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Studios Suddenly Realizing Box Office Revenue Is Good, Actually
Plus: A cult classic assigned!
I have no special insight on the process that led to Marvel and Disney deciding to shift their upcoming streaming series starring James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), aka War Machine, from a Disney+ project to a theatrical feature. Maybe it had to do with Cheadle’s schedule. Maybe, for the first time in history, an executive found a perfect two-hour story and didn’t say to themselves “But what if we made this eight-hours long instead?”
Or maybe someone somewhere finally realized that Armor Wars racking up mid-nine-figures in box office revenue before throwing it on streaming where people will continue to watch it at high levels makes more sense than just throwing it on streaming to begin with.
The economics here just feel pretty straightforward. A two-hour feature costs roughly the same as one of these series, though it costs a bit more to advertise. It takes less time to make a two-hour movie than a six-to-eight-hour show, freeing people up for other projects. And these movies are still huge theatrical draws: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness grossed nearly a billion dollars worldwide and Thor Love and Thunder grossed around three-quarters of a billion. (And they both did it without the aid of the Chinese box office, which seems like it is now closed to Disney and Marvel.)
That’s right: third-tier heroes like Doctor Strange and Thor combined to make more than $1.7 billion at the box office this year. That’s a lot of money, even after revenue splits with theaters, advertising costs, etc.
And here’s the kicker: people still watch these at home when they hit streaming! Sometimes they’re rewatching; sometimes they’re first-watching. But as the Entertainment Strategy Guy wrote, the cannibalization of the streaming audience by theatrical release is either negligible or negative. “My working hypothesis is that a theatrical release, at worst, takes, say, 20% total viewership from a film, but, at best, may actually drive increased viewing due to better marketing,” he wrote a few weeks back while looking at data for Uncharted, Prey, and Lightyear.
The question here is a fairly simple one, at least economically: If you put something in theaters rather than straight to Disney+, will it earn more at the box office than it costs you subscribers? But I would be genuinely shocked if a single person has ever canceled Disney+ because a movie was in theaters first and I would, honestly, be a little surprised if Disney+-exclusive releases like Soul or Turning Red actually drove that many people to sign up.
So why leave those billions on the table?
Speaking of billions on the table, Avatar: The Way of Water is hoping to make a couple. On the members-only bonus episode of Across the Movie Aisle this week, we discussed the original’s big box office weekend and asked if folks were itching to head back to Pandora.
If you’re a Bulwark+ member you can listen now; if not, try us out for two weeks free.
This week, I reviewed Blonde, which I did not particularly care for. The thing is, it’s a successful work in the sense that Andrew Dominik accomplishes what he set out to do, it’s just that what he set out to do is kind of grotesque. Our own Hannah Yoest also did not particularly care for it, though for slightly different reasons.
Over in the Washington Post, I compared and contrasted the ways in which Blonde and Elvis treat their subjects, two titans of mid-century America.
We’re in the midst of a hot streak of horror movies, so I was thrilled to talk to the writer and co-producer of Orphan: First Kill, David Coggeshall, this week on The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood. Had a great chat about the state of the industry, shooting during Covid, and all sorts of other stuff. You can watch the movie now on Paramount+.
Assigned Viewing: John Dies at the End (Hulu)
I’m assigning Don Coscarelli’s cult-classic film, John Dies at the End, because a.) I enjoy it and I’m the boss of this newsletter but also b.) I’ll be interviewing the author of the book on which it’s based, Jason Pargin, as part of his promotional tour for If This Book Exists, You’re In the Wrong Universe: A John, Dave, and Amy Novel. (Spoiler for John Dies at the End, I guess?)
That book is out October 18 and you can preorder it at the link above; if you haven’t read the previous books in the series, you can find the first here, the second here, and the third here. If you like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Good Omens, you’ll probably dig them.