I accurately predicted, 5 days ago, that Bahubali 2 would be #3 at the US box office at the end of the weekend. So this is one of those HA HA HA HA HA I WAS RIGHT I AM QUEEN OF EVERYTHING posts. My favorite kind! Well, no, my favorite kind is HA HA HA HA SRK WAS RIGHT HE IS KING OF EVERYTHING. Because I am a sick sick obsessed person. But this one is pretty good too!
This morning the American film industry press woke up to a whole bunch of articles on the surprise entry in the weekend box office, Bahubali 2. Or Baahubali 2, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on how to spell it. There does seem to be a consensus on how to treat it, that is “humorously odd flash in the pan”. Good job American entertainment reporters! Once again, not bothering to put in any effort to learn more about the industry that dominates half the world!
Here is the relevant paragraph from Vanity Fair‘s weekend box office write-up (full article here). Notice that they did not even bother to accurately describe the plot of the original film:
In third place, in perhaps the most surprising over-performance of the weekend, is Indian epic fantasy film Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, the sequel to 2015’s Baahubali: The Beginning. The first Baahubali, about a man who becomes embroiled in a feud between two warring kingdoms, is the highest-grossing Indian film within India, and the third-highest-grossing Indian film in the world. The sequel rode into the box office on another demographically targeted audience that was already familiar with the film’s characters and story. It also set some records of its own: at $10.1 million over a mere 450 theaters, Baahubali 2 had the top opening ever for an Indian film in the U.S., and the biggest IMAX opening for a foreign-language film.
(Not a movie about two warring kingdoms)
Deadline went into a lot more detail, their full report is here if you want to read it, the bits I found interesting are excerpted below:
A complete surprise this weekend is Great India Films’ Baahubali 2: The Conclusion which galloped over STX/EuropaCorp’s The Circle for a $10.1M opening at 405 theaters in third, arguably a record debut for an Indian film stateside beating 2013’s Dhoom 3 ($8M) and the third-highest debut for a foreign language title after Hero ($18M) and Jet Li’s Fearless ($10.6M)….Providing fire to The Conclusion’s grosses were 45 Imax screens accounting for $1.8m of its global $2.34M cume. Worldwide and stateside, it was the the biggest launch ever for an Indian film in Imax and foreign language. Domestic per Imax screen average reached a huge $40K over the weekend, with five Imax locations setting new three-day weekend records…What is Baahubali 2? It’s a sequel to the massive 2015 Telugu title Baahubali: The Beginning directed by S.S. Rajamouli, a film which had a Lord of the Rings franchise appeal in India, spawning comics, merchandise and a VR experience. Pic’s positive reactions in the far East have sent great shockwaves to the U.S. where fans organically created word of mouth on social media….Essentially, The Beginning left behind an emotionally gripping cliffhanger a la The Empire Strikes Back with its lead mythical warrior protagonist stabbed by his trusted comrade. This fueled fans with a “Who Killed J.R.?” like sensation following the film…In the states, Baahubali: The Beginning opened to $3.57M on 236 sites and finaled at $6.7M. Baahubali 2 is being released on 6,500 screens in India, repping over 80% of the country’s theater count with a grand total of 9K screens worldwide.
And finally, Variety! The oldest industry press in America. With the most boring take on things, just numbers and no analysis (full article here):
Arka Mediaworks’ “Baahubali: The Conclusion,” directed by S.S. Rajamouli, is in the process of smashing box office records for an Indian film. The film opened April 28 across 9,000 screens worldwide, including 6,500 in India in Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi language versions, and amassed an estimated $81.2 million.
That total easily outstripped 2016 hit “Sultan”, starring Salman Khan, which previously held the opening weekend record with $51.4 million.
The total, assembled from producer statements and local box office reports, also is significantly different from the $13.8 million reported as the movie’s global total by ComScore. The $81.8 million places “Baahubali 2” in third place behind “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2,” and “The Fate of the Furious,” and is a score three times that of fourth placed “Baby Boss.”
Notice how both Deadline and Vanity Fair referred to it as a “surprise”? Variety ignored that, because they stuck straight to numbers. But I am wondering how it can be a surprise to them, when I was able to predict this exact thing 5 days ago? I mean, obviously I am a genius, I said that already, but it also wasn’t that big of a leap. I had the estimated screen count, and the per screen take of the last one. Heck, the per screen take for Kabali or The Ghazi Attack or any other major 3 language release in the past 2 years could have told me Baahubali 2 would break into the top 3 in America.
(#10 at the American box office, on half as many screens as Bahubali 2 and many fewer IMAX screens)
Besides the “surprise!!!” first line, Deadline and Vanity Fair also each did a bit of analysis, and both landed in similar places. Deadline did a lot of work tracking twitter trends and online posts and stuff. Vanity Fair just said “demographically targeted audience that was already familiar with the film’s characters and story”. But they both mean the same thing, “India/Indian Americans pulled together for a random one-off surge at the box office”.
This drives me INSANE!!!! Consistently, the American press ignores Indian box office figures entirely. If an Indian film is #8 at the American box office, the press will choose to discuss #7 and #10 and #5. Which is their prerogative, standard reporting practice says that you always discuss the top 3 at the box office, and then pick whatever you think is an interesting story among the others, some small art film that over-performed, or big budget film that under-performed. One or two weeks is fine, but this is a trend every single time. Which means that now, when an Indian film makes a massive splash, they have no background with which to intelligently discuss it. And so they don’t. Intelligently discuss it, that is.
Instead of really digging into what this means, it is still being ignored as a film, and India is being ignored as an industry, and instead the discussion is about “the fans who artificially inflated the box office.” I mean, that’s not exactly what they are saying, but that is the gist of it, discussing twitter campaigns and demographically targeted audiences. But, see, this is just putting your head in the sand and missing the bigger picture because reporting is hard and they don’t want to bother. For instance, Deadline went into details about the IMAX profits and how Bahubali 2 did especially well in those markets because it was an off time without any other big IMAX release. That’s interesting, but they are missing the bigger story.
Firstly, the reason IMAX is important is because IMAX films have higher ticket prices. But Bahubali 2, as a Telugu and Tamil film, already had higher ticket prices across the board. Ignore the IMAX rates, and point out that the ticket prices are always higher for opening weekend for Telugu and Tamil films, that this is an oddity of this particular industry. That is useful information for producers, and distributors, and theater owners to have. You know, the people who read Deadline.
Secondly, it’s not a coincidence that it released at this time. This comes up all the time with American/Western coverage of Indian films. They like to pretend everything is a coincidence, a lucky chance. There is no intelligent actor (“actor” meaning “one who takes decisions and makes actions”, not “one who performs”. Although in the case of Aamir Khan and the Lagaan strategy, he was both. And never got credit for how he chose to woo the critics and press. Oh well) controlling it. And so the report is not that the producers picked a weekend between holidays so there would be no competition at the American or Indian box office, it’s just chance that so many IMAX screens happened to be free. In fact, there is no discussion of the release date at all, how it falls in an international dead zone, with no major holidays anywhere in the world, an interesting gamble that Bahubali 2 would be able to essentially create its own holiday whenever it released, and that it would benefit from the lack of competition. Nope, none of that. Heck, Karan Johar’s name is not mentioned in a single article! Rajamouli, sure. But the architect of this successful release strategy does not come up.
(You know Lagaan was the first Indian movie to have advance screenings for Western critics? Which was never mentioned in the reviews the critics wrote, it was always “I have discovered this amazing Indian movie because I am a brilliant white person!” not “I have been introduced to this amazing Indian movie because the producer handed it to me on a plate”.)
And there is no discussion of the language issues. Variety is the only one that even points out the multiple language releases and discusses how that had an effect. It’s the Hindi release alone that made it to #3 . That’s not even counting the Tamil and Telugu releases, which if they had been added in, could possibly have driven it to #1. It’s also not discussing how the Indian market is generally split between multiple languages and this film is unique in crossing those borders. Or how the Hindi industry has traditionally dominated the global market, and Telugu has been creeping up and up and up for the past few years, and this is just the culmination of years of slow increase in market share (especially in America).
But most importantly, there is the missing story that all 3 of the top films tell. #1 was The Fate of the Furious. #2 was How to Be a Latin Lover. And #3 was Bahubali 2. You know what all those films have in common? No white people!!!!
There are three things that movie American producers firmly believe about the movie audience:
1. Most of them are white.
2. White people can only relate to white people
3. The few non-white audiences can also only relate to white people
And therefore on this weekend, we have the explanation of how Bahubali 2 had a uniquely gripping storyline, a random non-competitive weekend release, the South Asian audience which organized to turn out in freakishly high numbers. And the same story for the other two films. How to Be a Latin Lover picked up all the Latino audience in a unique way, had an inventive promotional campaign, etc. The Fate of the Furious is a long-running popular series with big name stars attached, which also released with minimal competition.
But, the simple fact that non-white people turned out to see these movies because it showed people like them, and that white people turned out to because they are just straight-up good films, and finally the larger story that a major proportion of the international movie audience IS NOT WHITE, that seems to have once again been lost.
Be ready for a repeat of this story when Wonder Woman does phenomenally well at the box office, and it is reported that this happened because of fan campaigns and a good release date and IMAX tickets, instead of the straight up fact that the audience is sick of seeing white men filling their movie screens.