Scrutiny and blockbuster movies

We were fascinated as coverage of the opening weekend of John Carter unfolded. While blockbuster movies have always been scrutinized, the $250 million movie shows how the 24-hour, real-time news cycle are putting more pressure than ever.

When Skyfall opens, 007 may be stalked by a new foe: distinguished representatives of the world press

It’s also a preview of what Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond movie, can expect when it has its U.S. debut in November. Just to be clear, we’re not predicting the same fate for Skyfall. But when the 007 film has its opening weekend in November, the movie’s box office numbers are going to be analyzed repeatedly, with updates each day until final figures are in.

Quick background: Walt Disney Co. made a big gamble to bring John Carter, created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, to the screen. It was the live-action directing debut of Andrew Stanton, who had previously helmed the feature-length cartoons Wall-E and Finding Nemo. John Carter had U.S. and Canada ticket sales of $30.2 million (the final revised figure released on March 12).

To give you an idea how quickly a film’s financial success is judged, CLICK HERE for the coverage by the Deadline Hollywood Web site, run by Nikki Finke. It begins with a short post at 11:30 a.m. New York time on March 9 that began like this after the movie received $500,000 at midnight showings:

It looks like the moviegoing public is going to bury this 3D sci-fi actioner just as everyone thought. So don’t expect any eulogies from me.

Read all the updates, and you’ll see that was just the start. Meanwhile, on the night of March 11, the New York Times, compared John Carter to Ishtar, a notorious 1987 flop. Today, just three days after the movie opened, The Wrap Web site published an analysis of how John Carter reflects deeper problems at Disney.

Now, 007 is an established movie franchise, unlike John Carter. But it’s going to get a similar examination, in part because of its budget.

Quantum of Solace, the previous 007 film, had a reported budget of $230 million, not that much less than John Carter. Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, the principals of Eon Productions, denied in November there had been substantial budget reductions for Skyfall compared with Quantum.

Before Skyfall comes out, it’s likely some kind of consensus expectation number will emerge. Actual box office above that figure will be depicted as success, below it a setback. It’s also likely to be established whether Skyfall is the favorite to be the No. 1 movie for the weekend.

The coverage on Nov. 9-11 will also be influenced by the opening of previous Bond movies. Quantum had a U.S. and Canada opening weekend of $67.5 million in 2008. If Skyfall’s opening tally is falls short or exceeds that figure, that will be noted.

The movie may be declared a hit or flop on Nov. 9, the day Skyfall opens. There will be stories about Friday sales, not only the estimated total but whether its audience is skewing young or old. Saturday, Nov. 10, will see stories examining how sales compared with the previous day. Was there positive word of mouth? If not, why not? By early afternoon Sunday, Nov. 11, the preliminary weekend figures will be out, comprised of actual ticket sales for Friday and Saturday and an estimate for Sunday. Before the end of that Sunday, the reasons for Skyfall’s success or failure will be thoroughly hashed over before some fans even make it to the theater.

John Carter is merely an extreme example of how movies are covered on opening weekend. Skyfall will be subject to the same process, even if it doesn’t generate the same headlines. This happened with Quantum of Solace but it will likely be even more intense for Skyfall.