I have NEVER held much faith in box office trackers. The people who do it for a living will tell you that it’s the lifeblood of the industry, but it’s really as much of a crap shoot as your average political poll. It’s an inexact science, not the absolute that many claim it to be.
Which is why when the major trackers released their projections for this weekend on Wednesday, I not only started laughing – HARD – I knew they were DEAD WRONG.
They projected the sci-fi father and son “epic’ After Earth would be a goldmine and the #1 film of the weekend with a box office haul of $30 million, thanks to the presence of the father/son team of Will and Jaden Smith, while the magic-based comic thriller Now You See Me would come in third with about $17 million.
So when I got up this morning and saw that AE had
flopped underperformed – badly – and NYSM was looking like a true sleeper hit, I wasn’t surprised.
Wanna know why? Because I don’t look at the statistical bullshit on paper. I listen to the people around me. I listen to the movie patrons in the theaters.
The first teaser trailer for Now You See Me appeared in the last quarter of 2012 – I forget which movie it was attached to – and the audience in the theater that night was buzzing. In a BIG way. IN a “what WAS that, and WHEN is it coming out?” way. In a “I can’t wait to see that!” way. And we were among those people buzzing about it.
The first trailer for After Earth debuted around the holidays. And got ZERO buzz. The audience was DEAD SILENT when it was done – and it was a sold out show that night. And the following week, it ran again. Oh Listen, Crickets….::chirp chirp::
Now, don’t get me wrong – there are times when the audience buzz factor is wrong or misinterpreted. Kim badly misinterpreted the initial reaction when the trailer for The Dark Knight premiered in 2008. The theater was silent, but not in a bad way – it was thinking “WOW…this looks awesome…and what a tragic shame Heath Ledger didn’t live to see it in the theaters.” Kim misinterpreted the silence as a possible bomb factor, but when I shared my thoughts, she ended up agreeing with me.
The silence that has greeted every screening of the trailer of After Earth wasn’t that kind of respectful silence, it has been mostly the “Oh really?” kind of silence.
I knew from day one After Earth was not going to be more than a minor success if even that. In addition to the indifference of the audience, there were three other factors that would figure into why it wouldn’t work. One, it was co-written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan; audiences have been burned by him so many times the last several years that he’s practically a pariah to moviegoers these days. Two, its main lead is Jaden Smith, who while a decent young actor can’t seem to get beyond playing thoroughly obnoxious, unlikable characters. I mean, let’s face it – it wasn’t Smith who turned the remake of The Karate Kid into a hit – it was the presence of the always great Jackie Chan (we’re not worthy, we’re not worthy…). And third, in the last two weeks, early reviews started pointing out the veiled references to Scientology in the film – the Smith family belong to the church, I believe, or at least follow its tenets – and many people outside of LaLaLand don’t get it. It often turns people off. Ask John Travolta – think “Battlefield Earth“.
I also knew in my gut from day one that Now You See Me was going to be a hit with legs. The kind of movie that gets bigger from word of mouth. In addition to the audience buzz (which grew with every showing of the trailer), it has several things going for it. One, it’s a slick action caper film with lots of laughs in the Oceans 11 mold, with magic and illusion as its centerpiece. Two, it has had a series of really appealing trailers that makes prospective patrons sit up and take notice. And three, it has perhaps the best cast assembled for a film since Marvel’s The Avengers last year – Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, Melanie Laurent, and Morgan Freeman. Nearly everyone in the prospective audience likes at least one of those people, with Eisenberg, Ruffalo, Harrelson, and Freeman the main draws with most of the audiences. I personally can’t resist any of those four – I love all of them, and in Harrelson’s case, it took me nearly 20 years to warm up to him – it was his previous teaming with Eisenberg in the horror comedy Zombieland a few years back, and his hilarious and wonderful over the top performance in the disaster epic 2012 that finally turned me into a fan of his.
So while this weekend is causing consternation in Hollywood, I’m sitting back and watching with a chortle and a wink…because I’ve known since at least Wednesday that the trackers were going to be wrong…and the overnight box office the last two nights have proven my instincts to be right on the money. So here’s to the “professional” trackers – may they twist in the wind all weekend long…heh heh heh..