Bollywoodhungama comes through again! Two really good clear graphics to help us understand what is happening at the Indian box office.
“The box office figures are compiled from various sources and our own research. The figures can be approximate and Bollywood Hungama does not make any claims about the authenticity of the data. However they are adequately indicative of the box-office performance of the film(s).”
This is what I am saying, for Indian figures they are approximate and legitimate sources (like BH) acknowledge that they are NOT accurate at all. They are merely a general indication of box office performance. So don’t focus on the exact figures here, look at the over all good-bad-Best levels, that is what counts.
Let’s start at the bottom. The “hits” of the year. Raazi, Badhaai Ho, Stree. These were the big stories, the little movies that could. But notice, purely in terms of box office, Race 3 the big “flop” made more than all these “hits”. It’s all about expectations and net profit, Raazi as a female lead film, Badhaai Ho as an ensemble family comedy, Stree as a horror comedy, none of them with big names, they were expected to do far worse than they did. And their budgets reflected that. Meaning the box office they made, although worse in raw numbers than the bigger films, lead to a bigger net profit for the producers and is a bigger story overall, because it is such a surprise.
Now, let’s go to the top. A few surprises here too. Sanju, Padmavat, Simmba, and 2.0 were all very very big budget films. With big ad campaigns and biggish names in the cast and Very Very big names behind the camera. They were expected to do extremely well, and they did even better than expected. Not Padmavat so much, since it is about the same as the last film with this topic, director, and cast. But Sanju, without any big name. And Simmba, Ranveer’s first action film. And 2.0, a southern dub. Those were expected to do maybe about 20% less than they actually did.
The top of the list and the bottom of the list end up telling two different stories. The top says, “Director Matters”. People saw Sanju, Padmavat, Simmba, and 2.0 because of the director. Because of the director’s brand, a Bhansali film will be a big spectacle, a Rohit Shetty film will have lots of action, a Hirani film will have a lot of heart and a simple message. 2.0 was different, that was a combination of director and producer, Karan Johar promising it would be worth watching like his last southern dub, Bahubali, and Shankar promising it would be another big hit special effects spectacle. It used to be that a Star had a particular brand, you knew what you were getting with them, and so audiences would turn out because they liked their last film and assume the next film will be the same. But now that isn’t the case. Ranveer was in Padmavat and Simmba this year, they are completely different movies, it is the director that had the bigger impact, not who the star was. The audience is still looking for that reliable branding, but it has shifted from star to director. And, biggest take away, you need that reliable branding to make it to the top of this list. The audience may like the new odd movies like Stree, but not enough to send it to the top, not without something they are familiar with.
Now, bottom of the list, that’s where the story matters. Story, and longer time in theaters. Raazi, Stree, Badhai Ho, they didn’t have big name stars or directors to brand them. They were an unknown quantity, but people saw them because the story got them interested. And they kept seeing them. The box office for these films built up over weeks and weeks as word of mouth spread about how unusual and good and fun they were.
That’s something interesting between the top and bottom of the list. The top of the list films, they ran well for 2-3 weeks and had a spectacular opening weekend. That’s how you get to the top, poor the money into promotions to drive in the audience for the escalated opening weekend ticket prices. But you can get to the bottom of the list by just making a good story and waiting for the audience to find it. If we look at net profits, this list would probably be flipped, since the promotions took such a chunk out of the budget for the top of the list. And if there were no promotions and no wide releases, then those top 3 films might not even be on this list, might be down somewhere in the middle where movies that don’t have great word of mouth end up living.
Speaking of middle, let’s look at that! When Zero came out, I wrote a post about how the box office was bad and the Khans are on the way out, but it is too soon to say they are completely done. That’s what the middle of this list shows. Race 3 was a bad bad movie. Thugs of Hindostan was a bad bad movie. Terrible word of mouth, even opening weekend. Oh, and neither of them had a strong “brand” from the director, Race 3 lost Abbas-Mustan (who weren’t that big of a brand anyway) and Victor Acharya is probably someone only I know. The only thing these movies had going for them were the star names. And look, middle of the pack. Just by hiring a Khan, and doing literally nothing else (really Race 3 was a disaster), the producers got the 5th most successful movie of the year.
Of course, just 10 years ago this whole list would have been Khans, or at least the top half. So yes, the Khans and Star Power in general is dropping. But it’s not done yet. We are in an odd transition point, where the Director/genre branding, the strong story, and the star power, are all mixed together, each route equally viable as a way to get onto the top 10 list.
Now, there is one movie that doesn’t fit in the story, director, or star category: Baaghi 2. The story is frankly terrible. A remake of a southern film with all the subtlety removed and then a Rambo ripoff thrown onto the end. Tiger Shroff is a new star with about a 50/50 hit/flop ratio (showing that his name alone can’t guarantee a film). And the director is a random action guy who mostly makes Tiger movies. And yet, it was a big BIG hit. Even I don’t know why. Either it is because the genre (super violent Hong Kong/Hollywood inspired action films) has an audience that will turn out for it, or because Tiger is getting his own little following, or maybe it is some kind of affection for the original Baaghi that is invisible to the wider world but potent among the fans. It’s just ODD, and it makes me very curious to see how Tiger’s next few films do, especially the ones outside of the action genre.
Okay, you ready for the other really interesting graphic? Let’s check out HOLLYWOOD films in India:
In terms of what makes the list, it’s pretty obvious and predictable. Big special effects movies that require little language or cultural awareness. Same thing that tends to make Indian movies popular overseas. What I find most interesting is the massive gap between the movie at the top of the list and the next one.
I know Avengers Infinity War is a very big deal. But is it a 3 times the box office of any other Hollywood movie big deal? So then I took a look at the calendar. Avengers Infinity War released in April. There were no major releases in the entire month of April. Nothing it had to chase out of theaters in order to get screens, nothing coming up after it to take away it’s screens. Baaghi 2 came out March 30th, Raaazi came out May 11. Infinity War was neatly snuggled in between them, April 27th.
Meanwhile, Jurassic World came out June 22. Smack in between Race 3 and Sanju. Deadpool came out right before Sonu Ki Titu Ke Sweety, a surprise hit that went after the same audience (young people who like raunchy humor). Aquaman, right before Zero and Simmba. Mission Impossible had a clear filed, I don’t know why it didn’t do better, maybe it was just a bad movie. But what I am getting from this list, overall, is that a big budget special effects Hollywood film can do very well in India, but can only reach the spectacular heights of Avengers Infinity War if it is a good movie, with big special effects, and a known brand, AND if it has a clear field with no Indian films to compete.
Oh, and the other thing is, notice that Avengers Infinity War is the only Hollywood film that would have been in the Hindi top ten. All the other releases didn’t even come close. India is still the strongest market holding off the Hollywood surge. Just for a random comparison, in Italy in 2018 the entire top ten list was Hollywood films. And the Italian film industry was excited to see a leap to 22% percent market share versus Hollywood’s 78% (story here). This is a very different picture than India. So long as Indian films can keep having good big releases at regular intervals, then can keep their local audience and local industry strong and chase Hollywood out.