M:I:3, King Kong, and the Anti-Spin Problem

Anti-spin and whisper numbers are becoming part of the movie marketing mix. For two recent tentpole flicks — King Kong and M:I:3 — the story rapidly became how poorly those supposed blockbusters were performing. Both films were deemed failures after weekend takes that came in lower than Street-like whisper numbers, and the anti-spin began.

But King Kong didn’t flop with its $549m global take. That didn’t stop people from opining that Peter Jackson had built a butt-numbing and over-stuffed homage to his creature-feature flick fascinations. Similarly, the storyline on M:I:3 is that people are staying away because of Tom Cruise’s descent into Michael Jackson-ian depths of nutty public behavior. But how do you say that about a film that took $118m worldwide in its opening weekend?

The trouble is that talking smack about Cruise and Jackson is fun and easier than ever. We have more freely available public data about prior film performance, and we have more places to talk it up online. And given that a significant percentage of the move-going public uses box office statistics as a free-rider proxy for film quality, all this smack-talk about how M:I:3 is a flop will almost certainly cause some people to stay away, becoming a kind of at-the-margin self-fulfilling prophecy.

Maybe Hollywood needs blogs to spin back against the flop spinners.


  1. bullwinkle says:

    King Kong took in a total of $218 mil in the US box office from release through April of 2006. For a movie with a budget over $200 mil and an unknown advertising budget north of $100 mil maybe ‘flop’ is too strong a word but so might ‘success’ be. Given the performance of King Kong my bet is Peter Jackson will not be given that much latitude for his next movie; well maybe if it is The Hobbit.

  2. I still haven’t seen King Kong — no interest. I just hope PJ gets back to work and does The Hobbit.
    Saw MI:3 this weekend. It was better than MI:2, imho. Delivered all the goods when viewed as just a silly summer popcorn movie.

  3. Anonymice says:

    Film accounting is complex. To say a film isn’t a flop because it had $550m worldwide gross and a reported production cost of $207m is much too simple.
    Production costs tend to be understated, and a film like KK carries a lot of the overhead of the whole studio. Then, as another has pointed out, they spent $100m on US marketing. Let’s imagine the studio’s initial cost is something like $400m.
    The studio gets around 1/2 of the US box office, and much less of the foreign gross. So that $550m box office may only translate into $200m income for the studio against $400m of cost.
    But they still can make money with DVDs, TV rights, etc. It’s complicated, and the studios like it complicated.
    The real way to know if the movie made money is to see what kind of deal Peter Jackson gets on his next movie. If it isn’t as good as the last deal– or put it another way: if the studio is afraid to edit his movie — they probably lost money.

  4. Agreed, it’s simplistic to say that $550m in worldwide grosses makes a movie successful. But that said, I was responding to the even _more_ simplistic silliness that has people (like Drudge) calling marginally below-whisper opening weekend grosses a movie flop.
    Factor in DVD sales, TV rights, etc., and even assuming all-in direct/indirect costs for the flick were as high as $350m — and there was no Buchwald-ian “fatal subtraction” going on — and the film was almost certainly seriously profitable.

  5. Hollywood Stock Exchange and TradeSports probably contribute to this whisper number game … Why are movies even releasing production + advertising budgets? Reminds me of Mark Cuban’s blog complaints about the sports industry convention of announcing attendance levels. Maybe it’s just an arbitrary convention in the movie industry?

  6. Franklin Stubbs says:

    Interesting that MI3 (I refuse to use the colon thingy) had a 72% Sunday to Monday drop, statistically significant since a more typical range is 30 to 50%.
    It actually sounds like the plot is decent and the stunts / acting are good, as far as action movies go, in which case the whole Scientology thing has taken on a radioactive glow… maybe Tom “eat my baby’s placenta” Cruise really has loaded his career into a DC8 and dropped it into a Volcano.
    Brooke Shields is no doubt savoring the schadenfreude…