Poor Aamir. I don’t know if it is even possible for him to surprise us at the box office at this point. Once you reach the limit of how many tickets are even available to sell, and they all sell-out, well then there is no where else to go! (figures are, as always, from Rentrack courtesy of BollywoodHungama)
I put up this breakdown for my box office report on Befikre, and I am going to add it in here:
$5,000 and up= Massive hit for a non-Star film, expected for a Khan release
$4,000 to $5,000= Good solid release for a major film (Akshay, Hrithik, Ranbir, Ajay, anything Yash Raj or Dharma), barely acceptable for a Khan release
$3,000 to $4,000= Good solid release for anything non major (Amitabh, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Varun Dhawan, etc.), a little embarrassing for a major film, career-ending for a Khan
$2,000 to $3,000=Not hilariously bad for anything non major, needs some major back-peddling and explanation for a major film, you might as well just crawl in a hole and die for a Khan.
$2,000 and down=Well, now it’s just funny!
So, how did Dangal do? Just about the maximum, $7, 950 per screen in America. And that’s on 331 screens, which is just about the maximum number of screens you can get for an Indian release in the US. So that’s it, that’s the ceiling, every ticket sold for every screen you can manage to get on.
It’s not even really exciting any more, is it? We just assumed it would have a super wide release, and that the number of tickets per screen would fall between 6 and 7 thousand. It’s about a thousand better per screen than Sultan opening weekend, but this is also a bigger holiday weekend in America than Sultan was. So more tickets would have been sold on Thursday and Friday matinees. Plus, Sultan didn’t have quite as much buzz as this movie. It was close, but with the rarity of an Aamir release, it feels like there was just a hair more interest in Dangal than Sultan. Heck, Dangal did better just because it came after Sultan! People already knew what a wrestling movie would look like and wanted more of that.
Well, not “every” ticket. I’ve seen it twice now, opening night was close to sold out, Friday was too. But it wasn’t a true sold-out show. And those were the evening shows, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn there were even more seats available for matinees and afternoons. So maybe there were one or two screens in America they could have afforded to let go. For instance, my regular Indian theater was showing it at 7pm and the mall 5 minutes down the road was showing it at 6:40pm. I am guessing if you canceled one of those screens, the other one would have been a straight up sell-out.
In Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, the screen counts were a little more modest, and the per screens were considerably more impressive. Around $18,000 per screen for both Canada and Australia. Around $11,000 per screen for New Zealand.
The UK had a bit of market saturation too, I suspect. If you allow for the difference in ticket prices, the overall message is about the same as America. Around $3,000 per screen on 165 screens, which must be about every screen in the UK that is open to Indian releases, and almost every show close to, but not quite, sold out.
But you know where I am most impressed? Both by the popularity of the film and the release strategy? Malaysia! Released on only 6 screens and did a healthy $14,500 on each of them. It was the second film of the weekend over all, after a re-release of the Tamil film Kaththi, but that doesn’t matter if every theater owner got a nice profit and will be not just willing but eager to take a risk on another Indian film.
That nice profit may not be true for all the theaters in America. I heard through the grapevine that there were some theaters that regularly showed Indian films which were sold out. And like I said, my regularly theater was pretty full. But looking at that overall per screen figure, I am guessing some of those 331 screens were pretty empty. And the empty ones were probably the newer ones, the theaters that the audience didn’t know for sure would be showing it (that’s how I picked where to go, I went straight to my regular theater and only checked later to see if somewhere else was playing it). Which means (and this goes back to the problem I was discussing in my Befikre post on box office) these theater owners are going to look at their receipts for this week and say “well, I did okay, this is good, but it’s not what I was promised by the distributor, and maybe I don’t want to take a risk on that film Raees that they were trying to sell me on for January”.
(Although how can you watch this song and not know the film will be a blockbuster?)
If they really want a bigger audience, beyond just the traditional NRIs and rabid fans (like me!) who go to the same old traditional theaters that always show the films every Friday, then they need to get serious about publicizing these movies in America. And not just to the film festivals or for the “kitsch” factor. Dangal would have been a great one to start with, it’s a nice family entertainer with high production values. The songs aren’t noticeably different than what you would find in any American movie, nor are any of the cultural elements that different. And the ones that are different are explicitly explained for the audience (wrestling in India, state and national sport competitions, child marriages, etc.). It made it a really friendly movie for NRIs and ABCDs who might have been a little confused by the Indian specific stuff, but it also would have made it a great movie for completely new viewers.
If Disney had really been serious about it, if they’d put ads on their TV channel and radio stations and sent the stars around on the American interview circuit, they could have sold out those theaters to all kinds of American families, not just the same old NRIs who always show up (and me!).