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Sizing Up ‘Kong: Skull Island’s Weekend Domestic Opening

Deadline logo Deadline 3/11/2017 Anthony D'Alessandro
© Provided by Deadline

5th Update: Kong: Skull Island looks to be overperforming with a near $60M opening as late night Saturday into Sunday. Click here for our continued weekend analysis.

4th Writethru Saturday after Friday 11:23 PM update: Here’s one piece of good news about Warner Bros./Legendary’s Kong: Skull Island: The movie is beating its tracking estimates with a near $60M estimated opening, after logging $20.2M on Friday and $23.9M on Saturday. Four weeks ago, tracking for Kong: Skull Island was in the trash with a mid-$40M opening projection, and that would have been truly disastrous for this $185M monster epic. Overseas is up to $27.5M in 65 territories for Kong: Skull Island. 

Sometimes, when it comes to tracking, a pic’s projections can just sit there idle for weeks, but the fact that Warner Bros. was able to raise Kong: Skull Island‘s fortune a bit is a testament to their last-minute marketing and PR efforts. And there’s even a chance that Kong‘s numbers might improve as the weekend goes on. In CinemaScore speak, B+s have similar value to A-s, and currently Kong only looks to be down 5% in its Friday-to-Saturday till. Under 35 crowd gave it an A- at 56%. Also those giving Kong some shape of an A include males (56%) with an A-; under 18 (18%) and under 25 (35%) both gave the movie an A.

But unfortunately given Kong: SkullIsland‘s budget, that opening stateside isn’t enough. Many have told me that $75M would be the right start financially, and we can’t completely juxtapose Kong to San Andreas because that movie was significantly cheaper. However, let’s remember that Kong is from Legendary, a company that prioritizes international. If Kong: Skull Island is going to breakeven after all ancillaries, he’ll need to mint in the mid $500M worldwide range per Deadline sources, that’s with domestic legging out to a 3x multiple of at least $150M based on tonight’s CinemaScore. Please see Deadline’s profit breakdown on Godzilla. 

Heading into the weekend, what’s been baffling is how a PG-13 event film with a great Rotten Tomatoes score (78% certified fresh), scheduled in the new prime time B.O. season of March when kids are off, isn’t opening to bigger numbers. Clearly, to know how great Kong is, you must experience the movie, and luckily good word of mouth is raising the pic’s opening from the $54M we saw earlier today to a possible $60M.

Let’s face facts: When you build a feature film for $185M and spend an estimated $136M global P&A on it (that’s how much it took to launch Godzilla), you don’t wish for an opening that’s in the $50M-$60M range. When you spend this much, the intent is to pull in four-quads. Seriously, I don’t think it was any studio executive’s plan for Kong: Skull Island to open like a sequel, meaning it’s 36% down from Godzilla’s $93.2M opening. Furthermore, if you’re making a King Kong movie, you can’t really spare nickels when it comes to recreating the gorilla’s lifelike hair or a spider’s leg slicing humans like deli meat.

To Warner Bros. and Legendary’s credit, they set to position Kong: Skull Island as a different kind of Kong movie; that was apparent in the Comic-Con trailer. Not to mention, the Jordan Vogt-Roberts movie plays at a rapid two-hour click (allowing theaters to book more showtimes) next to Peter Jackson’s 2005 three hour-plus piece of dramaturgy about the great ape. There were so many screams and laughs at a midweek Hollywood screening for Kong: Skull Island, that the movie arguably makes Jurassic World look like a retirement home.

So what’s slowing Kong: Skull Island down? Let’s take a look:

Blame Loganand Beauty and the Beast: Opening a tentpole on a date without any major studio competition? In the new ‘summer’ play period of March when 18% K-12 schools are off and 37% colleges by Monday? No distribution chief would pass up this opportunity.

But we never expected Logan was going to be so big, and even though it’s down 59% with $36M, the men going to see Logan are the same guys who’d buy a ticket to see Kong: Skull Island. Couple this with the fact that Beauty and the Beast is next week, and though its main demo are females, teenage girls and twentysomething women aren’t going to waste their time and money with a hairy beast this weekend who isn’t adorned in prince clothing. And let’s not forget, there’s a zeitgeist horror film that’s still pulling in an unbelievable amount of business in its third week: Universal/Blumhouse’s Get Outwill click past the century mark to $111M by Sunday after a FSS of $21.3M that’s just 24% off.

More than anything, the whole Logan-Beauty impact that Kong: Skull Island is weathering raises questions about the March marketplace. We’re quick to assess that March and April are the new summer. However, can this rolling period of winter and spring breaks sustain a glut of blockbusters on a weekend-to-weekend basis in the same way that summer does when all schools are off? Or is it better to spread out event films? It’s something for distributors to consider going forward. A suggestion was made by one exhibition insider: Perhaps Kong: Skull Island would have been better served with a mid- August release date, thus being one of those August surprises to open.

Is marketing really to blame? “When I first saw the Comic-Con trailer for Kong: Skull Island, I thought ‘Wow there’s something I haven’t seen before.’ But the more Kong materials I saw, I thought, there’s really nothing new,” said one rival distribution executive prior to this weekend.

“I don’t think they offered anything new,” remarked another marketing executive, “It’s the same old story: Here’s a CGI gorilla. No one wants to see the same thing over and over again.”

Then what about Godzilla? Why did that monster movie work to such great proportions? Some argue that the lizard was uniquely positioned in revealing the monster, that it was based in reality, and of course Godzilla wasn’t competing against Logan when it opened in May 2014. It arrived three weeks after Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  

But you can’t blame marketing, rather King Kong himself (see our next point below).

One industry insider commended Warner Bros. for doing the best they could with a dormant, ferocious movie star such as King Kong. The Comic-Con trailer was hands down kick-ass and intense. One sheets were cool and modern with a mystique coupled with an Apocalypse Now vibe versus Universal’s full head-to-toe of the roaring creature in their 2005 one-sheets. Warner Bros. made a point to get critics in asap and spread the good word with Variety’s chief film critic Owen Gleiberman righteously declaring, “A reboot set entirely on the great ape’s jungle island proves to be a better creature feature than either of the previous remakes.”

Meanwhile, RelishMix reports that Kong: Skull Island’s social media universe across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube views is huge counting 209.1M. That number outstrips the 2016 average SMU for an action fantasy film of 86.3M. Trailers and clips went viral at a rate of 12 to 1, which is also above last year’s average of 8 to 1. Meanwhile, stars Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson are delivering 22M combined in social followers. Even actor Marc Evan Jackson, who those in the Los Angeles comedy scene love from Comedy Central Stage’s long-running story show Sit n’ Spin is also promoting Kong: Skull Island on his social pages.

Warner Bros. even posted clever Tweets such as this one:

And despite the naysayers on social who griped that Kong: Skull Island was just another remake, Relish Mix noticed good buzz outweighing the bad: “Fans are excited to see not only the battles shown in the clips, but also how/if/why this Kong film intersects with Godzilla at all.  In fact, mentions and questions about how these two monsters might come to battle each other occupy a fair amount of the total discussion.”

Kong’s dusty star wattage: It’s the movie characters who drive ticket sales in this day and age, more than the actors above the title. With King Kong, Warner Bros. was tasked with awakening a dormant property, a brand that essentially begs the question: What’s left to tell in this story that we haven’t seen already? Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Wolverine arrive on the screen with a multi-layered, emotional universe in tow. When your lead character is a ferocious animal, the challenge is that moviegoers aren’t sure who they should be rooting for. Also with a beast like Kong, it’s hard to get women into these types of movies, especially the young ones under 25. There’s the notion that Kong isn’t female accessible, nor do the films offer up any female characters in its lore in a Katniss or Harley Quinn kind of way that make women want to go out of their way to watch a Kong movie (PostTrak only showed 38% females showing up on Thursday night).

There have been a number of King Kong movies already, and none of them really overperformed. Jackson’s King Kong was released in mid-December in 2005, and it was the first big event film the director did following the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The pic opened on a Wednesday to a blase $9.8M, close to half of what the first Lord of the Rings made on its first day, and it was as apparent then as now that this monkey isn’t as big of a box office king as we thought here in the states (Jackson’s King Kong posted a $50M three-day, and ended his run at $218M in the U.S. but made $332M abroad).

Weekend B.O. for March 10-12 per industry Saturday AM estimates:

1.) Kong: Skull Island (20th/Leg), 3,846 theaters  / $20.2M Fri. (includes $3.7M in previews) / 3-day: $54M /Wk 1

2.) Logan (Fox), 4,071 theaters  (0)/ $10.4M Fri. (-68%) / 3-day: $36M (-59%)/Total: $150.8M/Wk 2

3.) Get Out (UNI), 3,143 theaters (+205) / $6M Fri. (-25%) / 3-day: $21.3M (-24%)/Total: $111.3M/Wk 3

4.) The Shack (LG), 2,888 theaters (0) / $2.7M Fri. (-51%) / 3-day: $9.6M (-40%) /Total: $31.6M/Wk 2

5). The LEGO Batman Movie (WB), 3,303 theaters (-353) / $1.7M Fri. (-30%) / 3-day: $7.8M (-33%) / Total: $159M/Wk 5

6.) Before I Fall  (OR), 2,346 theaters  / $920K Fri. (-45%) / 3-day: $3M (-35%)/Total: $9M/Wk 2

7.) Hidden Figures (FOX), 1,421 theaters (-161) / $711K Fri. (-29%) / 3-day: $2.7M (-29%) / Total: $162.8M / Wk 12

8.) John Wick: Chapter 2(LGF), 2,031 theaters (-444) / $699K Fri. (-44%) / 3-day: $2.66M (-45%) / Total:$87.3M Wk 5

9.) La La Land (LGF), 1,578 theaters (+167) / $477K Fri (-37%) / 3-day: $1.7M (-43%) Total: $148.4M / Wk 14

10.) Fifty Shades Darker(UNI), 1,498 theaters (-707) / $539K Fri. (-54%) / 3-day: $1.6M (-53%) / Total: $112.9M/ Wk 5

11.) Fist Fight (NL/WB) 1,285 theaters (1,018)/$350K (-54%)/3-day: $1.3M (-54%)/Total: $30.5M/Wk 4

12.) Lion (TWC) 960 theaters (-300)/$338K (-39%)/3-day: $1.29M (-39%)/Total: $48.6M.

NOTABLES:

Moonlight   (A24), 987 theaters (-577) / $231K Fri (-65%) / 3-day: $831K (-64%) Total: $26.8M / Wk 21

Table 19   (FSL), 868 theaters / $250K Fri. (-52%)  / 3-day: $830K (-48%) /Total:$2.966M/Wk 2

Badrinath Ki Dulhani   (FIP), 152 theaters  / $237K Fri / 3-day: $745K/ Wk 1

The Ottoman Lieutenant   (PALA), 250 theaters  / $46K Fri / 3-day: $152k/ Wk 1

Personal Shopper   (IFC), 4 theaters  / $28K Fri /PTA: $23,4k/ 3-day: $94K/ Wk 1

The Last Sense of an Ending   (CBS), 4 theaters  / $9,9K Fri /pta: $8,7k/ 3-day: $35K/ Wk 1

Raw   (FOC), 2 theaters  / $9K Fri /$13k ptA/ 3-day: $26,5K/ Wk 1

My Scientology Movie   (MAG), 2 theaters  / $4K Fri /$7,1k ptA/ 3-day: $14K/ Wk 1

2ND Update Midday: Warner Bros./Legendary’s Kong: Skull Island is floating toward a $20M Friday –that’s 37% better Pacific Rim‘s first day ($14.6M) and $500K shy of San Andreas ($20.5M) — which points the monster pic toward an opening weekend of $53M. That’s based off of non-Warner Bros. reported matinee projections.

Overseas to date in two days, Kong: Skull Island counts $12M. All in, industry projections have the worldwide debut for the big tropical ape at $135M.

Warner Bros. and Legendary are so excited, they announced today that they’re putting together a writers room for Kong v. Godzilla led by Terry Rossio.

Older men, who made up most of yesterday’s audience at 39%, enjoyed the movie with an 80% overall positive score on Screen Engine/ComScore’s PostTrak. Younger guys under 25 (23%) love the Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson ensemble even more at 88%. Total audience definite recommend is at 60% which is alright. Overall, men repped 62% of Kong‘s ticket buyers, the over 25 crowd came out at 63%, with the overall positive score at 78%. Rotten Tomatoes rating, though certified fresh, keeps going back and forth between 79% and 80%.

Kong is leading a very prosperous time at the B.O.: projections for Logan are at $10M today, and $35M for Wolverine’s second weekend, which reps a 60% decline and by Sunday a 10-day running cume that’s just under $150M.

And Universal/Blumhouse’s Get Out? Rival distribution chiefs are besides themselves when they look at the hold for this Jordan Peele horror film that’s setting the standard: $6M today and $20M in its third go-round, -29%. The movie will cross $100M on Saturday. But Sunday it will stand at $110M, which will be 12% ahead of Split at the same point in time. That M. Night Shyamalan movie through yesterday counted $134.6M.

Lionsgate/Summit’s faith-based The Shack is looking at $2.2M in its second Friday and $8M for the weekend, -50% for a running total by Sunday that’s just over $30M.

1st Update, 7:19AM: Warner Bros./Legendary’s Kong: Skull Island started the weekend with Thursday preshows grossing $3.7M. Pic expands to 3,846 theaters today and will also be shown in Imax and 3D. The Jordan Vogt-Roberts film featuring Hollywood’s biggest, hairiest star is also pouncing in 65 offshore territories. Yesterday, he made a total of $3.3M from plays in South Korea, France, Russia, Indonesia, and hit No. 1 in those countries.

Kong: Skull Island is not cheap with a production cost of $185M-$190M before P&A. Global opening projections are at $135M, with stateside hovering between $45M-$50M per tracking earlier this week.

In the U.S./Canada, the great ape has the benefit of being the only major studio wide release — which is more and more a rare marketplace opportunity. However, if Kong is sweating and huffing a bit, it’s because 20th Century Fox’s R-rated Logan is on a tear with a first week’s cume of $114.8M. Should Logan dip slightly this weekend to the high $40Ms, and Kong sink below $50M, then Wolverine wins. Yesterday, Logan was the top film yesterday with $4.95M at 4,071 theaters.

Another perk for Kong: Skull Island is its 79% Certified Fresh Rotten Tomatoes score, which is ahead of Godzilla (74% certified fresh), Pacific Rim (71% fresh) and San Andreas (48% rotten). The hope is that the critical warmth will yield more foot traffic for this WB/Legendary title of which they are equal partners.

Kong:Skull Island was announced three San Diego Comic-Cons ago with a small teaser.

One comp being looked at here is Warner Bros./New Line’s San Andreas which did $3.1M on its first Thursday, an $18.1M Friday and legged out a $54.5M opening. That’s a better three-day than Warner Bros./Legendary’s Pacific Rim which opened to $37.3M after a $3.6M Thursday and $14.56M Friday.

Still, Kong is much lower than both studios’ 2014 co-production Godzilla which minted $9.3M in its Thursday pre-shows, and continued on to make a Friday of $38.4M and $93.1M weekend. Kong crushes the $970K made by Legendary’s ambitious The Great Wall which posted a $5.88M first day and $18.5M weekend.

Universal/Blumhouse’s Get Out is definitely crossing $100M this weekend. Through yesterday, it’s up to $90M after ranking second with $2.6M at 2,938 venues.

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