Saturday, 28 September 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1075: This Time As Farce

New Line, a subsidiary of the Warner Empire, has announced a sequel to their comedy Horrible Bosses to be released Thanksgiving 2014. 

Horrible Bosses cost about $35 million to make, and about the same amount was spent on P&A, and it pulled in about $117 million domestic, and about another $92 million internationally for a total take of around $209 million. The makers are hoping to repeat what their mother studio did with the Hangover franchise, or what they would like you to think what Warner Bros. did with the Hangover franchise.

What will most likely happen will be a repeat of what really happened to The Hangover franchise.

What really happened to The Hangover franchise was a bad case of flogging a dead horse and missing what could have been a good opportunity. The first film, like Horrible Bosses, cost only $35 million to make, and about the same to put in theatres, but exploded with audiences to make $277 million domestically. Having such a hugely profitable phenomenon on their hands Warner Brothers ground out a sequel as soon as they could.

That sequel, The Hangover Part 2, cost over $80 million to make, had about the same amount spent in prints and advertising, and pulled in about $254 million domestically. Not a bad return, a little bit less than the first, but not bad.

It's success was based mostly on those who saw the first in the theatres and still felt a lot of goodwill towards the franchise, people who saw it on home video & wanted to catch some of the exuberance expressed by those who saw the first on the big screen. However, after seeing the film, most expressed dissatisfaction, viewing the movie as a simply an exaggerated rehash of the first movie just in a different location.

The third and final flick, The Hangover Part 3 cost well over $100 million to make, about another $100 on prints and advertising, and only made about $112 million domestically. Which is a huge loss. That's because the goodwill the audience had for the people involved in the franchise was mostly spent on the unsatisfactory second rehash film. 

Now you could point to the international grosses and say: "Look, they made a lot overseas, that should make things okay."

Not really.

You see, the studio gets about 50% of the ticket price for domestic releases. Overseas however, they get, depending on the deal for that territory, anywhere between 20%-25% of the ticket price. That's if they're distributing the film themselves and didn't sell the rights to a local distributor to help cover the production costs. Also remember that the distributor needs to pay for prints, advertising and operational overhead in each territory, which can be very expensive.

So overseas ticket sales really determine whether a film makes a good profit and a great profit, or a bad loss and a horrendous loss. Without good sales in North America, foreign sales cannot turn a loss into a profit.

So what we saw with The Hangover was a studio clawing at a shot at repeating the profitability of the first one by spending more and more on sequels for diminishing returns.

Which will probably happen to Horrible Bosses, but probably quicker due to the audience already being jaded by The Hangover.

What could have been done?

One thing most agree is that the people who participated in the Hangover franchise behind and in front of the cameras had good working chemistry.

In the old days when movie-people had good working chemistry they didn't always jump straight to sequels. That was because sequels tended to suffer from diminishing returns, so they only went whole hog if they were pretty sure it could be done affordably and make a good profit.

But if there was a good team, especially in the tough world of comedy, they would try to get them to work again, but doing something different. That's because good comic chemistry is hard to find, and can't be forced. But doing direct sequels ran the risk of tarnishing the team, because audiences will judge it, possibly unfairly, against the giddy thrill of discovery they had with the original.

So they would get them new characters, a new situation, and a new plot. Since most Golden Age stars were under contract and worked for salaries, they didn't have to worry much about exploding star pay affecting their budgets.

This could still work today, since actors tend to offer lower up-front quotes for original films over sequels, and burn more creative calories for original material. If you toss in some reasonable profit participation you might be able to drive down the costs even further.

So if they were to use the team of performers and filmmakers behind a successful comedy movie to make a different movie, they might be able to create a franchise based not on a single title, but on audience trust, which is lacking these days. Manage it well, and it go well beyond three movies before you start flogging the dead horse.


  1. Robert the Wise30/9/13 8:49 am

    Good post, Furious,and I agree with your analysis but I have to LOL when I read about distributors paying for prints. At my theatre, we are 100% digital. We get our movies either by satellite download or on a hard drive. The hard drive costs less to ship than film cans since it's about the size of a small briefcase and it's reusable yet we still get charged a hefty "digital print" fee. It's fee we have to pay even if the films plays to an empty auditorium (a frequent occurrence given Hollywood's current output).

    The other issue isn't just that movies like Hangover III are bad or aren't popular, it's that they cost way too much to make. By your own accounting, if Hangover III cost the same as the first one, it would have have been profitable. Studio bosses need to learn how to say 'no' when the talent asks for huge sums. Your idea of re-teaming talent on new material is great but it will never happen since it requires creativity, intelligence, and fortitude on the part of the studio bosses.

  2. Prints & Advertising is the standard lingo for the costs of releasing a movie, whether actual prints are used or not.

    It's sort of like using "MOS" to classify scenes shot without sound. It comes from a German cameraman who said "Ve shoot zis scene mit out sound!" and the name stuck. It's somewhere on the line between archaic and traditional.