Box Office Special - RealD's Horror Debut

This past weekend — which established a new January record — Kevin James was the big winner. But in reality, we were all losers. Now, I could make some obvious joke at this juncture like, "Open a window, America just blarted," but why prolong our collective pain. Instead, I want to move onto the big story this weekend: "My Bloody Valentine's" Real-D premiere. As the first 3-D horror feature in two decades, there was quite the hype built up around this one. While reviews of the film have been mixed at best, most fans seem in agreement that the experience is worth the trip to the theater.

The numbers came back on Monday however, and so we have actual data by which we can measure the Real-D performance. For all the debate that has swirled, it's not clear that the extra dimension gave "My Bloody Valentine" much extra juice in terms of box office returns. In it's initial Fri-Sun run, Patrick Lussier's film scored $8,402 per screen. That's actually down a hair from the opening per screen number's that the godawful "Unborn" put up ($8,405) just a weekend earlier.

Like me, you might initially find those figures to be pretty shocking, but there's a couple of things to consider here: first, "MBV" opened on a four-day weekend, so there's a chance that some folks who would have been counted in that initial weekend tally waited till Monday. But even including Monday's totals, the per screen numbers only climb about $1k. Plus, it's possible that the Monday holiday actually boosted the Sunday night figures over what they might normally have been, so it's more or less a wash.

Secondly, while "MBV" was being promoted heavily for it's 3-D zaniness, it only opened on 1,033 digital screens with the Real-D experience. That's the largest open ever for the technology, but still accounts for less than half the total screens. So it's very conceivable that "MBV" in 3-D did solid per screen numbers — say upwards of $14-15K — but that the film's overall totals were dragged down by very mediocre 2-D screens. In fact, it's very likely that the existence of the 3-D option kept viewers away even in places where 3-D wasn't an option as potential movie goers decided to wait to see if they'd get a shot at a 3-D experience.

Thirdly, "MBV" went (thankfully) for the hard-R rating. This was a glorious thing for genre fans like us, but can be a risky decision when you consider the potentially expanded market for a PG-13 audience. Yet looking at last year's final numbers, it's actually not clear that rating has that large an effect on per screen opening numbers. Sure the number one film on a per screen basis last year was the PG-13 "Cloverfield," but the next three ("The Happening," "Saw V" and "The Strangers") were all R-rated. Maybe most interesting by comparison, is the fact that both "The Unborn" and "MBV" would have finished in the top 5 of per screen numbers last year, so while neither film has been a massive, home-run type of success, both have been pretty strong genre performers, independent of their rating.

Finally, "MBV" might actually have lost out a little at the box office because of competition. For the first time in a while, there are two horror films in most cineplexes. There were also a slew of new releases, including "Mall Cop" and "Notorious." This was a record breaking weekend, and six films did more than $10 million in revenue, so it's clear that movie goers were spreading their dollars around. In a less cluttered marketplace, "Valentine" and the Real-D experience might have been a little more successful.

All that being said, the $21 million that Lussier and company stirred up is nothing to sneer at. If anything, the early performances of "Unborn" and "MBV" signal that horror could be standing at the precipice of a big year. Of course, viewer tastes can shift quickly and without much warning, so I'm likely to look back on that statement with some embarrassment. But it's a development that will certainly be worth tracking.

Jon Schnaars

Writer/Podcast Co-Host/Business Guy

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