Monday, January 09, 2006


The Curse of Titanic

Here's one sure way to sink a film. Before it opens, suggest that it will be as popular as Titanic. In 1997, Titanic became a true phenomenon of the cinema -- the #1 film of all time, taking in more than $1.2 billion dollars worldwide. It immediately set a bar many studios felt they needed to reach. But let me repeat this, Titanic was a true phenomenon of cinema. And, as with all true phenomena, you can't manufacture them. Titanic itself was in danger of sinking out at sea, when it first opened. It was passed dealdine, over budget and generating a nasty negative buzz within the industry. Then, two early reviews (one in The New York Times and one in Variety) stopped the leaking. The film opened strong, but set no records initially -- until the phenomenon began. The film's popularity grew with each passing week. People came back three and four and five times to see it. Men liked it. Women loved it. Lines formed around the block. Showtimes sold out at the beginning of the day. And soon, the film became the most popular in history. It went on to tie all-time records at the Academy Awards -- 14 nominations and 11 wins. And thus, Titanic became the brass ring. Every studio started reaching for it. But true phenomena can't be manufactured. That's what makes them so interesting. Still, whenever a studio thought it had a potential blockbuster on its hands, questions started to surface: "Would it be as big as Titanic?" But $1.2 billion worldwide (and $600 million in the U.S.) is a tough record to beat. In the spring of 1998, as Titanic was receiving its 11 Oscars, Noybuki Idei, the CEO of Sony, at a private industry dinner (which I attended), touted the belief that his studio's forthcoming big budget remake of Godzilla would top Titanic. That was followed by a proclamation from Masahiko Suzuki, publicist for Toho (the original studio for Godzilla, and distributor of the Sony version in Japan). "It's going to be the event movie of the summer," said Suzuki. "We're projecting film rentals of Y10 billion ($73 million), or about the same as...Titanic." It didn't come close to that in Japan. In the U.S., box-office topped out at $136 million and total worldwide gross reached $275 million -- a hit, but not Titanic, so it was deemed a flop! Then, last month, the rumblings stirred once more! This time, it was for Peter Jackson's big budget (over-the-top) remake of King Kong. The analysts were at it again -- ABC News: "King Kong Could Reach Titanic Heights." The Sydney Morning Herald: "Will King Kong be another Titanic?" The Drudge Report: "King Kong to Challenge All-Time Box-office Champ." Philadelphia Inquirer: "All of a sudden Titanic looks puny." With hype like that, and the gauntlet dropped, the talk was everywhere -- cable, websites, on-line forums, and blogs. The question was always the same. "Would King Kong top Titanic?" At that point, it seemed the only measure of success. Then, the movie opened strong, but not phenomenal, and everyone started to backtrack. Universal found itself trying to explain away a $50 million plus opening weekend! It all seemed absurd. Boxoffice Mojo chimed in "King Kong Mighty, But No Monster." To date, the film is approaching $200 million in the U.S and a total of $464.5 million around the globe. Which means, King Kong is on pace to top out around $600 million, worldwide. Most movies would kill for that. Still, it will only be half of what Titanic brought in. Not phenomenal? Well, everything's relative. But true phenomena can't be manufactured. So, will there ever be a big budgeted remake of King Kong vs. Godzilla? Not unless the giant lizard and the giant ape sink a luxury liner, on its maiden voyage, during their fight.

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