A few weeks ago I wrote for LaineyGossip that filmmakers and movie studios need to adjust their expectations for box office in this down economy. Even as signs of economic recovery become less rare, people simply aren’t spending like they once did, and so Hollywood needs to stop expecting the box office extravaganzas of a few years ago and learn to live with managed expectations. Well now I am turning this message around and delivering it to you, the fans. If you love a movie and it makes over a hundred million dollars on its opening weekend, you win. Stop counting, stop tracking, stop worrying, stop defending. YOU WIN.
Case in point: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. It opened at midnight on June 30 (and it wasn’t completely terrible) and has generated an estimated $175-plus million over the six-day July 4 weekend. The worldwide estimated box office adds another $100 million to the total and Eclipse hasn’t even opened in previously Twilight-friendly countries like France the United Kingdom yet, so there is plenty of room for more international gross. Yet for all the money Eclipse raked in, it hasn’t quite topped previous franchise entry New Moon, which did $142.8 million on its opening weekend in November 2009, or summer record holders like The Dark Knight (biggest opening weekend with $158.4 million) and Spider Man 2 (biggest July 4 weekend with $88.1 million). I’ve noticed two primary reactions to this coming from the fan communities, of course. These are the people passionate about their franchises and who use box office numbers to judge who is king of the hill. From the Twilight fans there is a general defensiveness, usually leading with the phrase, “You can’t compare it because…” From the fanboys of The Dark Knight and Spider Man 2, there is a kind of gloating, “Our records still stand!”
First to the Twihards, I say: settle down. Your movie crushed everyone at the box office this weekend. It fueled the biggest July 4th at the movies in years. Any time a movie in this new reality at the box office makes over a hundred million dollars, it’s a win. If it makes more than $150 million, it’s a super win. Eclipse was made for $68 million and in Friday-Sunday it made $69 million. You know what that means? That means all the money made on Wednesday/Thursday/Monday is gravy. You know who likes gravy? EVERYONE. Enjoy your gravy. Don’t get upset because the pundits will want to dwell on what Eclipse didn’t do and focus on what it did do. It did make a fuckton of money. It did get the best critical reception of any of the Twilight films so far. It did obliterate everything else at theaters this weekend. If you’re a fan of Twilight, that’s all you need to care about.
As for the fanboys, you need to relax about your records. Records are meant to be broken. Maybe they didn’t fall this weekend, but they will eventually be broken. Why make yourself miserable obsessing over whether or not some movie keeps a record? If you like a movie and it sets a new record, great. You get biscuits with your gravy. But don’t get so hung up on these records that you can’t just enjoy going to the movies. I know what it is to sit anxiously, waiting for box office returns, feeling like everything depends on those receipts. It’s miserable, and it kinda makes you hate movies, and it sucks all the joy out of just enjoying what you’re watching. And let’s not pretend that this isn’t really about hating Twilight. I suspect the fanboys clogging message boards with self-satisfied smuggery this weekend are the same ones with the “Twilight ruined Comic Con” signs.
If you are genuinely interested in box office returns, and the sort of math involved with the behind-the-veil business of movies, this becomes a different story. In that case, you will simply learn to divorce your fanship from your interest in the numbers. Otherwise, you drive yourself crazy. It happens eventually almost automatically. And the records become less about being king of the hill and more about the historical impact of movies and how records reflect changing tastes in cinema. Records are also an interesting gauge for seeing how a movie trends in the US versus throughout the rest of the world. But for casual fans, if you’re just a member of a fandom and you’re looking to box office to somehow justify your interest in and support of a movie or franchise, please stop. Please sign off Box Office Mojo and step away from the interwebz. Please remind yourself that you liked the movie and that’s all that really matters. The rest of it is out of your control, and as long as YOU are happy with your experience at the movies, who cares what some bean counter says about expectations versus performance?
The reality is Eclipse did slightly underperform. It didn’t break weekend records (though it did land the best midnight opening ever), and it didn’t top New Moon. But at this point, the franchise is about maintaining fans, not growing new ones. No franchise can keep growing indefinitely. Eventually, it does level off. Eclipse did attract more male viewers and skewed a little older than the other movies in the franchise so far, so it did succeed in diversifying the fanbase a little. But another reality is that Eclipse still made a fuckton of money and provided a product the fans enjoyed. That’s all that really matters at the end of the day.
End note to this post: The Last Airbender, one of the most reviled movies of the year so far, made $70 million this weekend. Who is going to see this movie? More on that later.