By: Brandon McClure
The early months of the year are generally pretty low numbers for the box office. Many studios take the time to dump a film in these months that they don’t mind taking a loss on. The trend has changed in recent years. With an increasingly overcrowded summer blockbuster season, the industry has branched out and put major tentpoles in these “dump months” often in the hope they’ll have little competition.
Last year, Black Panther made $1 billion after opening in February and Deadpool broke records by being the highest grossing R-rated film (only surpassed by its sequel). Studios began to realize that it didn’t matter where a major film opened, as long as it was good, it would find its audience.
Just taking a look at the box office numbers for Alita: Battle Angel on Box Office Mojo, you’ll see headlines such as “Fox’s ‘Alita’ Leads Worst Presidents Day Weekend in 15 Years” and it becomes clear this was not going to be the record breaking February that 2018 was. Alita: Battle Angel was one of a few major tentpole films to be released in February. Films like Cold Pursuit (Liam Neeson’s worst opening) and most notably, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part all underperformed at the box office.
The Lego Movie opened with $69 million and exceeded everyone's expectations. When WB restructured after Justice League, they dedicated an entire division to creating Lego movies, so the pressure was high for the sequel to do as well as the original. Early tracking put it around $50 million, the same total for The Lego Batman Movie. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part opened with $34 million, far below expected numbers. Couple that with Alita’s disappointing box office and things looked pretty bad for the early 2019 box office.
Despite the underwhelming first couple weeks of February there was one film that swooped in to a last minute save. Dreamworks Animation found relative success with it’s How to Train Your Dragon franchise and hype for the third and final entry was high. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World opened to the franchises best weekend with $55 million. This number made it the highest opening weekend in February 2019 and the largest debut of the year so far, passing even Glass from January.
Thanks to How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, things are starting to look up for the 2019 box office. The February “dump month” still has a ways to go before it can shake that reputation. The idea that a good film will find its audience no matter what time of the year its placed, is still not a given, success is never guaranteed in this business. While critics and audiences alike enjoyed The Lego Movie sequel, it wasn’t enough to light the box office aflame. Alita’s marketing push didn’t seem to help the would be franchise either. Both films have a long road ahead before making back the money needed to be considered a hit.
While February was off to a slow start, March will see Disney releasing two high profile films, Captain Marvel and Dumbo, not to mention Jordan Peele’s newest film Us. The box office looking forward into the year looks lucrative. In an ever changing market, it’s getting more difficult to predict where certain films will do better. This year may not have been off to a great start, but by moving these tentpole films out of the summer, we’ve made a good first step that will allow more films to not be drowned out by the overcrowded summer season.
If you want to see more from Brandon T. McClure (@btmcclure), check out Fake Nerd Podcast and Mythellaneous on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app.