Can I cackle with glee at being correct, while still being depressed that the box office hasn’t sprung back? I think I can! Especially because the box office is bright depending on where you look.
My local movie theater didn’t play a new Malayalam film, or Hindi this week because it was giving 3 out of 5 screens to Agnyaathavaasi. And I started seeing Agnyaathavaasi trailers even on my Hindi films there. And I heard from moviemavengal that she was getting a lot of pressure from her viewers to go see it (this is why I like my blog, you guys put so much less pressure on me than youtube people do!). And I heard all of this and I thought “I bet this will be a Big Big flop.”
It was a combination of things. First, the trailer really didn’t feel like something special. I don’t speak Telugu and it wasn’t subtitled, but just the visuals were kind of uninteresting, no fun fight scenes or bright colors or even catchy songs. It felt very much like a star vehicle, and not that good of one. Kind of the same way I felt watching the first few Happy New Year and Dilwale trailers, I knew I would see it because I loved Shahrukh, but I didn’t really see anything new or exciting there to drive in other people. It was just selling things to SRK fans.
Second, the way the movie theater was giving up screens felt desperate, not clever. They were wildly dumping other films that hadn’t even had a real chance yet, as though they super needed a hit. Expand that to the rest of the industry, it means this film had a lot riding on it, so much that people were kind of blind to its innate qualities because they wanted a hit so much.
And third, the push of “you HAVE to see this movie”. That’s what really reminded me of Spyder, and made me go “oh yeah, it’s gonna flop”. There’s a difference between “you HAVE to see this movie” and “this looks like a good film, you should check it out.” Especially when the “you HAVE to” is said before the film has even released. It means the promotional campaign and the people buying into it are completely focused on that opening night box office, on the idea that everyone in the world must must must see this film, not because of any innate quality of the film, but just because “you HAVE to”. Which is not sustainable. Everyone obeys this order, goes to see the film, and then they are done. They don’t want to watch it a second time so there are no repeat viewers, there is no one left who didn’t see it opening night so there are no new viewers, and box office drops like a boulder from a high peak into a tiny pool far below.
(The Dhoom 2 effect. Except without the bounce back, so I guess the Kites effect. Ha! That makes sense both for the scenes from the films, and the end result of their respective box offices!)
I can’t give you exact figures because, also like Spyder, there are no exact figures available. Exact figures come from Rentrack, a legitimate third party organization that calls up every theater in America and finds out their ticket sale numbers (much more information available on this post here). But they only do that if the distributor for the film is paying them to do that. Spyder and Agnyaathavaasi were both distributed by funky distributors who didn’t pay. Bahubali 2-Telugu version was too. That’s a hidden part of this story, these fly by night distributors who take only the really really big films.
They take the really really big films, and send them to legitimate theaters like my Indian one, but also to other newer theaters where they are renting out the space from the theater and keeping the profit for themselves. They need that huge opening day burst, that’s money straight in their pocket that pays off rentals, but they don’t care so much about a long run. They are looking for more of a get rich quick scheme. Which is what these films are, massive releases, massive expectations, massively high ticket prices, and then a sudden fall that impacts the theaters and the film industry, but not these one time distributors.
The inexact figures, that are reported by legitimate sources like Forbes, have Aagnyaathavaasi breaking the Bahubali and Spyder records FOR OPENING DAY. I think it is 1.08 million opening day for Spyder, and 1.5 opening day for Agnyaathavaasi. But these same unclear sources are consistently reporting a massive fall after that opening day.
(So, in this case, the distributors are Shahrukh, enticing and romancing the movie who is Shilpa Shetty, and then throwing her off the roof of a building once they are done with her)
The opening day of a Telugu film, a big big film like this, is about the experience as much as the film itself. You pay more money, you dress up, the theater is packed, it’s a whole thing. But the days after that, you’re just coming in to see the movie. It’s totally different. You have to actually enjoy the movie enough to pay the still inflated ticket prices and want to see it a second time.
And this film, NOPE! Just like Spyder. The drive was to get people in opening day no matter what it took, and no one remembered that the film still has to run at least 2 weeks if the theaters are going to make a profit.
What’s really interesting is that, besides the method of release, these two films are actually extremely different. While Agnyaathavaasi is a failed attempt to recreate the magic of a previous hit, Spyder was something totally new and very high quality. But both of them failed because it is extremely hard to make a movie that would succeed in this situation.
(Actual good movie! You should watch it. Just, not with children or on a date night)
You are trying to get absolutely everyone in the door on opening night. Which means absolutely everyone has to enjoy your film. Spyder was a very good film, but it had an odd premise which turned off large portions of the audience. Agnyaathavaasi, it sounds like, has a regular premise which the vast majority of the audience would enjoy, but is not actually a good film. You need a good movie that is also a crowdpleasing movie, and it is much much harder to manage that than to simply rent out every movie theater in America and put your ads on every screen in the world.
Really Bahubali is the only move that can do that, and that is the problem. Everyone is following the Bahubali release strategy and it just does not work unless you have the quality of film that can support it.
In other less exciting box office news, as I predicted last week, Yash Raj is coordinating a very careful drop for Tiger. It’s down to around $3,500 per screen, which is very solid for week 3, but on many fewer screens, only about 30 in America versus the 300 it started with.
The new Tamil film, Suriya’s new movie, is doing a solid $3,500ish per screen too. On only 87 screens in America. It is the film that is probably suffering the most from the Agnyaathavaasi disaster, since it is losing screens and audience to it. That is, people already spent their movie budget for the week on Agnyaathavaasi and didn’t like it and aren’t going to try another film.
And that’s kind of it for box office news! Tiger is dropping off everywhere, Agnyaathavaasi had a weird failed release, and everything else is tiny by steady. We will have to see what next week looks like, with even fewer films releasing and Agnyaathavaasi, potentially, still dominating screens (depending on what kind of a deal the distributors stuck). And then of course the week after that we have Padmavat and “Big Stupid Movie Overwhelms Audience and Loses Money After Big Opening Night” part 12.