This is entirely from the Hindustan Times which has done an amazing job laying (lying?) out the new realities of the box office for big ticket films. You should absolutely check out that full article, because it is fascinating! I just have a few things to add to it.
Basically, what the article boils down to is, Salman always gets a huge huge opening. But the real difference comes in weeks 2 and 3. Kick and Bajrangi Bhaijaan, for instance, opened only about 14% apart in box office, and by the second week that gap had widened to almost 30%. By week 3, it was 60%.
But, this isn’t just Salman. This is the same pattern we saw with Fan. The Khans can guarantee a HUGE opening weekend. That’s never going to be a problem. The question is, can they hold onto it?
Hindustan Times says the issue is word of mouth. And yes, that’s part of it, a bad movie is going to have bad word of mouth and no one will come in to see it after the first week. But that’s only part of the story when you start to look at week 2,3,4,5.
The audience for these big movies seems to break down into 3 different groups. There’s the ones who are massive movie fans/movie star fans. They will see a big Khan release opening day no matter what the quality. So, me! I’m a rabid Shahrukh fan, but I’ll see the Aamir and Salman movies too, because I just get so excited about them and there’s something special about being there First Day First Show. These are the bread and butter audience for the opening night, where you get that guaranteed bump for the exciting releases.
And then there’s the people who just want to see a movie. And the thing is, these big big releases are now taking up almost every screen available in the country, meaning inertia alone will drive a large part of the audience towards the big release. So if you have family in town, or a date night, or bored kids, or for whatever reason feel like seeing a movie this weekend, you are going to see Sultan.
Think of it as “x number of people in the Hindi film audience who are going to see a movie this Friday for reasons unrelated to what exactly is playing. Sultan is on 4/5ths of the screens in theaters playing Hindi movies at home and abroad, so 4/5x will see Sultan.” This is also the big advantage of releasing on a holiday weekend, because there will be a lot of households where there are relatives in town or similar things that are driving people to the movie theaters, increasing the overall size of “x”.
(the “x” number of people who saw Mr. X was, ironically, small)
And then the final group would be people who want to see a good movie. This is the group that Hindustan Times is saying is driving the box office in the following weeks. The ones who mostly skipped opening weekend, and wait until they hear how the film was, and then come and see it for the first time later. And sure, generally speaking, that is true. But, depending on the movie, they may show up opening weekend too (for instance, I suspect a lot more of this group will show up for Sultan than did for Dilwale, because Sultan looks like a better all around film).
But the box office for weeks 2,3,4,5 isn’t just going to be the word of mouth folks. If it’s going to be a real hit, the other 2 groups have to want come back and see it again. There’s the rabid fans (Me!) who will show up opening weekend no matter what. But they are also the same crowd that is most likely to keep coming back over and over again if they like what they see. It’s related to the quality of the film, but it’s a different kind of quality than that which drives word of mouth, it’s re-watchability.
The 2nd group isn’t driven by quality at all, but by savvy release strategies. Random group x that just feels like seeing a movie, if nothing else is out that they are interested in, then they will see the big release. And if the big release is still on a lot of screens in week 2, 3, 4, etc., then they will see it because it’s the easiest one to watch. That’s the beauty of an Eid, Diwali, or Christmas release. You get a solid period of time when a lot of people will want to see movies (kids are off school, office is closed, family is in town, etc.). And usually, with this kind of huge release, there isn’t anything else playing for the whole holiday time period, so you will end up going back to see the new hit movie over and over again, just because there isn’t anything else to do, and there isn’t anything else playing.
This 3 group split is what, I think, the Dilwale / Bajirao / Fan box office revealed. Dilwale did great among the rabid fan group. They all turned out opening weekend, and they kept coming back to re-watch it, giving it a solid week 2, 3, 4, 5. On the other hand, Bajirao had no appeal for the rabid fans, the opening weekend was pretty dismal. But it swept the whole word of mouth crew, who all opted for Bajirao over Dilwale in weeks 2,3,4,5 and so on. And then the random people who just want to see a movie, well, they ended up neatly split between the two thanks to the holiday weekend and the large number of screens both films ended up on.
But then you look at Fan, which was an all around loser. All the rabid fans showed up and gave it a great opening day. But it’s not very re-watchable (unless you’re me, I LOVED it), so none of the first day first show types came back to see it again in week 2,3,4,5. And it got terrible word of mouth, so none of the word of mouth types came in for the first time in week 2,3,4,5. And finally, it didn’t release on a big holiday weekend or on that many screens, so it didn’t grab that many casual viewers either.
(Fan‘s main character: also a big loser. Which is possibly why the rabid fan group had no interest in seeing it a second time)
The really big hits are the ones that sweep all 3 groups: Bajrangi Bhaijaan, PK, 3 Idiots, Chennai Express, etc. The fans love them, the casual viewer gets sucked in by the holiday weekend, and the discerning viewer comes back based on great word of mouth. And that’s the kind of hit Yash Raj is hoping for with Sultan. Get in the fans with some great Salman moments and re-watchable cheer, get in the casual viewers with the big holiday weekend and nothing else big coming out until Independence Day, and get the discerning viewer with a deep story and high production values.
Or, maybe it will all flop because Salman’s character is too depressing for his fan-base, Eid isn’t as big a holiday as Diwali in the Indian market, and the script isn’t all that it could be. We’ll see tomorrow!