calling bullshit on: ‘Toy Story 3’s miraculous seven-day U.K. “opening weekend”

Jesus could make a couple of loaves of bread and a few fish feed a crowd. But only Hollywood can make a weekend last seven days.

Recently I wrote a piece for about Wednesday openings for films, what the purpose of them is, and if they make sense. The context was: Why move Knight and Day’s opening to a nonholiday Wednesday? I decided that:

it looks — to my eyes, having seen both films as well as examined the marketing of them — as if the two movies were aimed at very different audiences and were unlikely to direct compete for the same eyeballs. And it also seems unlikely that the adult audience K&D was aimed at would be able or interested in catching the film on Wednesday or Thursday anyway. Could something else have been at work in the move to Wednesday for Knight and Day? Like, perhaps, a way to artificially boost the box office numbers for “opening weekend” by extending the weekend by a few days?

And then the same thing happened the week after with The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, which had, in effect, a six-day “opening weekend,” between Wednesday, June 30th and the legal Fourth of July holiday on Monday, July 5th. I wondered:

So what the hell? Why not open Eclipse on Tuesday, and give it a full week-long “opening weekend”? (Whoops: actually, that sorta is what happened, since midnight screenings began Wednesday at 12:01am, which is, to everyone outside of Hollywood, still Tuesday night.) Why not open it on Monday? Either would work just fine to put butts in seats, because its intended audience is teenaged: that is, they’re out of school now, with plenty of free time to fill even on weekdays. But the swooning girls would continue to do that in the weeks after the film opened, if it opened on a Friday.

It looks to me as if the only reason to open a movie on any day other than a Friday is down to Hollywood accounting shenanigans, as a way to call a full week a weekend. And that’s pretty shady.

Why not open it on Monday?: I added that emphasis just now — it wasn’t there in the original — because it transpires that this is precisely what Disney did with Toy Story 3, which opened last Monday, July 19, in British theaters. And lo and behold, it resulted in a “record-breaking” opening “weekend.” Charles Gant at the Guardian’s Film blog:

“To infinity and beyond”: Buzz Lightyear’s well-worn catchphrase lends itself rather conveniently to reports of Toy Story 3’s UK box-office success. With an official debut of £21.19m, the franchise’s much-anticipated second sequel is the biggest-ever opening for an animated movie and has already surpassed the total gross of Pixar’s lowest-achieving hit Cars (£16.5m). According to Disney’s press release, Toy Story 3’s opening is 30% greater than its nearest animated rival and the second-biggest UK debut ever behind Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that. Like many blockbuster openings, Toy Story 3’s impressive figures have been achieved with the help of previews, which in this instance took place on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday when kids were home from school and available for trips to the cinema. Strip out the £9.69m in previews and Toy Story 3’s opening weekend is reduced to a more earthly £11.49m.

For context, Shrek The Third opened with £16.67m – £10.33m excluding previews. The figures for Shrek 2 are £16.22m with previews and £10.61m without. In other words, comparing the Friday-to-Sunday portions of the grosses, Toy Story 3 – which benefited from higher ticket prices at 3D screens – opened just 8% ahead of Shrek 2. Including previews, Toy Story 3 is 27% ahead of the biggest Shrek debut.

So it’s still a very respectable opening for Toy Story 3, but not the megamonster Disney is claiming.

And don’t think the mainstream press isn’t parroting this line without the slightest bit of skepticism. Reuters UK outright lies about how long it took the film to earn its £21.2 million:

The third instalment of Pixar’s animated series took 21.2 million pounds in the first three days of its release, knocking cerebral sci-fi thriller “Inception” from top spot to second, according to Screen International on Tuesday.

Seven days = three days. And war is peace and freedom is slavery and pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Oh, I know it’s only movies. It doesn’t mean anything. Pay no attention to me, either.

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Wed, Jul 28, 2010 8:37pm

It’s funny the shenanigans that go on with regards to movie profits. Box office ‘failures’ such as The Golden Compass (US: 70 million) actually made 370 million worldwide, a lot more than the budget of 180 million, and yet because it failed in the US, the studio isn’t interested in doing a sequel.

Then you get other obfuscation, the like the fact that Sony didn’t want to admit just how much money they spent on marketing Spider-Man 3 (which apparently pushed the budget past the 300 million mark).

And the weird thing is, THEY’RE STILL MAKING A TONNE OF MONEY. I don’t understand why they feel the need to fudge the figures when it’s still a highly profitable machine.

Thu, Jul 29, 2010 7:04am

Stuart, since a lot of the people backing the film will be taking a share of the profits, it’s in the studio’s interests to make those profits look as small as possible.

I see the extended “opening weekend” as the inevitable byproduct of a system which measures the popularity of a film purely by its opening-weekend gross ticket sales.