kept talking up "The Matrix" no matter how long it was out, no matter how many times they had seen it, until they took it out of the theater for good, period. Nobody, meanwhile, is talking up "Inception" in macro terms, and sales are plummeting fast after just three weeks in theaters.

Now let's compare "Inception"'s early run to another summer blockbuster from this year, Despicable Me. This is a kids' movie, and a decent one I would say (I saw it with K and M a couple of weeks back), and so far after three full weeks of release this film has grossed almost the exact same amount as Inception so far in around $190 million, so it seems as good a comparison as any. In Week 1, "Despicable Me" took in $85 million, and in Week 2, $54 million, for a total dropoff of 39%, actually a little better than "Inception"'s dropoff from Week 1 to Week 2. But, move to Week 3 when word-of-mouth takes on an increasingly key role, and Despicable Me still made $37 million, far more than Inception in Week 3, and more than that, a dropoff from Week 2 of only 28.4%. "Inception"'s 60% plunge from Week 2 to Week 3 looks more and more telling the more you compare this to other similar films' box office performance. People just don't like this movie as much as the entertainment media would have you believe.

Let's also look at a few other similar-genre movies to "Inception" over the past several years, in addition to The Matrix. "Minority Report" from Summer 2002? 37% drop from Week 1 to Week 2, 44% dropoff from Week 2 to Week 3, 42% drop to Week 4, 38% drop to Week 5, and just a 30% drop between Weeks 5 and 6, as once again you can see the power of word of mouth and its impact on movie grosses after the first couple of weeks. Now, "Inception" hasn't had four or five weeks of data to cull yet, but let's just say that after plummeting 59% from Week 2 to Week 3, sophisticated watchers of movie trends know what this means, and it ain't that sales are going to double in Week 4. And what about "Vanilla Sky", a movie I never saw but which is also often mentioned as a similar type of movie to Inception? Now, "Vanilla Sky" only grossed just over $100 million total in the U.S., but looking at its weekly receipts, once again there was a 33% dropoff from Week 1 to Week 2, but then only a 14% drop from Week 2 to Week 3, and there was never any weekly dropoff of greater than 57% in the film's entire 18-week release run in the U.S.

So it is clear to see that, no matter what the studio or the entertainment media will try to throw at you this week, those out there calling "Inception" the movie of the year simply don't have the backing of, you know, the people who decide on such things. Sure plenty of people saw this movie based purely on the trailer, the stars and the advance summary as always during the first couple weeks of release, and yes the studio has made its profit and is happy with the film from that perspective. But once those blind moviegoers had paid their penance and made their sacrifice to the movie gods in paying to see the movie in the first couple of weeks, the dropoff this week has been dramatic by almost any movie's standards. 60% fewer people seeing "Inception" in Week 3 than in Week 2 is not good news no matter how you slice it, and it belies the fact that people are objectively not running home in droves and telling all their friends that they have to see this new movie, it's so amazing, etc. They're just not. Instead, moreso than any similar movie in recent memory, the weekly gross figures indicate that audience members are strongly rating this flick a "skip" in talking with family and friends once they've seen it.

Oh, and by the way, "Avatar"? Over $137 million in gross in Week 1, and then amazingly up 7% in Week 2 to over $145 million. Avatar didn't drop below "Inception"'s Week 3 take of $27 million until the middle of the third month after its release, and the week after that its gross dropped only 7% between Weeks 10 and 11 if you can believe that. An amazing 6 of its 32 weeks have seen weekly gross increases from the prior week's viewing, and the film didn't lose more than 30% of the prior week's number of viewers for two consecutive weeks (like "Inception" in Weeks 2 and 3) until Weeks 14 and 15 after release. When a movie is truly great, the people will continue to see it over and over again and to tell their friends to do the same, and you can really see it in the numbers.

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Blogger NumbBono said...

You neglect to mention that your numbers for week three of Inception's box office total are for only three days of the week. I would imagine another 15 to 20 million coming from Monday-Thursday.

11:48 AM  
Blogger VinNay said...

This should help explain things -

9:28 PM  

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