How ‘Venom’ & ‘A Star Is Born’ Woke October Up With A Record $175M+ Weekend

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by Anthony D’Alessandro

SUNDAY AM FINAL after Saturday 11:44 PM update: Sony is calling the weekend on Venom at an $80M opening after a strong Saturday of $26.6M, -19% from Friday, a percent ease that’s in the Friday-to-Saturday sphere of Guardians of the Galaxy (-18%), and a tad steeper than Justice League (-15%). Sony is projecting a $20.7M Sunday.

At this level, Venom reps Sony’s seventh-best domestic opening of all-time, behind Spider-Man 3 ($151.1M), Spider-Man: Homecoming ($117M), Spider-Man ($114.8M), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ($91.6M), Skyfall ($88.3M), and Spider-Man 2 ($88.1M).

 

That speaks volumes about why Venom is so high-up on the studio’s domestic B.O. opener list: In Marvel comic book canon and even in Spider-Man 3, the black-clad, fanged anti-hero is a spinoff of Spider-Man. In the wake of Sony teaming with Disney’s Marvel on Homecoming, the Culver City studio is careful to distinguish its own Marvel properties. They don’t consider Venom a Spider-Man spinoff or Spider-Man related. But seriously, let’s call Venom‘s success for what it is: Moviegoers aren’t flocking to this pic because it’s original IP. It’s because they’re connecting it to Spider-Man (even though he’s never mentioned or alluded to in the movie). A Fandango survey of 1,000 moviegoers indicated prior to the weekend that 93% were looking forward to seeing a different kind of Marvel anti-hero, while 90% couldn’t wait for a future Venom/Spider-Man match-up (even though the former property isn’t part of Disney’s MCU) while 80% were going because they were Tom Hardy fans. The film also has an anti-establishment sensibility, which is an attribute in the current political environment, and some in the industry believe fans took to that.

Sony was hoping that Venom would launch a greater cinematic universe of characters seen in the Spider-Man verse, and well, mission accomplished this weekend with this very solid start. In the wings is a Morbius movie, with Daniel Espinosa directing and Jared Leto as the title vampire and Spider-Man villain, as well as projects centering around Kraven the Hunter, Silk, Jackpot, Nightwatch, Black Cat and Silver (the latter two now poised to get their own separate films versus the originally planned teaming).

Imax pulled in $8.4M stateside from 408 screens, making Venom the large-format exhibitor’s second-highest grossing opening ever for October. Says Imax Entertainment CEO Greg Foster, “What a weekend for the business! The expansion of the marketplace was incredible and shows we can continue to thrive when the titles are right. Venom served the core Marvel and Imax fans, and Star Is Born played to the romantic, dreamers, and cinefiles.”

Venom dropped a teaser on YouTube back in February which clocked 19M views, even though it didn’t show the monstrous protagonist. He was later added in subsequent trailers, starting at CinemaCon back in March, with a social media universe that exploded to close to 755M across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube views, with a high viral trailer rate of 36 to 1. Eminem, who performs the title song, has shared plenty of Venom materials to his 132M fans, making him the pic’s social media star ahead of Hardy’s 3.3M followers. A San Diego Comic-Con splash marked Hardy’s first time in Hall H back in July.

Other marketing highlights included a fan immersion where Spotify subscribers found themselves caught between the voices of Hardy’s Eddie Brock and Venom through an immersive 3D audio spot. Fans were able to become Venom via augmented reality through socially shareable Facebook and Snapchat lenses; on Snapchat they were able to toggle between Eminem’s “Venom” track and a custom Venom voice modulator.

 

 

On TV, Sony sponsored Draft Kings’ largest free to play contest during NFL’s opening weekend, as well as a spot during the Sept. 6 opening night game between the Eagles and Falcons. Sony created a comedic ESPN vignette in which former NFL athletes Charles Woodson and Randy Moss focus- grouped new mascots with hardcore Raiders Fans, resulting in Venom becoming the fiercest choice, as he ferociously devours the room. There was also a sponsorship on the PPV boxing event Canelo vs. GGG on Sept. 15. Adult Swim ran funny, irreverent spots parodying modern home device commercials by pitching the “first-ever symbiote-infected” device that comically disrupt people’s lives. Discovery Channel produced a series of content pieces featuring the cast from ‘Shifting Gears’ speaking with Jack Gill (the action-designer on the film) about the stunts and action from the movie. On Twitter, there was the Venom Fortnite Challenge, where fans were given the opportunity to team up with their favorite gaming influencers in a live streaming Fortnite tournament.

Top over-indexing markets for Venom included Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Toronto and Phoenix, as well as areas where there was a heavy armed forces presence. Hardy visited two USO bases and one additional one in San Antonio (non USO) where he screened the film.

 

Venom and Warner Bros. A Star Is Born –which had a $15M Saturday, -4% from Friday for a revised FSS of $41.2M, with previews $42.6M–accounted for the best pre-sales October weekend record ever for Fandango. While Venom had the most advance ticket sales, A Star Is Born was close behind, with both besting the previous record set by 20th Century Fox’s The Martian. Again, both movies are propelling October to its best weekend ever, with north of $175.4M in ticket sales, per ComScore this morning.

“It comes down to content, smart marketing, finding the right date, and having an extraordinary movie,” says Warners domestic distribution boss Jeff Goldenstein about the powerhouse weekend, adding, “This is a movie that we’re so proud of. Bradley Cooper did a great job directing and acting, and with Lady Gaga, told an incredible story.” While older women were always set on attending and then did, with PostTrak showing at 47% females over 25, it was important to get the under-25 bunch in the door, and that’s where those word-of-mouth premiums and Dolby previews came in Wednesday and Thursday night. The studio also targeted Gaga’s Little Monster fans. While the under-25 bunch gave A Star Is Born an A+ on CinemaScore, PostTrak reflected a similar opinion, as they gave the pic a 91% overall positive.

 

Initially, A Star Is Born had a release date of Sept. 28. Then it was moved to May 18 (there was some pondering as to whether the pic should premiere at Cannes ala Warner’s The Great Gatsby). But rather than rush the movie out, the studio gave Cooper more time to hone the feature for an awards season launch.

The key in selling A Star Is Born to older audiences was establishing that Cooper could direct and sing, and Gaga could act. There was a deep commitment to sell the pic on its intimacy, authenticity, and emotional truth, and to not over-market it.

There were various trailers that Warner Bros. considered, and settled on one that begins with Cooper singing “Maybe It’s Time,” and Gaga’s vocal soaring at the end in “Shallow” after telling Cooper’s Jack that she doesn’t sing her own songs because of her looks. It’s a story of wish fulfillment, particularly for anyone who has ever had the feeling that they can’t do something and then overcomes it. The trailer was finished for six months, but Warner wanted to drop it at just the right time to create a proper word-of-mouth resonance, so they chose June. By August, the festival strategy for the pic’s launch at Venice and TIFF began, and in between that time, the studio dropped four clips/teasers, which leaned into other elements about the film, such as the male relationships. The clips drop at this time was to capitalize on the hot word-of-mouth coming out of Venice, the advertising strategy dovetailing the word of mouth strategy for subtle campaign.

Live Nation funded under a third of A Star Is Born‘s $40M production cost. Interscope Records was a huge partner for Warners, the two previously collaborating on The Great Gatsby, and the record company dropped the soundtrack on opening day instead of ahead the film. The reason being is because the songs are part of the film’s narrative and they take on a greater meaning after you see the pic. The A Star Is Born soundtrack is a huge hit on iTunes, not just as a top-selling album, but its tracks have notched the no. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 9 top single spots. Says RelishMix about Warners’ strategy with the pic’s music, “Cooper and Gaga’s chemistry was something special from the start, and it’s paying dividends in clips. Warner Bros. campaign has been very strategic in sharing these clips on its official YouTube Channel and Gaga’s own channel which has over 10M subscribers.” The “Shallow” video of Gaga and Cooper singing that was released on YouTube has drawn a huge 18M views. Overall, social media universe is over 300M for the pic, per RelishMix, with Lady Gaga’s social media of 155M followers making up more than half of that.

Both Venom and A Star Is Born were fully CAA-packaged movies, both put together in-house at the agency. On Venom, they repped character co-creator Todd McFarlane, director Ruben Fleischer (who sees his highest opening of all-time at the B.O. surpassing Zombieland‘s $24.7M), star Tom Hardy and actors Riz Ahmed and Woody Harrelson. On A Star Is Born, director/star/producer Bradley Cooper is a CAA client, along with co-scribe Eric Roth, producer Todd Phillips, as well as Lady Gaga and actors Anthony Ramos and Alec Baldwin.

For Warners, the Bradley Cooper-Lady Gaga music romance is their second-biggest October opener after Gravity ($55.7M). Warners is savoring third place as well with their animated Smallfoot, which is set to do $14.9M (-35%) in weekend two after a $6.3M Saturday (+81% over Friday) and a running total by EOD tomorrow of $42.7M.

Universal has slots 4 & 5 with Night School and its weekend 2 of $12.2M (-55%) and a 10-day of $46.7M, as well as the Amblin title they’re distributing, The House With a Clock In Its Walls which is seeing a current third weekend of $7.2M, -42% and a running total by end of Sunday of $55M.

Fox 2000’s The Hate U Give was +10% today with $193K on its way to a $500K opening and a $13,8K.

 

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