'Bourne' Yesterday

As With the 'Simpsons' Last Week, Forecasters Have No Clue How a Movie Will Do

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For the second Monday in a row, I listened to analysts explain on clips during the "Today" show why they were stunned at the morning's box-office tally from the weekend.

Last week, the experts were shocked (OK, maybe not shocked -- extremely surprised?) that "The Simpsons Movie" took in a little more than $70 million. They, and presumably the rest of Hollywood, thought the film would maybe rake in no more than $40 million: an old show with dismal ratings that moved past its (I suppose) edgy "Eat my shorts!" era and has become a mainstream institution just didn't seem like a typical summer blockbuster, whatever that is.

That reasoning made some sense, I suppose, for why analysts would hedge their predictions, but their arguments for why the movie did well dwelled more on the movie's marketing strategy than on the understanding that every single Gen Xer on the planet wanted to see this movie more than "Spider-Man," "Shrek" or "Pirates," all of which are not really marketed to us (though the first "Shrek" sort of was, which was why I thought it did well). I know this because most people I spoke with -- and by "spoke" I mean actually talked to, not, you know, texted or IM'd -- said they were really looking forward to seeing "The Simpsons."

So this morning's deja vu moment came with the results for "Bourne Ultimatum" and it's more than $70 million box-office whup-ass.

And I'm pretty certain it was the same experts on this morning's "Today" clip that were expressing equal parts admiration and surprise at Jason Bourne's flashy gross this weekend.

At first, you'd think these experts would have predicted more success, not less. Why? As most news reports detail, the first installment, "The Bourne Identity," opened at No. 2 with $27.1 million in June 2002, and the "The Bourne Supremacy" landed at No. 1 in July 2004 with $52.5 million. So, I dunno, I'm not good at math, but that seemes like a fairly upward graph. I'd say the movie should've taken in $77 million. I'd be wrong, but at least be in the ballpark.

But in the wonderful world of "We're just making this up," there's a rule of sequels that apparently trumps straight math, and that proposition is the third installment doesn't do nearly as well as the first two movies, which is why presumably "Bourne" was supposed to make less than it did.

This time, no one mentioned the "Bourne" marketing machine, which had been fairly ubiquitous, for its success. And, oddly enough, some have attributed the movie's strong critical praise as a reason for its success this weekend. Usually the phrase "strong critical praise" is preceeded by "despite," but suddenly critics in America have sway?

Granted, many of my friends are boxers, black belts and fans of mixed-martial arts, and "Bourne" is two hours of this for us. But do experts, analysts and trend prognosticators NOT listen to people (and I don't mean blog chatter -- I know many more people without blogs than with)? Everyone wanted to see this movie. My girlfriend wanted to see this movie. Her friends wanted to see this movie. Old guys at the bar on Saturday night wanted to see this movie. In fact, at the showing I went to Sunday afternoon on the Upper East Side there was enough plastic surgery and bad dye jobs to think this was less an AARP crowd than escapees from witness protection.

I guess $40 million or $50 million is a lot of money and had "Bourne" made that everyone would've still been happy. But I guess what has rankled me is the random guessing that passes for news. They couldn't explain why "Bourne" did well the third time around just as they were stunned the first "Pirates" did well and that "Wild Hogs" has made $164,485,571 by last week.

But I guess listening to people is unreliable. From what I'm hearing, no one is going to go see "Rush Hour 3," but I predict it'll be deja vu all over again next Monday.
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