I am FINALLY doing my box office report. Sorry for the delay, the July 4th holiday in America messed with my schedule. I am tempted to skip it entirely this week, but it’s also the week after Sanju came out, so it’s an important week. (as always, full figures available here)
Let’s talk holidays! There is some minor fuss being made over Sanju getting such a great box office NOT on a holiday weekend. That didn’t even occur to me as a consideration, so then I had to sit down and think about why holidays may help films, and why they may not, and what the world of the film audience looks like today.
Holidays mean time and money. Money, that was saved up for this special occasion. And time, because you are off work/school for this special occasion. But back in the day, like 25 years ago and earlier, Hindi film tickets primarily sold to the working classes. For them, holidays weren’t necessarily that significant. The few rupees a movie ticket cost were either something so cheap that you budgeted it in as your weekly (or daily) moment of pleasure. Or you were low enough to be living hand to mouth, there was no concept of saving for a holiday, if you were lucky enough to get the money, you would spend it. And of course time is equally meaningless. If there is work, you will work as long and as hard as you can. If there isn’t work, you might as well see a movie. And the work-no work schedule has nothing to do with holidays, might even be opposed to them. The service industry folks, they are working extra hard on Eid and Diwali and even Republic Day, it is the week after when they will have time to relax and extra money to spend. And of course, school would be an optional factor for the working class children.
(Strangely, I feel like this whole idea of living hand to mouth and any day with money being a holiday is something Sanju himself can understand, thanks to his liking for the common man. But is not something the people writing about Sanju the film can necessarily grasp)
One other thing, the advantage of a holiday release is all in the opening weekend. And until very recently, the opening weekend for a Hindi film was meaningless. So few prints would be cut, that only the major urban centers, and often only one or two theaters in those centers, would get a film opening weekend. Everyone else would get it days or weeks or even months later. What does it matter if a film comes out on Valentine’s Day, if it’s not playing in your mid-sized town until April?
And so the holiday release concept is a new idea. At least the idea that every major release HAS to happen on a holiday if it wants to be a hit. It is an idea that presupposes an overworked office class of audience (and their overworked in school children), and a multiplex level pricing for tickets.
It also is an idea that doesn’t really hold up to examination. It is one of those things that everyone accepted as common wisdom, but no one really lives by. There have always been movies that released slightly off of holidays, meaning filmmakers never really believed in this. And there have also always been movies that released on holidays and flopped, meaning the audience never really bought this idea either. It’s just a thing people say. Yes, the 3 day weekends and so on can artificially inflate the opening weekend box office, but that’s not going to guarantee a hit, and in the long run it won’t matter.
With all this in mind, let’s look at Sanju versus Veere Di Wedding. Veere Di Wedding released on a non-holiday, in the middle of Ramadan, and 2 weeks before a Salman Khan movie. All of these things, according to common wisdom, are death for a Hindi film. And here we are in week 5 and Veere is still playing on 12 screens in America and making $1,500 per screen.
(Also, Veere has way better songs)
Veere is doing well because it isn’t a film that relied on a big event kind of day that would force people to spend money and time on pleasure, it is a film that you will find the money and the time to see. Even if you have to wait until a later week, you will still find a time to get there, and maybe back again a second time.
Meanwhile Race 3, which had every advantage (wide release, big star, holiday release), is doing terribly in week 3. Down to only $857 per screen on only 54 screens in America. That’s a huge drop in per screen amounts, but also in number of screens. This is why it is healthy for a big film not to dominate so entirely. Theater owners were held hostage last week, couldn’t dump Race 3 because there wasn’t anything they could bring in to replace it. Now Sanju is dominating and theater owners are trapped again. If the per screen for that goes down next week, they don’t really have an option, because the next new Hindi movies aren’t releasing until July 13th.
A few years back, Salman’s movie was missing an Eid release and someone (Sohail maybe?) gave a quote saying Sallu would make his own holiday whenever the film released. This is true, and has been true for a while. With the big promo bursts and wide releases, every major film is built up so much that opening weekend feels like a holiday, feels like an occasion on which you should spend money and time. But that also means, like a holiday, it has to end. The opening weekend is exciting and wonderful, but the days after that don’t matter as much. Race 3 was a holiday release in that it came out on a holiday, and in that it tried to create a holiday feeling around it’s opening weekend. Veere Di Wedding is not a holiday release, in that it did not come out on a holiday, and it did not try to create that feeling, the focus wasn’t on getting there for the first show, but rather just seeing the movie. Sanju is not a holiday release in that it is not releasing on a holiday, but it is a holiday release in that it is trying to create excitement and interest around the film particular to this one opening weekend.
So, did it work? Cautiously, yes. Sanju made just short of $6,000 per screen on 356 screens in America. Both in screen count and in per screen, that is a major amount for this market. And without the 3D/IMAX bump that Padmavat and Bahubali and Race 3 received.
(Probably good they didn’t go for 3D, I don’t want to see this in 3D)
It made around $9,000 per screen on 34 screens in Canada, $3,600 per screen on 116 screens in the UK (freakishly high number of screens for that tiny market), $15,700 per screen on 59 screens in Australia, $7,200 per screen on only 33 screens in New Zealand, and $1,827 per screen in Germany.
So, it did well. Very well, especially in the Hirani friendly markets. The US and Germany markets tend to look for the feel good/feel smart kind of films. Australia has a habit of a really high opening weekend and then a steep fall, $15,700 is not the highest we have seen from them this year per screen, and I suspect it will fall off hard in the next few weeks. Australia doesn’t like feel good/feel smart, it likes action movies. The UK, they have been unpredictable lately. The distributors clearly had a good feeling about Sanju for them and pushed hard for a high screen count. But the per screen is just not that impressive.
So as of right now, Sanju is doing similar business to the other non-Holiday and non-major star releases. Higher than the market expected in that situation, but not as high as I expected personally. If you accept that per screen numbers are the most important, and that publicity largely drives opening weekend, and that Sanju in particular benefited from having a star director, a star subject, and a star lead which add up to the same as having a major name star at the center, then I am seeing Sanju doing the low end of what I expected. Race 3 released had similar overall global numbers (lower in the US, higher in the UK, and so on) and was called a “flop”. Correctly, I think. It wasn’t a major flop, but it did do less than it should have based on the release and the star at the center. Sanju, I would call “meeting expectations but not exceeding them”. It had better buzz going into the release than Race 3 (partly thanks to Anupama Chopra, really not cool), and so it is doing slightly better. That’s all, it’s not proof that Ranbir is a major star, or the audience is embracing biopics, or anything else. It is proof of star names, a big publicity campaign, a big release, and a critical community afraid of saying anything negative.
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