Watching the box office closely, I’ve developed a pet theory that a major studio is going to go under in the next few years. Ticket sales have been declining steadily since 2002, with 2014 actually being the worst year in terms of total tickets sold since 1995. Since ticket prices have also been steadily rising, the bottom line has kept going up, but it isn’t going up quickly, and it’s been hovering around $10.5 billion since 2009. This is what a market bubble looks like — raw purchases are going down and profits are stagnating, but the problem is budgets keep going up. Studios are scheduling movies several years in advance now to try and keep up with Marvel, and when the bubble crashes and dwindling audiences overtake rising ticket prices, they’re not going to be able to pull the brakes. A lot of the money they’ve promised to big-budget tentpole films will have already been spent.
Everyone in the industry will say the depression is the problem, pat themselves on the back and no one will be fired, but the problem isn’t that people are going to the movies less and less — the problem is that people are going to movies less and less, and at the same time studios continue to put colossally stupid amounts of money into the budgets anyway.
Now you probably think this is just a kooky, far-fetched conspiracy that couldn’t possibly happen, and that’s the logical reaction, but here’s the thing — it’s already happening!
Take two movies from this very summer — The Legend of Tarzan and the Ghostbusters remake that just came out. Tarzan opened to $46.6 million over the four-day July 4 weekend and Ghostbusters grabbed $46 million over a regular weekend, both respectable totals good for no. 2 to a talking animals movie.
Until you look at how much they cost.
You sitting down? You should sit down.
The Legend of Tarzan cost $180 million. Ghostbusters isn’t far behind, with a budget of $144 million.
The kind of money you invest to make a movie, nobody making that investment is looking to get just that amount back. Conventional wisdom is investors are looking for two and a half times the budget worldwide at least. So, using that multiplier, Tarzan needs to make $450 million worldwide and Ghostbusters needs $360 million to reach those goals.
To give those numbers some context, the character Tarzan has been around since the early 1910s, and they’ve been trying to make it happen as a movie since then. But the only movie with the character that had any real success was the 1999 cartoon. That movie made $171.1 million domestic, less than the new movie’s budget. It made $448.2 million worldwide, less than the new movie’s break-even point. That means Legend of Tarzan is going to have to become the most successful adaptation of the character ever just to break even. It’s never going to happen.
The original Ghostbusters was a smash hit in 1984, and it only made $295.2 million globally, less than the remake’s break-even point. That means this movie, which hardcore cinephiles and sexists are pre-disposed to hate, will have to beat the beloved original by $65 million just to break even.
It’s never going to happen. There’s no way that’s ever going to happen. Warner Bros. and Sony are going to lose money on these movies. Done deal.
You can talk about how talking animals are the only things that are making money right now and you can spend every waking hour rambling on Twitter about how everyone who doesn’t want to see your movie is sexist, but if you’re ever in a situation where your movie opens at $46 million and the studio isn’t happy with its performance, the problem is with the studio.