Okay. I admit it. Maybe -- just maybe -- the folks at Walt Disney Studios actually do know what they are doing.
Case in point: "Ratatouille." When this Brad Bird film only sold $47 million worth of tickets over its opening weekend (Which was at least 20% less than the $60 million that industry experts had originally expected this Pixar production to earn over its first three days in theaters) ... It was all too easy for someone like myself -- who trusts in numbers -- to dismiss this new animated feature as a critic's darling that was really struggling to connect with Pixar's usual audience.
Ah, but Chuck Viane -- head of Distribution at Walt Disney Studios -- warned me not to jump to conclusions when it came to "Ratatouille." He said that the Mouse had put an awful lot of thought into the proper positioning of its Rat movie.
"We actually picked our release date about a year ago," Viane explained. "We decided that opening 'Ratatouille' a week after "Evan Almighty' and a week before 'Transformers' would give this picture its very best shot at box office success. And -- as it turns out -- we were right."
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Indeed they were. During the first 10 days that this new Pixar film was in domestic release, "Ratatouille" earned $109.5 million. Which puts this Brad Bird film just a lap or two behind what "Cars" pulled in last year during its first 10 days in U.S. theaters.
Here. Maybe a chart will help illustrate the point that I'm trying to put across here.
So while "Ratatouille" 's opening weekend performance was admittedly less than stellar, this critically acclaimed animated feature quickly made up ground by pulling in some very impressive grosses over last week's extended Fourth of July holiday.
Mind you, Viane attributes "Ratatouille" 's strong performance last week not just to the rave reviews and/or the great word-of-mouth. But -- rather -- because last week's other big earners (i.e. 20th Century Fox's "Live Free or Die Hard" and Paramount / DreamWorks' "Transformers") weren't really in direct competion with this new Brad Bird film.
"We each had our own audiences. Bruce Willis fans turned out for 'Die Hard,' while teens went for 'Transformers.' Which meant that we pretty much had the family audience all to ourselves," Chuck continued. "Then when you factor in that every day is like a Saturday during the summer ... Well, I'm not honestly surprised that 'Ratatouille' did as well as it did."
Of course, the big test comes tomorrow with the release of Warners' "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." Which -- you'd think -- would have Viane worried. But again that's where you'd be wrong.
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"Look, I know that Harry Potter fans are very devoted. And I'm certain that those people are going to turn out in huge numbers to see 'Phoenix' this week" Viane said. "But that movie isn't going to have all that much impact on how our movie does. We're talking about two very different fan bases here. There's very little overlap between those two audiences. Which is why I think that 'Ratatouille' will continue to do well as we roll into Weekend No. 3."
Me? Again, I'm not entirely sure that I share Chuck's optimism. It would seem to me that "Ratatouille" and "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" would have to share an audience. At least a portion of the same audience. Which is why I'll really be interested in seeing by what percentage business for this new Pixar film falls off as it enters its third week in theaters.
I mean, let's be honest here, folks. If you look cold-bloodedly at what "Ratatouille" has earned over its first 10 days in domestic release, this Brad Bird film still lags well behind Pixar's top earners like "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles."
To be fair, when I mentioned this to Mr. Viane, the Head of Distribution at Walt Disney Studios said that he didn't feel that such comparisons were fair at all.
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"You can't really compare how a film that opens over the holidays does to the performance of a picture that opens in summer. Those are two entirely different box office seasons, each with their own unique challenges," Chuck stated. "Plus it's not fair to use 'Nemo' as the performance yardstick for all the Pixar films that followed it. That film was unique. As were all the Pixar movies that followed it."
Me? I'm a numbers guy. Which is why it's hard for me not to stack "The Incredibles" box office performance next to how "Cars" did last year, and then compare how "Ratatouille" has done to date to Pixar's most recent releases. And what I (along with many investment analysts) see there is a trend. The slow-but-steady erosion of how much a new Pixar release typically earns during its initial domestic release.
To hear Mr. Viane talk, there's no such thing as a typical Pixar picture. And as for "Ratatouille" 's domestic earnings ... Again to quote from Chuck:
"If by the end of this summer 'Ratatouille' hasn't earned at least as much as 'Cars,' I'm going to be very surprised."
"If by the end of this summer 'Ratatouille' hasn't earned at least as much as 'Cars,' I'm going to be very surprised."
What about you folks? Were you surprised by how well "Ratatouille" did over the extended Fourth of July holiday? More to the point, what do you think this Brad Bird film will have earned by the time it finishes its domestic run?
Your thoughts / predictions?
OK, I've read these "Disney paid too mch for Pixar" articles from Jim over and over and over. We get it Jim, you think it wasn't worth the money! You are entitled to your opinion on that. It would be nice if you could admit when you are wrong (as you were with Cars, and have been on Ratatouille up to this point. But it's become obvious that this is, indeed, about more than the Pixar purchase to you.
The last two Ratatouille articles have implied that the old Disney guard would be better off in charge than Lasseter and co. Really? As has been pointed out by others, Chicken Little was a lousy film that, while it did well in its initial weekend, fell off horribly. Same with Meet the Robinsons. The fact is that the current "Disney" animation team doesn't seem capable of making decent films. They make decent money, but I seriously doubt they make back their expenses until they get released on DVD (if you include marketing). You also thought putting Roy Disney in charge of the company wuold be a good idea as well, as I remember. Other than the last name, what did Roy actually bring to the table? Disney animation seriously deteriorated under his watch and was only saved by Eisner and Co. (and no, I'm not a big Eisner fan).
The fact is, Lasseter, and the Pixar team are focused on quality, something Disney has not seemed to even understand of late. There are obviously a lot of bruised egos among the old guard who resent this, but the fact is that if they were any good at their jobs, Disney wouldn't have needed to buy Pixar in the first place.
You constantly say these films are disappointing market expectations. Isn't it more lilkely that those expectations were unrealistic in the first place? The basic theory you are trotting out is that if every Pixar movie doesn't make more money thatn the last, then Disney got ripped off. This is foolish. No studio has ever had that kind of track record. Pixar's movies are high quality, and consistently make more than their Disney counterparts - that should be enough. The question isn't whether the box office of the Pixar films is lower than market expectations. The question is, are they lower than Bob Eiger's expectations when he made the purchase. Any thoughts on that?
>>> "I'm a big numbers guy..." <<<
I truly hope then that Disney's gotten rid of people with that mentality because leadership being strictly "numbers guys" is what the downfall of the company is going to be.
Hell, I'm a Disney stockholder and I couldn't care less if these films underperform now, I know that I'm being set up for a bigger payday in the future because they are focused on quality now.
The "downward trend" of Pixar movies is so the wrong thing to focus on. Do you think if Disney put out a CGI film of their own (which they would have probably rushed out the door a la Dreamworks), in competition against the aforementioned movies AND Ratatouille, that the Disney film would perform that much better? Disney would get slaughtered, the brand goes even more downhill, and stockholders like me would seriously question whether the company was going down the right path with "strictly numbers" folk like Morrill running the show.
Ratatouille is a great step, regardless of numbers. Get. Over. It.
I'm one of those poor souls who liked Chicken Little. So did my sister, who's not a fan of animation in general. What can I say? The animation wasn't Pixar level and most of the jokes didn't work, but there was just a general good feeling about the film that we found very appealing. I liked it far better than stuff like Madagascar or the second Ice Age film - the latter was really really bad, a horrible script.
So, with that confession out of the way - I too was a little worried about Ratatouille. The opening weekend was relatively unimpressive. BUT - the daily box office take for the film has been amazing, and of course the 4th of July weekend was boffo. And I'm delighted. How great that an intelligent, original, non-fart-joke laden film has done so well. Kudos to Pixar! Live forever, Brad Bird!
Are there any parents out there? Sometimes you have to be a parent to be able to see things through the kids eyes. My kids think Remy is great, from the commercials and the Disney Channel and the Disney Store. They could care less about Harry Potter.
I have twin 5 year olds and an 8 year old. We haven't had the time yet to make it to Ratatouille, but the kids are extremely anxious to go. I won't be taking them to Harry Potter, nor will any of their friends parents be taking their kids to Harry Potter, so how are these 2 movies competing? The answer is they're not. If anyone with a child 10 and younger goes to the movies in the next few weeks, they're going to see the rat. Harry Potter shouldn't affect the Rat's audience at all.
And just to follow that thought, Transformers also has no affect on Ratatouille. Most people I know interested in Transformers are in their 20's. Grown up kids who are excited about their childhood toys being made into a film. I was too old for Transformers, so I don't really care. My 5 year olds could care less about Transformers because I don't let them play with Transformers, but they're getting Ratatouille figures for their birthday next week.
The nice thing about Ratatouille is that it didn't have the same kind of buzz that the sequels of May did. Ratatouille is a movie that people did not feel pressured to see on opening weekend because everyone else was, it's the backup movie that, if they don't have anything else to see, they'll at least see that because they know it will be worth the price of admission (although not the price of popcorn... NO movie is the price of popcorn).
And, on a personal note, would you people please stop complaining about Jim's articles? Those very articles are the reason you come here in the first place. If Jim didn't comment about Ratatouille's box office this week, you would have been sorely disappointed. And Jim DID concede in the first paragraph that he may have been wrong.
Your number crunching is too short term. You think Disney paid too much? How much more would it have cost them to have Pixar as a rivial instead?
What will happen to Ratatouille when Potter comes out? Probably the same thing that happened to Monsters Inc when a Potter movie came out two weeks later.
It did just fine. A bit of a drop, but would anyone here consider either the third weekend of MI or the overall numbers suffering at all?
Jim was wrong when he said the movie would be hurt by Transformers, and he's going to be wrong again when Potter comes out. At least we got something of an admission of being wrong, albeit pretty weak and weasely.
I don't get the focus on any individual weekend for a movie that will have great legs and great weekdays like Ratatouille. This is a movie that will be in the top ten for weeks and weeks and will likely have weeks where it drops under 20%. Any given weekend, especially after the first couple, makes up a small percentage of the total gross. Worst case is it has a bigger drop when tons of people go to Potter, then bounces back when Potter has a big weekend then drops fast. I'll bet within three or four weeks Ratatouille is beating Potter on any given day even though it came out two weeks earlier. After Potter, there aren't any "kids" movies for weeks, the closest is Simpsons which is a completely different audience.
And again, another of these articles that COMPLETELY ignores the overseas performance. Even if Ratatouille doesn't beat cars in the USA (which I don't think will happen), it is likely to only lag by a small amount, but beat it overseas by hundreds of millions. Even if it "only" makes $200M here (which I still think is low), it could easily get 50% more overseas (what Monsters and Nemo did, although I think it will make an even higher percentage internationally) putting it well ahead of Cars overall.
I think the film won't be able to catch up to Cars, but should end up somewhere between $175 million to $200 million domestically and around $250 million worldwide. I just think it's very short minded to say a movie that is so critically acclaimed and will make somewhere around $400 million worldwide is a disapointment because it didn't make as much as another Pixar movie.
If that is the case is Pirates 3, Shrek 3, and Spiderman 3 all disapointments because they didn't make as much as the second ones?
The answer is no. If a film makes a company money in it's box office release for the company it is a sucess especially with all the money that is made in dvd sales, rentals, ect. This summer is the busiest and biggest in a long time and the competition is fierce. The fact of the matter is that Ratatouille will become Disney's second biggest release of the year and could stay that way unless Enchanted or Treasure 2 can out do it.
Is there a time when we should get concerned? Yes, when we see a down trend in quality and when the box office returns start coming in around and under 100 million domestically. This means that Disney isn't making a return or a good one on its product and people are losing interest and don't see the product as what it used to be.
My stance is let's be happy we are getting good quality family movies and let's support them so we can get more. With as much crap that is out there I'm not concerned about whether a film makes 200 million but couldn't make that other $35 million to match the last film the company released.
Actually, cbarry123, last weekend I gave my children, aged 12 and 8, a choice of Ratatouille or Transformers. They both picked Transformers, and what a great choice it was! Now we will wait and buy Ratatouille when it comes out on DVD. So in our case, Transformers DID have an effect on Ratatouille.
Jim, while I do think you are a little too critical at times and spin things negatively when you could easily have put a positive spin on the same information, I do think you are being very fair here. You admitted that Ratatouille has done very well over the 4th of July holiday which you weren't expecting. You are also skeptical over the head of Disney Distribution putting a spin on the Pixar release, which you should be. Of course Harry Potter and Ratatouille share an audience. It may not be the exact audience since Harry Potter will skew a little older, but there is a definite overlap. And all of the nonsense about every Pixar release being different is just to try to spin Ratatouille's lower numbers.
My one complaint at the moment is that I don't think we should set Finding Nemo as the standard, but rather as the exception. If we look at the 4 Pixar films starting with Toy Story 2 they've made between $240-$260 million, and Ratatouille is on track to make about $225 million. So this may be slightly lower, but given the large amount of competition in the computer animated movie market, and the fact that Pixar is now releasing a movie a year, I don't think a 10% drop is a sign of a "downward trend" but rather a fluctuation around the statistical mean.
- "Potter" will have no significant effect on "Ratatouille".
- Disney may have overpaid for Pixar (in short term, I mean, seriously; it was a small animation studio with a limited amount of success and no guaranty that it would have been successful in the future), but now that the merger is behind us, I think we all can see that they'll get it all back (still, I keep saying it, making John & Ed animation heads was a bad decision).
- The conclusion how "Ratatouille" will do internationally is still far into the future. In many countries the movie doesn't open till the end of the year. Not a very good strategy against illegal copies.
- Viane sounds like a Disney executive with an agenda. A promotion agenda.
(Oh, and when I opened my mailbox and saw "When Harry meets Remy [my name]?", I was like, what?! Who the bliep is Harry? How do I know that guy...?! :P)
Excuse me Jim, but Potter 5 is going to skew older than the children who want to see the RAT. I saw one boy, maybe 3 years old, screaming RATATOUILLE as he approached the theater this past weekend...obviously kids don't have any trouble pronouncing the word, but some critics do? Potter is evolving and as the actors/characters grow older the primary audience for it are the ones who grew up along with them, or adults.
This article proves that Disney paid too LITTLE for Pixar.
No matter how much their detractors wish for them to stumble, Emeryville keeps churning out hits, leaving little room for criticism except theoretical allegations of "negative trends". You gotta love it.
The guys who sold Pixar should have held out for an extra billion and dropped their proverbial handkerchief in Universal's direction. Imagine if Universal could have filled their theme parks with attractions based on Pixar characters? Oh, the possibilities...