2009 Summer Box Office Blockbuster Contest Results

Here are the final results of the 2009 summer blockbuster contest announced about five months ago. To remind you, the point of the contest was to predict how well six big summer movies would do, and to choose the film not on that list that would do the best. The six films I chose and their final grosses were:

The eligible film not on this list that performed best over the summer was The Hangover, which made $272,427,055. The runner up on the sleeper film was Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, which made $194 million by the contest end date. The most popular sleeper choices were Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and G.I. Joe. No one selected The Hangover correctly, but don't feel bad. No Hollywood professional did, either.

This year, 20 people entered the contest, down eight from last year.

And the winner is long-time entrant Brett Buckalew, with 63 points. Brett had the best guess on Angels and Demons, and was second or third on a couple of other films. Congratulations, Mr. Buckalew!!

The runner-up was Teddy Chung, with 58 points.

Like last year, nobody guessed a gross on the nose.

Here are the complete results, in increasing point order:

  • Cathleen Reiher 8
  • Jeff Lau 11
  • Bjorn Olson 13
  • Kim Cochran 18
  • Jen Lo 21
  • George Wu 31
  • Don Marks 36
  • Vadim Rizov 38
  • David Sharron 40
  • Kelly Lau 40
  • Peter Beary 40
  • Dennis Holly 41
  • Atli Sigurjonsson 42
  • Chris Park 43
  • Yan Wong 43
  • Charles Odell 45
  • Joshua Kreitzer 53
  • Jeff Vorndam 56
  • Teddy Chung 58
  • Brett Buckalew 63

    Thanks to all who entered.

    It was an interesting year for my choices. Angels and Demons would look like a severe disappointment, if you didn't take into account its foreign grosses, which are several times as large. So, like it or not, a few years down the road we'll be playing "Who's Tom Hanks' Hairdresser This Time?", aka The Lost Symbol. Similarly, the not-quite-stellar performance of Terminator Salvation was offset by strong foreign grosses. Yeah, I missed The Hangover, but it was the first sleeper winner in some years that could honestly be called a sleeper, by Hollywood standards. No one saw that coming. My picks were all in the top ten.

    But, obviously, the one I really missed was Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. It was a big hit here, but a monster hit overseas. It's made over $650 million outside the United States, and is expected to end up as the third largest grossing film outside the US ever. (As usual, not counting inflation, ticket prices, etc.) The mind boggles. While amiable enough and moderately well-reviewed, what was it about this second sequel to two strong, but not incredibly strong, hits that made Europeans, especially, wet their pants in glee? Surely not just 3D, since other (and better) 3D films did not make nearly that much money. An EU conspiracy, perhaps? Sunspots? An evil Nazi plot? Hell, speculating on the reasons for its outrageous success is probably more fun than watching the movie.

    It was no doubt a puzzling and depressing summer for studios, aside from the dozen or so huge hits. Studios have always craved a magic formula that allows them to make hits. Creativity is not reliable, so that won't do. They want something more or less akin to an industrial process - raw materials in, widgets come out, rain or shine. For decades, the best approximation the studios had was star power. But, arguably, not a single hit this summer was driven by star power. Sequels were a more recent possibility. This summer, they were hit and miss. Transformers, Harry Potter, and, internationally, at least, Ice Age and Angels and Demons did what they were supposed to do, but Wolverine and Night at the Museum really did not. All did well enough, but they had a definite feel of declining returns, making more trips to the well, each increasingly expensive, seem problematic. The industry's upcoming reliance on films based on toys (I kid you not, there actually is a Viewmaster movie in production) probably seems a lot less smart now than it did before the release of G.I. Joe - not a flop, but not a smash, either, and a much more natural property to make a film from than, say, Battleship. 3D? Up and Ice Age say yes, G-Force, Aliens in the Attic, and the weakly performing X-Games movie in limited release say maybe, at best. Lord knows, I wouldn't be sleeping soundly if I were a studio executive who had bet the farm on 3D versions of crap scripts.

    The big flops were star oriented: Bruno, Year One, Funny People, Land of the Lost, and yet another film that Eddie Murphy no doubt wishes he hadn't made. Apparently Imagine That didn't gross as much as his salary. That's a pretty sure sign of an upcoming pay cut. It sounds odd, thinking back twenty, or even ten, years ago to call films that mostly made $40-$50 million flops, but considering their costs and the ambitions behind them, well, they were.

    Niche movies did a bit better than last year. My Sister's Keeper made nearly $50 million, which, realistically, is the high end of what was possible for it. 500 Days of (Summer) got about $30 million, a nice gross for a film of its type. The Hurt Locker failed to leap out of the art house ghetto, as some thought it might, but it still made $14 million. Some horror films, like Orphan and The Final Destination, got the kind of grosses their studios were hoping for. No foreign language film, even the best reviewed ones that seemed most promising, got the sort of grosses that pass as good for foreign films. None of them broke $2 million, and few came even close to $1 million.

    On the whole, box office was up this summer, but, like many summers and years where that has been true lately, it's largely because of rising ticket prices, not larger numbers of admissions.

    The preceding paragraph is a direct repeat of a paragraph from last year, since it's all still correct.

    As usual, the schedule for next summer is already pretty much set. We'll be seeing Iron Man 2, another Shrek sequel, Ridley Scott's version of Robin Hood, a Sex and the City sequel, the third Toy Story, the third Twilight movie, misguided remakes (The Karate Kid, The Sorcerer's Apprentice - sorry, but Nicholas Cage can't hope to fill the big puffy shoes of Mickey Mouse), pointless movie versions of TV series (The A-Team), sequels extended beyond the series' natural lifespan (Predators, Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galor, Hairspray 2, Step Up 3D, Resident Evil: Afterlife), dubious vehicles for comedy stars (Grown-Ups, Dinner for Schmucks, The Other Guys, Little Fockers, the latter also eligible in the A-Sequel-Too-Far category), vehicles for stars whose sell-by date might be coming up (or even past) (Knight&Day, Salt, Morning Glory, The Expendibles), and movies based on toys/games (Prince of Persia). These categories account for the vast majority of the announced releases. Admittedly, there are bound to be a few of them that turn out no worse than solid, and a couple might be very good indeed. And there will be later additions, mostly smaller scale films, that could prove to be excellent. Still, it's dispiriting that there is so little freshness and creativity on display.

    Any lessons of the past summer will not bear fruit until summer 2011. Looking at what succeeded this summer, it's hard to feel too excited about that summer. It was certainly true that there were some original films that succeeded this summer. But one was from Pixar, which is already regarded as a special case. No one else seriously tries to follow the Pixar model of filmmaking. Others were modest successes, like Julie and Julia. The Hangover, while far more successful than anyone expected, is not really all that different from some of the Apatow comedies in its general outlines. So, by and large, if one is a soulless Hollywood producer devoid of any original ideas of his own, the lesson of the summer is, go with sequels and adaptations of stuff from other high-popularity media. Thus, expect more of the same.

    Back to the film contest page.