Sunday, August 25, 2013

Star Wars: Episode VII Release Date: Why I Think It Will Be Released In April or August

The rumormongering surrounding Star Wars: Episode VII is in full effect and a recent release date rumor set the internet ablaze with the possibility that Episode VII could be pushed back until December 2015 instead of the announced Summer 2015 release window.

Big Shiny Robot editor Bryan Young posted a great dissection of why he thinks this rumor is false.

Traditionally Star Wars films have been summer fare, opening in May and extending into the early summer in theaters.  The summer blockbuster concept as we know it really kicked off with JAWS (1975) and the success of the first summer blockbuster was confirmed and expanded upon by Star Wars (1977).  The success of JAWS and Star Wars has lead to the summer movie season as being the landing spot for blockbuster films, or as has become a popular way to refer to them studio "tent pole" films.

Analysing historical box office results and release dates going back almost 40 years can be problematic. For example while both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back premiered in May, their initial release was limited and it wasn't until June that they saw a wide release.  There is also some issue with looking at the box office results from the Special Edition theatrical released for the original trilogy because of the monthly back-to-back-to-back release schedule that was employed in January through March of 1997.  

We may also take some guidance from the Disney/Marvel Studios films and some other resent blockbuster films as we consider potential release dates and box office half-life.  

Let's take a look at how 2015 is shaping up so far:

2015 Theatrical Release Dates via ComingSoon.net
January 16
- Beware the Night (Sony: Screen Gems) Paranormal thriller.
- Norm of the North (Lionsgate) Animated comedy.
February 13
- The Longest Ride (20th Century Fox) Drama, Romance.
- SpongeBob SquarePants 2 (Paramount Pictures) Animated comedy.
March 6
- Fantastic Four (20th Century Fox) Comic book, Action-adventure.
March 13
- Cinderella (Walt Disney) Fantasy.
March 27
- Chappie (Sony) Sci-Fi comedy.
- The Penguins of Madagascar (3D/2D theaters and IMAX 3D) (20th Century Fox/Dreamworks Animation) Animated Comedy.
March TBA
- Christ the Lord (FilmDistrict) Drama.
April 3
- Ted 2 (Universal) Comedy.
May 1
- The Avengers: Age of Ultron (Walt Disney/Marvel Studios), Comic Book Action-adventure.
May 29
- Monster Trucks (Paramount) Animation.
June 5
- B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations (3D/2D theaters and IMAX 3D) (20th Century Fox/Dreamworks Animation), Animated comedy.
June 19
- Assassin's Creed (20th Century Fox/Ubisoft) Action-adventure.
- Inside Out (Disney/Pixar) Animation.
June 26
- Terminator (Paramount) Sci-Fi Action-adventure.
July 3
- Independence Day 2 (20th Century Fox) Sci-Fi Action-adventure.
- Untitled Illumination Entertainment 2015 Project 3D (Universal) Animation.
July 10
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Walt Disney) Action-adventure comedy.
July 17
- Superman/Batman (Warner Bros.) Comic Book Action-adventure.
July 25
- The Smurfs 3 (Columbia/Sony Animation) Family comedy.
July 31
- Peregrine's Home for Peculiars (20th Century Fox) Family fantasy.
September 25
- Hotel Transylvania 2 (Sony Animation) Animated comedy.
November 6
- Ant-Man (Walt Disney/Marvel Studios) Comic book, Action-adventure.
- Bond 24 (Sony's Columbia Pictures/MGM) Action-adventure.
- Peanuts (20th Century Fox) Animation.
November 20
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (Lionsgate) Sci-Fi drama.
November 25
- Finding Dory (Walt Disney/Pixar) Animated comedy.
December 11
- Alvin and the Chipmunks 4 (20th Century Fox) Action-adventure comedy.
December 18
- Inferno (Sony's Columbia Pictures) Action drama.
December 23
- Kung Fu Panda 3 (3D/2D theaters and IMAX 3D) (20th Century Fox/Dreamworks Animation) Animated Adventure.
So Disney's 2015 slate so far is Cinderalla (3/13), The Avengers: Age of Ultron (5/1), Inside Out (6/19),
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (7/10), Ant-Man (11/6), and Finding Dory (11/25). In projecting a release date or attempting to analyze Disney|Lucasfilm's potential box office strategy we not only have to look at Disney's slate but also what other studios are doing with their films.  The goal of any studio is to use each film to make as much money as possible, as such you may think your film will outperform another film but if both films share a common audience you may be better off avoiding this box office face off to maximize your profits.  

Examining the box office performance of some Star Wars films and some other recent films, can give us an idea of performance trends and tell us how big a release window Episode VII may need and what dates on the calendar are needed for Disney's other projects. In doing this analysis I will be looking at the number of weeks as the #1 film, as a top 10 film, in more than 1,000 screens, performance as a percentage of total box office at the four, six and eight week marks and overall performance. 

A note on my methodology, this is hardly a comprehensive review, greater time and resources would no doubt allow us to develop box office metrics much like advanced baseball statistics to help predict performance. Alas I don't have the time and resources of a major studio to devote to this research project, so this is the back of the envelop numbers I have to work with. 

Live Action Star Wars Films Box Office Stats

May 25, 1983: Return of the Jedi: 
Total Domestic Gross: $252,583,617. 
Weeks as #1 Movie in Box Office: 3, plus 6 of first 7 weeks.
Weeks as a top 10 film: 18
Weeks on 1,000 screens or more: 14
% of Gross after four weeks: 48%
% of Gross after six weeks: 62%

% of Gross after eight weeks: 73%

May 19, 1999: The Phantom Menace:
Total Domestic Gross: $431,088,295
Weeks as #1 Movie in Box Office: 3
Weeks as a top 10 film: 11
Weeks on 1,000 screens or more: 12
% of Gross after four weeks: 72%
% of Gross after six weeks: 83%
% of Gross after eight weeks: 90%

May 16, 2002: Attack of the Clones
Total Domestic Gross: $302,191,252
Weeks as #1 Movie in Box Office: 2
Weeks as a top 10 film: 6

Weeks on 1,000 screens or more: 8
% of Gross after four weeks: 86%
% of Gross after six weeks: 94%
% of Gross after eight weeks: 97%

May 19, 2005: Revenge of the Sith
Total Domestic Gross: $380,270,577
Weeks as #1 Movie in Box Office: 2
Weeks as a top 10 film: 8
Weeks on 1,000 screens or more: 8
% of Gross after four weeks: 89%
% of Gross after six weeks: 95%
% of Gross after eight weeks: 98%

Conclusions: The Prequel Trilogy films all averaged 2.33 weeks as the top film in the box office, spent  8.33 weeks as a top 10 film, and stayed on over 1,000 screens for at  9.33 weeks. If you focus on Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith they averaged 87.5 % of their total domestic gross in the first month in theaters, 94.5% of their gross in the first six weeks and 97.5% of their gross a the eight week mark. So two months is basically their theatrical shelf life but by the fourth week they make the vast majority of their money and by the sixth week they make just about as much as they will make total, the rest is just scraps coming in.

Top 3 Performing Live Action Films of 2012 and 2013 Box Office Stats

May 4, 2012: The Avengers
Total Domestic Gross: $623,357,910
Weeks as #1 Movie in Box Office: 3
Weeks as a top 10 film: 8
Weeks on 1,000 screens or more: 10
% of Gross after four weeks: 85%
% of Gross after six weeks: 93%
% of Gross after eight weeks: 97%

July 20, 2012: The Dark Knight Rises
Total Domestic Gross: $448,139,099
Weeks as #1 Movie in Box Office: 3
Weeks as a top 10 film: 8
Weeks on 1,000 screens or more: 9
% of Gross after four weeks: 89%
% of Gross after six weeks: 95%
% of Gross after eight weeks: 98%

March 23, 2012: The Hunger Games
Total Domestic Gross: $408,010,692
Weeks as #1 Movie in Box Office: 4
Weeks as a top 10 film: 10
Weeks on 1,000 screens or more: 11
% of Gross after four weeks: 84%
% of Gross after six weeks: 92%
% of Gross after eight weeks: 95%

Conclusions: The top grossing films of 2012 were only able to sit atop the box office charts for an average of 3.33 weeks, spent 8.66 weeks in the top ten, and stayed on over 1,000 screens for 10 weeks. These three films made 86% of their gross in the first month, 93% in the first six weeks, and by the eighth week had made 97% of their totals. The Avengers and The Hunger Games both had long legs, but The Avengers was more top heavy while The Hunger Games as a percentage did better in later weeks.

May 3, 2013: Iron Man 3
Total Domestic Gross: $408,351,942
Weeks as #1 Movie in Box Office: 2
Weeks as a top 10 film: 5, and 6 of first 7 weeks.
Weeks on 1,000 screens or more: 7 weeks
% of Gross after four weeks: 92%
% of Gross after six weeks: 97%
% of Gross after eight weeks: 99%

June 14, 2013: Man of Steel
Total Domestic Gross: $289,875,976
Weeks as #1 Movie in Box Office: 1
Weeks as a top 10 film: 5
Weeks on 1,000 screens or more: 6
% of Gross after four weeks: 95%
% of Gross after six weeks: 99%
% of Gross after eight weeks: 99%

May 24, 2013: Fast & Furious 6
Total Domestic Gross: $238,546,400
Weeks as #1 Movie in Box Office: 2
Weeks as a top 10 film: 5
Weeks on 1,000 screens or more: 5
% of Gross after four weeks: 94%
% of Gross after six weeks: 98%
% of Gross after eight weeks: 99%

Conclusions: The top grossing films of 2013 were only able to stay atop the box office for an average of 1.66 weeks, spent 5 weeks as a top 10 film, and 6 weeks on over 1,000 screens.  They made 94% of their money in the first month, 98% in the first six weeks and 99% of their money by the end of eight weeks. The interesting thing is that two films were released in May 2013, this is something that we could once again see in 2015 if The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars: Episode VII are both released in May.  Iron Man 3 barely made more money then the third top grossing film of 2012 and perhaps the addition of Fast & Furious 6 only three weeks after Iron Man 3's release cut some of the legs out of Marvel's film.  

Concluding Thoughts:

The Avengers made $215 million more than Iron Man 3, and I have a hard time seeing Disney potentially costing itself $150-200 million in lost box office revenue by putting Star Wars: Episode VII and The Avengers: Age of Ultron too close together.

I think a good rule of thumb looking at the above box office numbers is what I am going to call the 85/95 rule. A true blockbuster film will make approximately 85% of it's revenue in the first month of it's release and 95% of it's money in the first six weeks.  If you believe your film is of this category, then you need to attempt to get as much uncontested box office during that crucial first month and if you are lucky favorable genre/demographic match ups in that week four through six period to attempt to give your film legs. 

The two hundred pound guerrillas of the 2015 box office season are Warner Bros.' Superman/Batman (7/17) and Disney/Marvel Studios' The Avengers: Age of Ultron (5/1). The Avengers release makes it most implausible that Star Wars would release the same month.  The team up of DC Comics titans Superman/Batman means that the last weeks of July and the first few weeks of August are also going to be tough box office weeks for other films to premiere in.  

There are four months that would arguably fit in the announced Summer 2015 announced release window.  April, August, September and October are the months that I can see Episode VII fitting into the current theatrical release calendar. April would be earlier than would be considered part of the summer movie season and October would be later than what would be part of this movie season.  

April theatrical release dates: 3rd, 10th, 17th, and 24th.
August theatrical release dates: 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th.
September theatrical release dates: 4th, 11th, 18th, and 25th.
October theatrical release dates: 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd and 30th.

If Star Wars is released in April there are three films to think about surrounding it right now. Disney's new Cinderella film will be released March 13, the comedy Ted 2 will be released April 3rd and The Avengers: Age of Ultron will be released on May 1st. The potential hints to an April release are the timing of Celebration Anaheim April 16th-19th. If Episode VII were to be released in August, September or October, the mid-April convention date would drastically limit the content that could be presented at the convention and also would limit the promotional bounce and media attention that could be put towards driving more butts to the movie. 

If Episode VII is released on April 3rd it gives Disney three weeks for Cinderella to perform before it has intramural competition, and gives Star Wars four weeks before The Avengers comes out. Releasing on April 3rd would put it head to head with Ted 2, which is hardly a family friendly fare. 

If Star Wars is released in August then the July slate of films is something we need to keep in mind. Disney's next Pirates of the Caribbean film comes out July 10th, Superman/Batman will come out July 17th, and then there are two family films coming out at the end of the month in The Smurfs 3 on July 25th and Peregrine's Home for Peculiars on July 31st.

If you are Disney and want to release Star Wars in August, then the 14th is the date I would target. You give your own film Pirates of the Caribbean five weeks and you give Superman/Batman four weeks in the theaters.  The less appealing family films coming out at the end of July should fade after 2-3 weeks leaving a relatively open path for Star Wars to dominate the box office turnstiles. 

To my mind for promotional reasons April makes the most sense for Episode VII, but in terms of favorable box office competition August makes the most sense. I don't think we will get a traditional May release because the chances of box office cannibalization between Star Wars and The Avengers is just too great. 

1 comment:

  1. I still think you're failing to take into account the date and statement about Star Wars Celebration on the official website. And on no planet is April summer, which is what Alan Horn said at D23.

    I'm pretty confident, at this point, that we're getting a May 2015 release for both movies.

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