Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started its weekend last night with a strong $4.6 million Thursday gross.
It’s a pretty crowded weekend, but there really was only one movie where the Thursday grosses will have much impact on the overall weekend. Not to be rude, but I don’t think Walt Disney’s DIS +1.57% The Hundred-Foot Journey burned up the advance-night preview crowd. For what it’s worth, New Line Cinema’s Into the Storm earned $800,000 on Thursday setting the stage for a $16-$18m debut weekend. But the big new release of the weekend is Paramount’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which earned a rock-solid $4.6 million last night from showings starting at around 7:00pm. The bad news is that since it is an August release and since there hasn’t been a TMNT feature film in seven years nor a live-action entry in 21 years, there isn’t much precedent to compare it to. Needless to say, the midnight screening/Thursday preview business was not a roaring one back in 1993.
Offhand, the most likely comparison is last year’s The Wolverine, which earned $4 million on its Thursday debut in late July and ended up with $53m for the weekend. Also of note,Maleficent earned $4m on its opening Thursday in late May of this year and went on to open with $69m. Now does that mean I think that Jonathan Liebesman’s TMNT reboot is going to earn $55m-70m this weekend? Doubtful, although I won’t necessarily rule it out. The Wolverine was well-reviewed and part of a trusted brand. The Wolverine earned just 7% of its opening weekend on Thursday, which would have been considered front-loaded just three years ago when 5%-6% was the norm but is now considered leggy when 9%-11% is relatively normal. Maleficent was the only big-game in town for females at that point in the summer, and as such boasted huge mother/daughter matinee business. One advantage of having so few female-centric blockbusters is that the ones that do pop up have the advantage of grabbing the whole pie for itself.
As the advance-screening culture became more mainstream and as the midnight screening became the “Thursday evening, as early as you want” screening, it stood to reason that more general moviegoers would sample the new release before bedtime on Thursday and thus the numbers would become more front loaded. The big question is whether the critically-panned franchise reboot will play with general audiences beyond the Saturday matinee demographics and the die-hard franchise fans. Yes, there is a real threat that Guardians of the Galaxy will steal away both the kid-friendly demographic and the general moviegoers, which is why I would argue Paramount should have fought for that PG rating. Parents whose kids haven’t seen either film and are okay with PG-13 material may-well steer them towards the critically-acclaimed entry with all the buzz rather than the the new franchise entry with the same rating and none of the heat heading into the weekend.
Going with a PG rating, which I would argue the film deserves, would have opened the doors to younger kids who may be too young for the occasionally violent and often crude Marvel adventure. Anyway, much of the Thursday box office is speculation, so let’s speculate… with math! If Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles actually does pull in numbers like The Wolverine, and the poor critical notices may-well be offset by the kid-friendly property and the idea that it’s not technically a sequel and thus “new,” then Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles gets to a robust $61 million. Heck, if it plays like Maleficent, which I doubt but let’s pretend, it ends the weekend with an eye-popping $80m. More realistically speaking, if it plays, for better or worse, like a Marvel Studios film (9%-11%), then it opens with between $41m-$52m, which would be pretty terrific. I think the sheer strength of the kiddie audience, Guardians of the Galaxy not withstanding, will keep it from being any more front loaded than that.
The good news is that Guardians of the Galaxy earned $93m last weekend, which means by default there are fewer moviegoers who will have to catch up on it this weekend than something like The LEGO Movie, which “only” opened with $69m last February and clobbered Robocop in the process. The bad news is that the Michael Bay-produced (and Megan Fox -starring) $125m franchise restart isn’t remotely the film with the heat going into the weekend, and the varied slate of releases (Into the Storm, The Hundred-Foot Journey, and Step Up: All In) will take small, but potentially important bites out of the demographics that Paramount may have been hoping for to add a little bump. Again, this is speculation until the Friday numbers drop, although I think we can now rule out anything under $40m. Until then, I bid you all a hearty cowabunga.