Or will OLD usher in another down period for the filmmaker?
It’s fair to say that sequels are often referendums on the films that came before. If the last movie was a dud, the follow-up will likely see a decline at the box office. If the previous film was great, the sequel will probably do as well or even better.
There are two key metrics that signal a franchise in decline. First, we look for an about-face from the critics. It’s a big red flag when the reviews suddenly turn negative when previous films in the series were positive.
Second, we look for a low box office multiple, which is the total gross over the opening weekend. A film that debuted at $10M and made $27M in total would have a multiple of 2.7. It turns out 2.7 is close to the average multiple for all wide releases. A high multiple means there was repeat viewing and/or good word of mouth. A low multiple means everyone rushed out on opening weekend, and then the movie quickly died on the vine.
If a franchise typically pulls in good reviews and a multiple above 3.0, an entry that gets poor reviews and a 2.0 multiple can signal trouble.
This principle can often apply to directors. This has proven to be true for M. Night Shyamalan, who has had one of the more turbulent careers of the past two decades.
His career began with a trio of enormous hits that were quickly followed by four expensive misfires. Once Shyamalan returned to the smaller budgets of his earlier work, his audience returned. After a dreadful career nadir, Shyamalan made one of the more miraculous returns with a trio of box office hits.
But could it be that this current hot streak is winding down? We will find out next week when OLD hits the big screen.
THE VILLAGE, Shyamalan’s fourth studio film, proved to be an inflection point for the director. As you can see above (in yellow), the film marked the end of his early-career hot streak and signaled a downturn on the horizon (films in red). In hindsight, we can see that it had the two red flags we identified above.
After three critically praised films, THE VILLAGE received a Rotten Tomatoes score of 43. On top of that, it had a 2.3 multiple, the lowest of Shyamalan’s career to that point. This was followed by four films with low Rotten Tomatoes scores and low multiples (red bars). It’s also worth noting that the domestic box office for three of the four (LADY IN THE WATER, THE LAST AIRBENDER, and AFTER EARTH) failed to even recoup their production budgets (blue dots).
With Shyamalan’s most recent film, GLASS, we saw the same signs. After two critical hits, the reviews turned sour for the film. On top of that, the box office multiple for GLASS was 2.8, down sharply from the 3.5 multiple for his previous film SPLIT.
We won’t know if GLASS was the canary in the coal mine until this weekend when we see the box office numbers for OLD.
Here’s what we do know. OLD represents the first high-profile “original” film to hit theaters. There have been a handful of mid-level releases, including CHAOS WALKING, BOOGIE, and NOBODY, to name a few. WRATH OF MAN has been the strongest performing original of the pandemic era, opening to $8.3M in May. At the time, only 64% of theaters were open as opposed to 83% today. That alone gives OLD an advantage. All else being equal, the additional theater openings would put OLD in the range of an $11M opening.
When we compare awareness relative to release date, OLD (dark yellow) has a four-point edge over WRATH (light yellow). Awareness for OLD currently sits at 34, which is almost exactly in line with the average of all films (gray line). It’s a fine number, but it doesn’t suggest huge breakout success.
When we look at interest, the two films are fairly neck and neck with a slight advantage to WRATH (light blue). Interest in OLD (dark blue) has held steady in the 5.5 to 5.7 range for several months, though there was a slight uptick over the past week.
Let’s call it like it is. For OLD to perform in line with Shyamalan’s last film, it would have to open in the $35M-$40M range. Given that we have only 83% of theaters open and rising COVID cases that could put a damper on ticket sales, OLD has its share of headwinds to contend with. So we do need to cut OLD some slack.
Still, The Quorum numbers at this moment in time suggest that this will be a down film for Shyamalan, even when factoring in the current market conditions.