wants kids to dig 'Indiana Jones'
Los Angeles Times
May 22, 2008
CANNES, France -- The
thunderous roar from thousands of fans when Harrison
Ford arrived at the "Indiana Jones" premiere at the
Cannes Film Festival could be heard three blocks from
the Grand Théâtre Lumière. The test now is whether the
fourth film in Steven Spielberg's adventure series will
show the same resonance at the multiplex.
There is no doubt that “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of
the Crystal Skull” will enjoy one of the year's biggest
movie openings following its stateside release today.
Even typically cautious distributor Paramount Pictures
privately acknowledges that the film should gross as
much as $150 million domestically in its first five days
While a handful of confident box-office prognosticators
interviewed here say the initial returns could be far
greater -- as much as $180 million -- the true measure
of the film's ultimate success will not be told over the
Memorial Day weekend. And that's why Paramount is making
a huge "Indy" push aimed at kids.
Hollywood's big studios have mastered, particularly in
recent years, the art of the blockbuster opening, those
carpet-bombing marketing assaults that propel brand-name
franchises into the box-office stratosphere. The three
biggest three-day openings in movie history -- the third
films in the "Spider-Man" and "Shrek" franchises and the
second "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie -- all have
landed in the last two years.
What the studios have not come as close to perfecting,
though, is playability, a gauge of how much audiences
really enjoy a particular film. And because "Indiana
Jones" holds such robust interest among older moviegoers
(who don't typically storm theaters on opening weekend),
the fourth film's playability could become crucial.
No 'Da Vinci Code'
Critical reaction to the latest "Indy" installment,
which was shown for the first time Sunday, has been
respectful but not overwhelmingly glowing. Paramount was
relieved that the film's Cannes screening didn't come
near the catastrophic premiere of "The Da Vinci Code" at
the French festival two years ago, in which the local
audience was openly laughing at the film.
Paramount and the film's makers knew they were coming to
the French Riviera with targets on their tuxedos. "I
expect to have the whip turned on me," Ford said in a
packed Cannes news conference following the first
showing. "It's not unusual for something that is popular
to be disdained by some people, and I fully expect it
and I'm not really worried about it. I work for the
people who pay to get in. They are my customers and my
focus is on providing the best experience I can for
As the "Da Vinci Code" screening proves, though, Cannes
can be a deceptive benchmark. Despite the derision
accompanying Ron Howard's 2006 movie, "The Da Vinci
Code" was nevertheless a global blockbuster, grossing
more than $750 million worldwide.
But like many blockbusters of recent years, "The Da
Vinci Code" had a low multiple, the industry term for
the ratio of a film's total take to its opening weekend.
After premiering with $77.1 million in its first
weekend, "The Da Vinci Code" had a total domestic gross
of $217.5 million, or a relatively modest multiple of
less than 3.
Truly satisfying movies have much better multiples, or
"legs," as the assessment is also known in Hollywood.
The first "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, for example,
debuted with $46.7 million in its first five days and
ended up grossing $305 million, a multiple of more than
6.5. Movies with bad reviews and poor word of mouth have
much worse multiples. This year's "Prom Night" opened
with $20.8 million and will be lucky to top out at $45
million, a multiple of close to 2.
Please bring the tykes
"Indiana Jones' " long-term performance will not really
hinge on repeat business. Teens, not surprisingly, are
the ones with the spare time, money and brain cells to
see a movie more than once, but almost always (with the
exception of "Titanic") do so on a movie's opening
weekend. And even Paramount knows "Indy" doesn't have
the teen appeal of its "Iron Man."
Rather, the sustainability of the PG-13 rated "Indiana
Jones" depends on how many parents will come with their
kids. The last "Indiana Jones" movie arrived 19 years
ago, meaning that core fans of the original three films
now have expanding waistlines and thinning hair;
Paramount's audience surveys show adults older than 45
are one of the film's strongest demographics.
If parents hire a sitter and come without their 2.2
kids, Paramount won't come close to having a
long-playing hit. So to goose the film's awareness among
children ages 8 to 18, Paramount spent all of April
bombarding kid's television with "Indiana Jones" spots,
following its sending Ford and costar Shia LaBeouf (who
has huge youth appeal thanks to last summer's
"Transformers") to Nickelodeon's "Kids' Choice Awards."
But most school-age kids know as much about Indiana
Jones as they do about E.T.: very little. So in addition
to its ads, Paramount and its partners have flooded toy
stores with Indy diversions, including an extensive Lego
line. The perfect scenario for Paramount will be if the
ankle biters end up asking their parents to take them to
But other evidence to consider is the performance of two
recent movies aimed at kids. The PG-rated "Speed Racer"
was completely rejected by moviegoers, and last week's
debut of the PG-rated "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince
Caspian" fell short of its projected opening.
Kids, in other words, haven't been flooding the
multiplexes. And if they don't flock to "Indy," the film
could come and go as fast as the hero's whip.
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