The good news just keeps piling up. We got Osama, Chrysler paid their debt back six years early, the Republicans are finally being called out on their hidden agenda to kill the social safety programs like Medicare, and now, the 4-day Memorial weekend looks like it’s going to smash box office records, with “Hangover Part 2″ leading the charge.
Studios are jubilant over what they predict as the best Memorial weekend box office since 2007, with “Hangover Part 2″ ushering in the 35% bump in ticket sales from last year (the worst Memorial weekend since 1993) and standing to crush the last record-breaking Memorial weekend of 2007. The Summer Box Office looks like it’s going to roar this year, which is great news for our economic recovery forecasts.
Legendary/Warner Brothers “The Hangover Part 2″ comes up the top winner this weekend if their Thursday and Friday sales hold. They stand to take in $107 million over the 4-day holiday, making it the biggest R-rated comedy debut in motion picture history.
“It doesn’t get much better than this,” an exultant Warner Bros bigwig emailed me (Nikki Finke) this morning.
Here’s the trailer for “Hangover Part 2″, which I have to confess I found myself laughing out loud to, even as I wanted to disdain it for all of its derivative glory and odes to cultural values I find repugnant (men as children). The cast is great, the redundant premise works when it shouldn’t — what can I say; I’m an American.
Paramount follows with “Kung Fu Panda 2″, whose estimated 4-day holiday ticket sales look to be around $56 million dollars. “Kung Fu” is followed by Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean 4″ at $50 million for the 4-day weekend. “Pirates 4″ is turning out to be the biggest “Pirates” of all, and that’s saying something.
The top three pictures all have numbers after their title, which is vaguely disconcerting but hey, this is America and we sell brands. Finally we get to the non-sequels, with Universal’s “Bridesmaids” estimated 4-day at $20.6 million, and Marvel/Disney/Paramount’s “Thor” at $12 million. That’s our top five grossers for the holiday weekend.
Last year, as the industry tried to make sense of the dismal box office numbers, box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian explained that the economy is first and foremost, “People are pushing back a bit as ticket prices begin to top the $20 mark,” he says. “Families are feeling the pinch as even kid’s ticket prices are heading up to $14.” And then, of course, there’s the quality of the movies. Last year, we were looking at “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” with Jake Gyllenhaal and “Sex and the City 2”, which I cringed my way through out of pure loyalty to the magnificent cast. Neither of those pictures were particularly inspiring.
As the economic downturn became undeniable in the summer of 2008, the same analyst speculated that sometimes the movie business runs countercyclical to the economy, as wars and poor economies drive people to the movies for comedies and heroes. Examples of those times would be the Great Depression, the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the recessions of the early 1980s and 2001. But the recession that started in late 2007 didn’t bode well for the entertainment industry this time around.
By June of 2010, financial analysts saw the tide turning for the better for the entertainment and media sector: “However, the US E&M sector overall, even Hollywood, has suffered a severe lapse in demand in all segments. Sales of DVDs and Blu-rays through to advertising space have fallen, forcing companies to rethink their strategies, cut costs and reduce workforces. But since the turn of the year, reports have hinted that E&M is turning a corner and could emerge from an industry recession that has seen a number of filmmakers, publishers and broadcasters fall into distress. Depressed economic conditions in the US over the past 18 months, combined with challenging debt markets, also had an adverse effect on the sector’s M&A (mergers and acquisitions) activity.”
The only sure bet here is that we are in for a smashing box office season, which is good news for the entertainment industry – one of the largest sectors of our economy and largest exports.
Obsession with box office numbers drives Hollywood to continue its rather relentless search for the bottom of retread stories that worked last year rather than focusing on original stories (see music industry), with franchises and brands dominating the winner’s circle until awards season comes around to give a well deserved pat on the back to the more subdued but original step-children. Art suffers, but the numbers bode well for an economic recovery for the entertainment and media sector (E&M) of the economy. This is not to suggest that big box office successes can not also be art – they often are, and overlooked during award season because of their success, as if only fiscal mediocrity brings panache.
Let’s face it, our cultural definition of success is measured only by dollars these days. The American entertainment business exists to make a profit, unlike other a handful of other countries where art exists for art’s sake. We might not make much in America anymore, but we do make and export global pop culture. Sometimes that pop culture is actually good stuff.
The box office sales are great news for our economy and overall, things are looking up in this country. We just have to make it through Sarah Palin’s tour of historical sights on the East coast, which is all the more reason to escape into a dark, cool movie theater this weekend.