A few Skyfall numbers studio bosses will watch

The countdown for Skyfall’s release this fall has begun. For example, the official 007 Twitter feed says the movie is now 22 weeks away so it has a contest where the “best Tweet” today, May 27, receives 22 James Bond movie posters “signed by producers.” On the other hand, we’re wondering about some numbers that studio bosses at Sony’s Columbia Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer will be watching:

$600 million: Minimum figure for Skyfall’s worldwide ticket sales to be considered successful.

The highest worldwide gross to date was Casino Royale’s $596.4 million in 2006. In the U.S., the average ticket price was for a movie was $6.55 that year, according to to the National Association of Theatre Owners. That rose to $7.93 last year, according to the trade group.

So, ticket prices will be higher for Skyfall and the movie will be available at higher-priced Imax theaters, a first for a 007 film. As a result, if Skyfall ticket sales total under $600 million, executives (regardless of what they say in public) will probably be disappointed.

$70 million: Minimum figure for Skyfall’s opening weekend in the U.S. to be seen as a success. The biggest U.S. opening weekend for the Bond series was $67.5 million for 2008’s Quantum of Solace, when the average ticket price was $7.18 each.

Now, some will argue that the U.S. isn’t that important to the Bond franchise, that most of its sales are interantional, etc. That’s true. But U.S. numbers are important to the perception of how well a movie is scoring with audiences.

Example: Battleship had sold $230 million in tickets outside the U.S.. However, because it only had a $23.5 million opening weekend in the U.S., the Deadline entertainment Web site, said it had “John Carter-low grosses for high cost (which is why the star of both pics, Taylor Kitsch, will be asking “You want fries with that?” very shortly).”

50 percent: Studios expect, at least in the U.S., a movie’s ticket sales to decline 50 percent during a film’s second weekend. If the figure comes in at 50 percent or lower, execs are happy. Quantum of Solace dropped 60 percent its second weekend in U.S. theaters, yielding the No. 1 spot to the first Twilight vampire movie. Skyfall, in its second weekend in the U.S., will be up against The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II.

The statistic Sony and MGM will be looking at is whether Skyfall’s dropoff stays around 50 percent or if it’s worse, the way Quantum’s was.

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.