On the night of August 9, executives of Warner Bros. made an unexpected and enjoyable discovery: “The Meg,” their prehistoric shark movie that cost $ 150 million and took more than two decades to hit the big screen, was not going to explode.
Initial national figures for “The Meg” showed $ 4 million in tickets sold on Thursday night, pointing to an opening weekend well above the estimated $ 20-22 million for the Friday period. at Sunday. The final figure – $ 45.4 million – was double that forecast. Four weeks later, “The Meg” has already crossed $ 462 million worldwide and will likely end up in the dark.
Thursday’s strong showing for “The Meg” is proof of the impact that the first preview screenings have become over the past six years. Ever earlier screenings ahead of the traditional Friday release are generating a buzz faster and giving box office watchers a glimpse of what to expect over the opening weekend.
“What happened with the previews of ‘The Meg’ is that we were able to make it known early on that the film is a lot of fun,” said Jeff Goldstein, head of national distribution for Warner.
A similar scenario unfolded on a larger scale on February 16. As of Thursday night, Marvel’s “Black Panther” grossed $ 25.2 million, which was the first indication that the groundbreaking superhero film was going to wipe out initial forecasts estimating a between 100 and $ 120 million. The opening total reached $ 202 million. The Wakanda Forever movement took a head start as moviegoers were eager to take the lead on the hit Marvel movie.
Midnight screenings were once reserved for the biggest titles – think of the “Star Wars” level. But more recently, studios have started rescheduling previews to Thursday at 10 p.m. and then to the now standard 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., albeit in fewer theaters than the official opening Friday. The big ones from the Thursday preview are included in the Friday totals.
“The original ethic behind the midnight screenings was for these specially selected potential blockbusters, not all mainstream movies,” recalls Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore.
But now, “Thursday night previews have become the norm,” notes Lionsgate Cast Chairman David Spitz. “There is no additional charge to start on Thursday evening instead of Friday morning. Exhibitors love that the studios are doing this because it generates traffic during what would normally be a slack night.
And while Friday nights were traditionally the big opening nights, Thursdays give moviegoers another chance to secure tickets for possible sold-out titles.
“When you have a movie with strong gameplay, starting Thursday night can generate a lot of positive momentum,” he said. “You make sure people can see the movie on Thursday instead of being kicked out on Friday.”
Fox Chief Distribution Officer Chris Aronson mentions the “Deadpool” films, which grossed $ 12.7 million in previews in 2016 and $ 18.6 million this year.
“It’s not foolproof, but Thursday’s numbers give you a first glimpse of what demographics it will attract and if you’ve executed your marketing,” Aronson said.
There are several advantages to starting sessions well before midnight, but the change was precipitated by the shooting of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado in July 2012, when James Eagan Holmes opened fire at the premiere in midnight, killing 12 people and injuring 70 others. .
According to Dergarabedian, security concerns led studios to start earlier, which “reflects the sensitivity of studios and exhibitors to the ever-changing nature of society and its sometimes unpredictable impact on the market.”
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” still holds the pre-show record with $ 57 million in Thursday night screenings in 2015, followed by $ 45 million for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” in 2017, $ 43 million dollars for “Harry Potter” in 2011. and the Deathly Hallows “and $ 39 million for” Avengers: Infinity Wars “this year.
How accurate is Thursday night in terms of the weekend prediction? It is still inexact science, according to Dergarabedian.
“The number in theory is a great indicator of the potential of the first weekend’s box office,” he notes, with the caveat that it reflects die-hard and enthusiastic fans and does not take sentiment into account. constantly evolving social media.
Goldstein agrees that Thursday nights have become more important at a time when the competition for the attention of moviegoers is increasing exponentially.
“It’s FOMO – the fear of missing out – and it’s very different seeing it in theaters than staying at home,” he says. “There are so many more arrows in our quiver at a time when it is getting harder and harder to get people out.”
Focus Features Head of Distribution Lisa Bunnell says the lineup of premieres has grown significantly. “It started with event films, but it has grown into something very important culturally,” she says.
Since Friday opening days now begin Thursday evening, will opening night end up turning into opening afternoon? Probably not, as business during the school and work day would be limited. But for now, studios are finding the previews translate to a long Good Friday at the box office.