All Hail... the Panda?

I'll be honest, I didn't really expect this kind of outcome from this weekend's box office. Much to my surprise, and I suspect quite a few others, this weekend was dominated once again by Kung Fu Panda 3  which brought in an impressive $21 million more following its extremely successful opening weekend. While that gross is down in comparison to both the original and sequel installments of this series, $21 million was a suitable leading figure this weekend, with the runner up, Hail, Caesar!, trailing behind the family friendly animated comedy by a solid $10 million.

Where this movie will end up next week is a slight toss up in my opinion. On the one hand, yes, it has dominated the last two weekends, has set some new records, and is the leader for family based audiences right now, but there's a very good chance that we have seen the full force of this specific demographic, meaning that next weekend it'll be very easy for films such as Deadpool to come right in with a new audience base and rack up ticket sales. Time will tell soon enough.

But I'm most interested in talking about Hail, Caesar! this week, and what I am calling a strange turn of events turned almost flop. Now, let's get one thing straight. Hail, Caesar!, statistically, is by no means a flop. With a budget of $22 million, it made back 50% of its budget this, it's opening weekend, with a nice $11 million in gross sales. However, there are many factors that go into determining whether a film is a flop.

First, to some extent we have to compare it to the success of similar previous films made by the creators, the Coen Brothers. This is actually rather difficult in and of itself because after having watched Hail, Caesar! this isn't what I would say audiences have come to expect from the Coen Bros film. The closest films in design and makeup to Hail would be their 2009 film A Serious Man, and their 2000 hit O Brother, Where Art Thou. But we can't even begin to use those as a relevant markers because both had the SLOWEST theatre rollouts ever, and the former never actually had a nationwide release. So we could compare it to Burn After Reading, and if we do, Burn brought in just shy of $20 million it's opening weekend. A substantial lead over this newcomer. 

Second, we have to look at it's main audience - was it competing with other films for the same audience? Did it own a specific demographic for the weekend? From my view, the answers are no and yes; no they shouldn't have been in competition with any other films this weekend for the same audience, and they should have absolutely dominated the 18-50 year-old age range since this was the only mainstream comedy release this past weekend. But it didn't. Had it, it would have come much closer to Panda's numbers. 

Third, and not all that important, but it still plays a factor in determining flop status - what did critics think? Right now the film is tracking at 7/10 on IMDB and scored 83% on Rotten Tomatoes. So not horrible, and when stacked against former Coen brother comedies, this one is surprisingly above average. Are those numbers still great? No, but their bearable.

All that to say, this film IS NOT A FLOP. Does it border on potential flop? I won't lie, it dances with it slightly. I personally don't believe this film will be remembered as well or for as much as other Coen bros films have been. This one, while a comedy, is quite a thinker, and has increasingly complex elements, archetypes, and themes presented to it's audience. Like if No Country and Burn After Reading collided with one another. It's like that, and I don't think audiences were ready for it. This film will definitely bring in a decent chunk of change globally for Universal, it will absolutely make back it's budget and then a little more, and it will be what we call a safe success, but this film with never be considered anything more than that. Which I do hate to have to say. 

Finally , I'm surprised this film came out now, just outside of the Oscar qualifying cut off, but most notably during Oscar season. A piece of film that plays so well to the Academy's typical enjoyment, yet at the same time so boldly makes strong statements against the established system, it almost feels like a polite bird was flown at the elitist group of old white men. Maybe there's a reason for that.

There's plenty more to talk about from this weekend's box office, such as the actual, major, and absolutely foreseeable flop that Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies is, but all I care about from this past weekend's report is this #2 film in the country. A film that I watched, loved, made me think, and has left me questioning why it didn't do better.

Had I been a betting man I would have predicted a far different outcome. 

-Matthew Miller

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