"STRANGE" STORY -- 11/07/16


"Strange" story: Moviegoers cast $85 million worth of votes last weekend to elect "Doctor Strange" their boxoffice leader.

It was a landslide victory for the PG-13 rated 3D action adventure comic book fantasy from Marvel Studios and Disney. Directed by Scott Derrickson ("Deliver Us From Evil"), it stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Rachel McAdams.

Those on hand, according to Disney, were 58 percent male and 49 percent of the audience was between the ages of 17-34. The 35-49 age demo was also well represented with 24 percent.

20th Century Fox and DreamWorks Animation's opening of the 3D PG rated animated comedy adventure "Trolls" was a solid second with $45.6 million. Its lively kick-off shows once again how well prime quality 3D animation resonates with family audiences – and, especially, with young moms, who are what you need to get young kids there. "Trolls" also played well to teens attracted by voice stars Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake.

Directed by Mike Mitchell ("Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked") and first-time feature director Walt Dohrn, it stars the voices of Kendrick, Zooey Deschanel and Timberlake.  

The weekend's other wide opening, Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment's R rated World War II biographical drama "Hacksaw Ridge," finished a distant third with $14.8 million. Directed by Mel Gibson ("Braveheart"), it stars Teresa Palmer, Andrew Garfield and Vince Vaughn.

"HR" played best to adult men, but also drew adult women. With its WW II storyline, it should benefit from Friday's Veteran's Day holiday.

"Strange's" $84.99 million launch makes it this fall's biggest opening weekend to date, easily eclipsing the record holder until now – Warner Bros.' PG-13 rated biographical drama "Sully," which opened Sept. 9 to $35 million.

Besides injecting new life into the domestic boxoffice, "Strange" has also been making a big impact internationally. It opened last weekend, Disney said Sunday, in an additional 22 countries "with an estimated $118.7 million, bringing the film's international cume to $240.4 million and its global cume to $325.4 million after 13 days. 

"Internationally, the film posted strong openings in China and Brazil and several new Latin American markets, strong expansion in Russia, and excellent holds across all regions, showing great word-of-mouth and boding well for a long, sustained run.

"With the global weekend driven by 'Doctor Strange,' The Walt Disney Studios has surpassed the $6 billion mark at the global box office ($6.070 billion to date). This is the first time Disney has achieved this milestone and only the second time in industry history. Disney earlier this week surpassed its own previous global box office record of $5.843 billion set in 2015."

"Strange's" success hammers home the fact that films targeted  to adult men have, in general, been underperforming this fall. The past few months have brought an unusually high level of competition for that audience, including ongoing news coverage of the contentious presidential election and seven must-see seven World Series games.

Those things mattered less to "Strange's" younger male demo. Working in "Strange's" favor are its Marvel Cinematic Universe roots, which made it a familiar brand and an event film to its core audience despite it being an original.

What's particularly impressive is that until now, "Strange" wasn't even one of Marvel's top tier comic book properties. Its success echoes the surprising boxoffice strength shown by another low profile Marvel/Disney property – "Guardians of the Galaxy," which opened Aug. 1, 2014 to $94.3 million and did $333.2 million domestically.

"Guardians" wasn't a comic book with the massive built-in want-to-see that earlier hit franchises like "Spider-Man" or "Iron Man" had going for them, but that didn't matter to moviegoers. Its Marvel branding and its dysfunctional not-so-superhero storyline resonated with its core audience. And its late summer opening turned out to be perfect timing.

That smart distribution timing was probably just as important to "Guardians'" success as the movie, itself. A year later, another low profile Marvel property arrived, but with conventional mid-summer timing. It performed well, but not nearly as well as "Guardians." That property was "Ant-Man," which opened July 17, 2015 to $57.2 million and did $180.2 million domestically.

In the case of "Strange," Marvel and Disney used the same late fall distribution timing that had worked beautifully for their "Thor" franchise.

The franchise's first sequel, "Thor: The Dark World," opened not in the summer, but in early November. The original "Thor" hit theatres May 6, 2011 via Paramount, which was then distributing Marvel's films, to $65.7 million and did $181 million domestically. It also generated $268.3 million internationally for a global cume of $449.3 million.

Disney, however, made the very smart decision to move the sequel out of the cluttered early summer multiplex battleground and into the less crowded early November arena where it could stand out and be a magnet for Marvel movie fans.

"Dark" opened Nov. 8, 2013 to $85.7 million and went on to do  $206.4 million domestically. It also took in $438.2 million internationally for a worldwide cume of $644.6 million.

That same fall release strategy is now part of "Strange's" success story. What it amounts to is putting the right kind of movie into the marketplace at the best possible time to reach its target audience. It's a simple enough concept, but aside from "Strange," Hollywood has failed to make it work thus far this fall.

Too many of this fall's releases were targeted to adult men and Hollywood should know by now that older men aren't a great demo to depend on.         They love their big screen ultra-hi-def smart TV's and this fall they had lots of choices besides moviegoing – like three must-see televised presidential debates...non-stop cable TV news coverage of controversial election issues...college and pro football games...their weekly can't-miss TV shows...and their binge viewing back-log of Netflix and Amazon Prime content.

On top of that, the baseball playoffs and seven edge-of-your seat World Series games between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians also kept adult men glued to their home screens. Game Seven alone drew just over 40 million viewers, making it the biggest WS game ratings since 1991's Game Seven (when the Minnesota Twins beat the Atlanta Braves 1 – 0 in 10 innings) with 50.3 million viewers. Together, this year's seven WS games averaged a heavily adult male audience of 23.4 million viewers.

On the other hand, the younger male demo that turned out for "Strange" was ready to hit the multiplexes as soon as they smelled Marvel Cinematic Universe blood on those screens.

It's ironic that at a time when the trend is for millennial demo   moviegoers in the U.S. and China to stream movies on their smart phones, Hollywood is focusing on making expensive visual effects driven movies that are best seen theatrically at premium prices in 3D, IMAX and PLF (premium large format).

The day is coming – and probably sooner than some observers may think -- when what we now call "theatrical movies" will mostly be limited to younger male appeal, mega-budgeted, comic book rooted event films that will play year-round on plus-sized theatre screens in China and the U.S. and will be driven by leading Chinese stars as well as the usual Hollywood names.

There also will be an ongoing theatrical opportunity for high profile 3D animated features targeted to families. But this is an audience that's quick to distinguish between big budget prime animation and cheaper efforts to cash in on the genre's appeal.  

Everything else that Hollywood cranks out will wind up with minimal theatrical distribution and will be monetized through digital streaming on smart phones and in-home screens globally. Newly structured distribution windows between distributors and exhibitors designed to maximize those global digital revenues for both sides are bound to emerge to make that possible and profitable.

That's where Hollywood's heading. If not, why is AT&T putting up $85 billion to buy Time Warner?

Bottom line: Thanks to "Strange," the year-to-date just took a turn for the better. A week ago, 2016 was up 3.4 percent from this time last year and now that lead's jumped to 4.4 percent, according to  comScore -- $9.43 billion vs. $9.03 billion.

Last weekend saw all films in the marketplace gross about $192 million, per comScore – up 18.7 percent from $161.8 million this time last year when the James Bond epic "Spectre" opened in first place to $70.4 million.

Hollywood's potential for a record setting boxoffice year is enhanced now by having Warner Bros. and Heyday Films' "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" on the horizon.

         Directed by David Yates, director of the last four "Harry Potter" franchise episodes, the PG-13 rated 3D fantasy family adventure starring Eddie Redmayne opens Nov. 18. "Beasts" is from J.K. Rowling's wizarding world and should play to "HP's" broad audience demo. It's set 70 years before the start of the "HP" franchise.

         Hollywood handicappers have been buzzing that "Beasts" could devour $75 million or more in opening weekend ticket sales, which would definitely keep the momentum going as we head into the 2016 homestretch.