Megan Fox and Michael Bay were right.
The haters did turn out for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” just like they did for “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” and so did a lot of other people. “Ninja Turtles” blew past tracking and projections with an eye-popping $65 million opening weekend, which was so impressive, that Paramount announced a sequel for 2016 before sending out final estimates Sunday.
The summer box office still may be in a major slump – it’s down roughly 15 percent from last year — but as skids go, this one feels pretty good.
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“Ninja Turtles” is the fourth No. 1 film in a row to open way ahead of expectations. And the half-shell heroes’ big debut, along with last week’s record-breaking “Guardians of the Galaxy” opening, has this month on pace to be the best ever. Two weekends in, we’re at $455 million, well ahead of the $364 million that last August was at, and that turned out to be the biggest ever with $928 million.
The turnaround started with Fox’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” It stopped the bleeding after the historically horrible July 4 weekend with a $73 million opening that was nearly $15 million ahead of projections. Next came Universal’s “Lucy,” the Luc Besson thriller starring Scarlett Johansson. It opened to $44 million, more than $10 million more than expected.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” one-upped that with its August-best $93 million launch, about $20 million more than the analysts foresaw. They missed by a similar margin with “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
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Either we need some new analysts, or Hollywood is on a heck of a run.
“It’s a good thing,” said Exhibitor Relations vice-president and senior analyst Jeff Bock. “Some of it is because as the numbers go up, it’s harder to be precise. And a little bit of it could be positioning on the part of studios, who don’t want expectations to get out of hand.
“But I think the biggest factor is the tremendous job the marketing teams behind these films have done. In each case, they’ve absolutely nailed their target demographics and fan base, then pushed them over the top as they come up on the release with TV campaigns that broadened out beyond the base.”
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“Ninja Turtles” was a case in point. The kids who knew Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello and Leonardo via the Nickelodeon animated show turned out, and some of the 20 and 30-somethings who remembered the original characters and movies from two decades ago did, too.
But 55 percent of the audience was over the age of 25 — in other words, it wasn’t just a kids movie. And Megan Colligan, Paramount’s head of domestic distribution and marketing, said that helped put the turtles over the top.
“We were able to cross over to demos that weren’t familiar with the movie,” she said, “and that made a big difference.” The critics weren’t keen on it, but the word of mouth on “Turtles” proved better than expected — adults gave it a “B” CinemaScore and kids an “A” — and it took off.
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“We had a great Saturday,” Colligan noted. It was down just 13 percent from Friday’s whopping $25.6 million, which included the early Thursday shows.
It was the second big score of the summer for Bay and Paramount, who teamed on “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” the season’s only movie to post a $100 million opening weekend, and the only one to hit $1 billion worldwide. That the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” trailer was front and center for every “Transformers” screening was no accident.
Paramount has only had three films this summer. “Hercules” missed domestically and the jury is still out on overseas, but the studio clicked in a big way with the other two.
Now the studio is working on a new deal with Platinum Dunes, the production company run by Michael Bay, Brad Fuller and Andrew Form, “Ninja Turtles” has given the content-hungry studio a new franchise and the box office is on its way to a record August.