I have had this past three weeks “off” work, in that I have to go to City Hall every day and sit there doing nothing but use my computer rather than teach any classes. So in all of my free time, I guess I’ll be uploading a few more random blog posts than usual. Here’s one right now:
One thing I love to do in my spare time, probably my nerdiest and least-redeeming hobby, is to analyze the movie box office and see what movies are doing well, what movies are doing poorly, and how well the movies I love are performing. Even though I’m obviously most invested in what I care about most, I wish for the best for (almost) every movie, even though sometimes you just get pretty big failures out of nowhere.
In the case of the hypothetical scenario I’m about to write about, the first three months of 2019 were considered pretty terrible for the movie box office. There were a few hits– Captain Marvel, obviously, and then How to Train Your Dragon 3, but a few more big movies had major underperformances (Glass, Lego Movie 2, Alita, and now Dumbo) that have dragged the entire calendar down.
So I began to wonder one thing… what if the release dates of three of the biggest movies were swapped around?
Why these three? For starters, Glass and Alita both performed below expectations in important ways. Glass was cheap enough that it was always going to be a huge financial success, but its extremely divisive nature meant that it wasn’t as much of an “event” as everyone thought it would be, and the fact that all the other movies cleared the calendar for it meant that January 2019 was almost barren. Alita on the other hand, was so expensive that it needed a good $450, $500 million just to break even, and despite trying its best, didn’t manage to reach that, especially with premium screens getting eaten up soon after its release. Along with those two, Captain Marvel just passed $1 billion worldwide, a huge feat for a hero who hadn’t even appeared on screen before until this movie’s release, and who has never had any sort of multimedia campaign associated with her.
So here’s my thoughts…
(Aside from one switch I’ll mention, assume that the calendar is completely the same other than these three movies.)
Captain Marvel— Releasing January 18
What if Captain Marvel took Glass‘s original spot for MLK Jr. Weekend? Here’s the original weekend numbers. The calendar was cleared of any competing event movies, meaning no other movie was going to suffer utter defeat under its hands, and it’s a prime spot for a gigantic superhero movie to pull gigantic box office receipts.
See, this happened mostly because of Glass itself; everyone had assumed that it would be this major breakout film, using its predecessor Split’s goodwill to launch to new heights, much like Jordan Peele’s Us actually did. Instead, the movie had almost the exact same opening weekend, and slightly worse legs, so it ended up making a little bit less than Split in the end. This was probably partly due to overestimating audience interest in a Split/Unbreakable crossover sequel thriller superhero film, but the movie itself got poor reviews and was also incredibly divisive, in classic M. Night Shyamalan style.
The other reason the calendar was so clear was because of the mega Christmas season, where we got FIVE major blockbusters release within a one week period. However, aside from Aquaman, none of them pulled absolutely spectacular numbers, and by this weekend, the combined box office for November/December holdovers was only about $45 million.
And because of Glass’s underperformance, other January releases were able to parlay themselves into bigger successes. The Upside was a badly-reviewed comedy/drama, an abandoned Weinstein film that was supposed to have been given a January Dumping Grounds burial, but it was such a crowdpleaser that it lasted throughout January and February, eventually making almost as much as Glass itself. Dragon Ball Super: Broly used intense fandom goodwill and actually-good reviews to make $22 million in five days, just under half of what Glass made, in just over half the theaters.
So think of what Captain Marvel could have done had it released here instead– it would have been just as wide-open as it was in March, and its record-breaking $150 million opening weekend probably would have been just as achievable here in January. The reason Disney didn’t do this is obviously because they were counting on the major worldwide rollouts for Mary Poppins Returns and Ralph Breaks the Internet, but both of those did quite a lot worse than expectations, and that left a void in Disney’s early-year calendar.
An important change this would have made is altering the Narrative. Until Captain Marvel’s release, the 2019 box office was considered very poor. If we got a billion-dollar hit right out of the starting gate, that would have changed the news considerably… and maybe that could have boosted everything else around it, too?
Glass— Releasing February 15
So what if Glass moved to take Alita’s place over Valentine’s Day weekend?
First off, here’s the switch I mentioned earlier– Happy Death Day 2 U, the other Blumhouse sequel, clearly isn’t coming out on the same day as Glass, and that’s probably a good thing seeing how badly it did on V-Day. Chuck that to like, May or something, and it probably does a bit better.
So Glass is here, the biggie over a romantic weekend, but with almost no demographic competition facing it, just romcoms and CGI family movies, other than Cold Pursuit, which bombed a little bit. This is not a very good choice for a date movie, but then again, I don’t think Kingsman: The Secret Service or A Good Day to Die Hard were either. Like the latter movie, Glass ended up being a For Fans Only sort of event, and so I think it would have done more or less the same for its opening weekend.
Would it have held as well, or even better, had it come out in February? That’s hard to say. Assuming nothing else changes, it’s over a month before Us premieres, so it has a lot of time to itself as a horror/thriller. I’d say that it would definitely make as much as it did in January, and possibly get closer to matching Split’s total.
Alita: Battle Angel— Releasing March 8
One thing Alita had going for it was word-of-mouth. Unlike so many comparable original or original-ish sci-fi/fantasy movies (Jupiter Ascending, The Great Wall, Valerian, and so on), Alita actually overperformed initial expectations in a pretty big way, eventually making $85 million (compared to the $40-50 million similar movies tend to make). That wasn’t enough though, and the word-of-mouth at its dazzling visuals and captivating protagonist was cut short when the movie quickly lost all of its premium 3D, IMAX, PLF, etc. screens.
Instead of releasing in the middle of February, after a big dead period for the box office with How to Train Your Dragon 3 a week later, and then Captain Marvel three weeks later, Alita would instead be releasing with Dragon’s third weekend, and long after either Captain Marvel or Glass. It gets three free weekends to itself until Dumbo comes out before its premium screens start to disappear, and then Dumbo’s own underperformance would have helped it out.
Would that have really changed that much? Probably not hugely different in America. The word-of-mouth would have carried it to maybe $95 million, $110 million at most even with the extra space, so not much more. However, worldwide would have been more affected. With Captain Marvel burning off in January, and then February dominated mostly two big animated movies, Alita would be faced only by Dumbo and Shazam! which, even when combined, wouldn’t be as big a threat as Captain Marvel’s opening weekend. Even a modest 20% increase in international grosses would have pushed the movie to $460 million, which is about what the break-even point is said to be.
Of course, this switch would also probably have helped out Dumbo, Shazam!, and most notably Wonder Park. The first two of these are “event” enough of movies on their own that Captain Marvel wasn’t a huge impact on them. Wonder Park, though, was an inexplicably expensive B-tier animated movie with a $100 million budget, but just $40 million domestic in its first three weeks, probably targeting somewhere around $60 or $65 million by the end of it. It’ll probably break even worldwide by the end of things, but seeing as Alita is a smaller movie that is much less kid-friendly, Wonder Park probably could have boosted as far as $100 million, which would be a boon to Paramount as it gears up for the animated TV series spinning off from the movie later this year.
Honestly? Taking it through all the way, I don’t think it would have changed much of anything except the “narrative” of it all. the Christmas movies would have had slightly worse holdovers if Captain Marvel released in their 5th/6th weekends, but other than Aquaman they were mostly played out by then anyway. The other adult-oriented movies in February would have suffered from Glass, but it’s not like any of them did that well anyway. Alita would have made a bit more if it released in a better timeslot, but surely there is a limit to how well it could have done in this theatrical environment.
But… it’s still interesting to think about.
What other recent movies do you think should have exchanged release dates? If you have any suggestions for future ramblings, leave them in the comments below!