Disney Returns Disney to Box Office Dominance, King Kong Proves Why You Need Budget Discipline and Can We Get Some Serious Props For Jordan Peele And Get Out?

In the weeks leading up to the release Beauty and the Beast, a number of “controversies” spilled out of the woodwork to dog the monster as it approached release. There was the (nonsensical) backlash against Emma Watson’s Vogue photo shoot, it took a beating from both sides of the political spectrum when Disney outed Le Fou as being openly gay, and there were the predictable naysayers who pounce on anything popular with their signature cynicism and en vogue cultural contempt (many declared Beauty and the Beast a commercial bastardization of the animated classic, another example of Hollywood “stealing” an entire generation’s childhood for profits a la Michael Bay). Some thought the last minute hurdles might cause the eventual blockbuster to stumble.

Yeah, about that . . .

When Beauty was released March 17th, it pretty much walked right up to reigning box office champ Kong: Skull Island, punched the king of the monsters in the face and casually walked away with the title. Not only did it swat those nagging distractions aside like flies, it conquered just about every record in its way. Its massive 174 million dollar debut demolished the previous record for a March opening (held by last year’s Batman Vs. Superman), it shoved Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 aside as Emma Watson’s number one opener and it became one of the ten highest debuts in history, crushing a dozen other records along the way. Everyone knew it was going to open big, but expectations kept growing as it continued to gain steam over the course of its first weekend.

Two weeks later Beauty has already grossed more than 395 million domestically and nearly 900 million word wide. Joining the billion-dollar club is a foregone conclusion and it will easily be one of the top grossing movies of 2017. It was a masterpiece of marketing and Disney’s promotional team deserves just as much credit for its blockbusting success as director Bill Condon and star Emma Watson.

But perhaps March’s biggest takeaway wasn’t that Disney could be an unstoppable box office juggernaut when it wanted to be, but that Hollywood needs to tighten its collective purse strings when it comes to production budgets.

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Kong: Skull Island had a decent opening the week before Disney unleashed Beauty and the Beast, grossing a shade over 61 million domestically (and doing some handsome business overseas). But someone at Warner Bros could probably use a refresher course on box office economics. Kong’s window of dominance was only going to be open a single week and it carried a cumbersome 185 million dollar production budget (plus promotion and advertising). And 61 million doesn’t look so hot when you factor its sharp drop after Beauty brought everything else to its knees. After its fourth weekend, Kong has collected 147.8 million at North American theatres and at the rate it is losing steam it will probably finish around 160 million. Fortunately it has done strong business internationally, but if it hadn’t been for those foreign dollars Warner may have cancelled the promised King Kong/Godzilla crossover to balance their yearly fiscal spreadsheet (it’s believed Kong, which has 477 million to its global name, needs to gross 500 million world wide just to break even).

Now take the live-action Power Rangers adaptation as an example of a movie that may not be able to count on foreign markets rescuing it. Rangers opened with a decent 40.3 million but took a nosedive the following weekend; plummeting 64% and the Zord riding champions will be hard pressed to justify their 100 million dollar price tag. Worse yet, Rangers has had a tepid response at the foreign box office, collecting a mere 32.7 million overseas so far. If this movie can’t pull a rabbit out of its hat in time for Easter, it could throw an ocean of cold water on Saban and Lionsgate Entertainment’s plans for a Power Ranger cinematic universe.

The reason Fox’s Logan-which wraps up Hugh Jackman’s solo Wolverine films-has been such a success isn’t just because of its strong box office performance (88.4 million domestic debut and 585 million worldwide so far), but that it was able to control its costs and kept its budget to a respectable 97 million (Fox produced last year’s 783 million dollar breakout hit Deadpool for a measly 58 million). Studios are eventually going to have to learn that cost control is nearly as important as box office performance.

Can We Give Get Out A Round of Applause?

But if you need an example of production budget-to-box-office receipts ratio, look no further than Jordan Peele’s ultra small budget thriller Get Out. Made for only 4.5 million, Peele’s tale of subversive suburban racism has grossed nearly 157 million domestically. It opened the final weekend of February with 30 million and has weathered the onslaught of March blockbusters, holding a spot on the top ten ever since its release. And it set two new milestones last weekend, making Jordan Peele the most successful first time African-American director after it broke The Blair Witch Project’s 20 year-old record for highest grossing original screenplay.

Peele has essentially written his own ticket for the foreseeable future and proven that both small budget movies and films made for diverse audiences can be legitimate box office successes. Not only has he (hopefully) removed the shroud of ignorance from corporate Hollywood’s eyes, he has also opened the door to a new generation of filmmakers who may have been discouraged otherwise.

Numbers Box Office Mojo
Image Walt Disney Pictures