Weekend Box Office Update

Ponyo's numbers for the weekend came in late afternoon yesterday, courtesy of Box Office Mojo, and its performance continues to be solid across the board.  At its current pace, it now appears likely that Spirited Away's $10 record will be broken.  That's my hope, at least.

Here are the weekend numbers:

Friday 8/21
Daily: $706,651
Per-Screen: $762
Total: $6.417,522

Saturday 8/22
Daily: $994,779
Per-Screen: $1,073
Total: $7,412,301

Sunday 8/23
Daily: $714,214
Per-Screen: $781
Total: $8,136,515
The drop in attendance has been very good, not nearly as steep as I had feared.  The weekend numbers compared to Week 1 show a drop of 39.8%, 24.6%, and 33.6% respectively.  I was expecting a 50% drop, however grounded those expectations are.

So now that we've made it through a couple weekends, we can take the good with the bad.  I still feel Ponyo's performance has been a disappointment.  Given the attention and the hype paid by Disney, given the praises from critics, despite the news buzz from having Hayao Miyazaki personally appear in the US, barely squeaking out $10 million cannot be seen as a success. 

Many questions are raised that will have to be addressed.  Is Studio Ghibli still ahead of its time in America?  Is widespread success even possible?  Are audiences too prejudiced and afraid of foreign movies?  How deep does this nation's xenophobic streak run?  Does the economy play a factor?  Does the home market play a factor?  Should Disney have pushed harder?  Was there a fan backlash over Disney's remixing of the Ponyo theme?  How strongly did the anime fan community support Ponyo, or do they consider Miyazaki "too mainstream" to touch?  Can animation ever truly be respected in this country?  Is it possible for hand-drawn animation to succeed without strictly following the Disney fairy tale formula?  Miyazaki's name is well-known, but is that support shallow?  Are the stupids too fearful of anything that's different, anything they haven't been programmed to accept?  Is America doomed to a future of nothing but movies packed with explosions and lightning fast cuts?  Is Michael Bay the one who's really right all along?

I have nothing but questions.  But that's me.

Feel free to take away the positives from Ponyo's performance.  It is on track to surpass Spirited Away's record at the box office.  The foreign animated movies that top the box office records are all cynical toy commercials - Pokemon, Digimon.  Miyazaki's movies are the most successful outside that commercial cash scheme.  And it should be noted that foreign films barely perform at all in the United States.  $10 million for a foreign movie, even one that has been given a Hollywood-dubbed soundtrack, is a great victory.  The most successful foreign films have all been martial arts action movies - Crouching Tiger, Jet Li, Jackie Chan.

There's going to be a lot to debate over this issue.  And these questions are not going to be resolved anytime soon.  Might as well just head down to the theater and catch Ponyo one more time, while you still can.  You never know when (or if) the next Studio Ghibli movie will play in your town.


Unknown said...

I think that this lack of dropoff in audiences is actually a great success! Unfortunately, Ponyo was going to hurt its opening weekend with the word of mouth on District 9 whose core audience overlaps the more anime fan audience that would have given Ponyo's numbers a boost (the people who saw Mononoke in theaters way back when).

I fear that the expectations for any movie that is not super mainstream this summer have to be lowered. The economy without a doubt is a huge factor. Superior home theater setups have already been hitting box office numbers (ticket sales, not gross) for years now, and with people hurting, going to the theater is a luxury.

My wife and I usually go to a smaller brand theater that is local in town (Marquee Cinemas), they have less screens, but they are very budget priced, plus two years ago they upgraded all of their projectors to digital and also put in new seats. It's like a brand new theater and the matinee price is $6.50 for adults! Unfortunately with Ponyo being a more limited release, these smaller chains were skipped over for your AMCs and Regals.

When my wife and I went to go see Ponyo at the local Regal, their prices had risen $1.25 since December! $8 for matinee and $10 for adult evening!! Then we got the smallest soda imaginable for $4.50 (A jumbo large at marquee costs $3.75). The film was wonderful, but to be absolutely honest, we slipped into another film after seeing Ponyo because we felt so ripped off, it's the first time I've done that since college!

The relevant story here, is that it's a huge expense for a couple, imagine families (Ponyo's desired audience). Now it's a huge cost to take two or more kids to the movies today, especially since kids generally won't be willing to skip the popcorn and candy. Even the most well meaning Miyazaki fan parent is going to second guess it. While Mom and Dad may know full well that this will be a more fulfilling film for both them AND their children, it's a hard sell to tell your kids that you're going to see that Ponyo film which has had only a few recent TV spots against something like GI Joe or Shorts which they are now obsessed with! Also, parents with Ghibli experience may be nervous at how their kids will act given the films quieter pace, not that the kids won't enjoy it, just that they'll be more vocal during the quieter scenes (better saved for home viewing). If it was more affordable, you could validate having one movie experience be more difficult because it's a better movie, but obviously the easier choice for an already stressed parent is to just take their kids to what they're programmed to want to see so that you can relax for an hour and a half.

That said, the modestly filled theater was full of young girls and they were laughing left and right. In fact they were laughing at gags that I didn't even think were gags, but they were enjoying it and definitely not making fun. Many repeated Ponyo's lines immediately, and I was really pleased to be surrounded by the film's true audience enjoying it just as it is! Hopefully Disney also regards this as a success, and maybe goes through a big push when it comes to Blu-ray in the Winter (a more permanent investment which people still regard as worth the buck). I feel that with enough advertising, the DVD sales could thrust this into a great modest success for the company.

Unknown said...

An addendum to my comment, I've now looked at the full numbers with an average per screen. Those are the numbers to look at. When you looks at the $2,617 Ponyo made per screen over the $2,065 that new release (and sole family film competitor) Shorts made, I'd call that reason for celebration! In fact, this week it ranked 6th per screen and last week it ranked 5th per screen. That's pretty damned good, when you consider that three films started this week!

James said...

Who knows? Crouching Tiger did mainstream but similar martial art movies like "Hero", "Fearless", "Legend of the Drunken Master", were still only fanboy hits.

We'll see if 2-D is really dead when Princess and the Frog comes out.

I still think the average Joe doesn't recognize the name Hayao Miyazaki or his movies.

Molasses said...

I still believe the problem began with the trailer. My rant..

First, the trailer starts with pimping up Miyazaki as some king of film that you don't know about but should. Anti-intellectual America would be immediately turned off by that.

Second, all other trailers nowadays for big releases practically tell you the entire story. What story do they tell in the US Ponyo trailer? Miyazaki is the greatest, the world's is out of balance and has been waiting for Ponyo to save it? What? That skips over the entire beginning and doesn't plant the seed that this is based of the little mermaid and therefore the story starts on familiar ground.

Third, by overplaying the big action sequence rather than the characters, the kid voice actors are completely lost. Instead of kids talking about how "Noah Cyrus is a goldfish who wants to be a girl and Frankie Jonas is a boy that helps her" it's there's "this weird guy who makes a girl who's going to save the world and there's a big storm and she does i guess. Oh and I think I saw Noah Cyrus is in it."

Horrible trailer.


Hey Daniel, have you read these yet?


rubi-kun said...

The biggest factor I think was missing opportunities with the trailers. I imagine Ponyo would have made double the amount of money it did had the trailers been shown in front of Up and Harry Potter rather than My Sister's Keeper and Aliens in the Attic. TV spots alone generally aren't good at selling movies, and if the trailers are in front of movies nobody's going to see, who's going to see them outside of people online who already were interested?

Another factor that hasn't been talked about much is that the producers of the dub, Frank Marshall and Katherine Kennedy, are also producing The Last Airbender, a movie which has many people in the anime fandom enraged by the racist casting (check out for more info). This may have made some people ambivalent of seeing it in the theater.

A potential positive message of this whole ordeal: between Ponyo disappointing and the Jonas Brothers 3D concert movie and Bandslam completely bombing, it would seem you cannot sell a movie purely on Disney stars.

Just8 said...

In the Netherlands, Ponyo opened on the 23rd of July, in about 25 theaters in a dubbed version (dubbed in Dutch) and in about 5 theaters in the Japanese version with Dutch subtitles.
Now, 5 weeks later, it's being shown in 7 theaters in Dutch, and also in 7 theaters in Japanese.
It could be that the movie has disappeared from the larger venues, and that the smaller theaters favor the original version, but I somehow like the fact that the number of venues where the original version is showed has increased.
And for the record: I don't know if the Dutch dub is any good; I went to see the version with subtitles (twice).

Dave said...

" Are the stupids too fearful of anything that's different, anything they haven't been programmed to accept?"

Oh, my gosh ...

Please calm down.

Do you think we're going to win friends and influence people to watch these wonderful films with arrogant attitude like labeling people who don't (yet) like what we like "the stupids" ?

This is not helpful at all. Do you understand that to most people this stuff we obsess over just isn't that important ? They're not being stupid or racist or close-minded . They just don't know about it and they don't really care. (and fan-boy 'tude like this doesn't give them a reason to care; it's a turn-off.) They're not bad people because they don't geek out over this stuff the same way we do.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@dave: You are correct, of course. I am, as I often say, an aspiring optimist. That is my fearful side speaking out, and I've got deeper questions on my mind. You're right and I don't mean to think that way about anyone.

You're right. We must be hopeful. I've always believed that art could unite us, bring us together, wake us out of our sleepwalking routines and become alive and free. The arts should bring us together, bring out the good in us, improve our lives.

I shouldn't even be concerned about numbers or popularity contests. If welcoming others to new ideas and new stories has to be done one at a time, that's good. It means we're making progress. We're still moving forward and growing together.

There's so much about this world that horrifies me and leaves me in doubt. I am doing my best to let the negative vibes go.

Hmm...I hope everyone will forgive me for this long comment.

Unknown said...

Here's a question I have... how much money does this need to make for someone to release the soundtrack? I thought for sure with the two budding stars having their own Ponyo remix, that a record was inevitable. Here I am two weeks after the film has been released, and there's not even a download only release on iTunes! This is Howl's Moving Castle all over again! Joe Hisaishi's scores have been slowly trickling onto online venues so that we don't have to shell out huge import costs for the music. I think that Ponyo might be the best score of the last few years, with its gentle but playful melody and the majestic Wagnerian references! It's gorgeous and is driving me nuts not to own it!

Dave said...

I understand , Daniel , and honestly I've made the same kind of remarks about people who just don't seem to see or appreciate the beauty that I see in works like Miyazaki's films ... but I've come to realize that incrementalism (drip, drip, drip , slow and steady) is what will win the day , not insulting people who don't see it my way (yet). Since I'm prone to doing that I guess I'm sensitive to it when I see it in others.

Persuasion is difficult. I am still learning the art of persuasion and being patient.

But I know your frustration and I often feel the same.

I had a conversation about Miyazaki's films recently with a cultured, educated university professor who had simply never heard of Miyazaki and couldn't seem to imagine what any thinking person could see or take seriously in a "cartoon" . The guy was not "stupid" . But you have a point : he has been conditioned to accept certain things as serious or legitimate films and animation is not one of them.
But he can hopefully learn.

Keep fighting the good fight . You're doing a great thing with this blog.

Sean L. said...

@Kevan: About the soundtrack...
I'm also a big fan of Joe Hisaishi, and his Ponyo score is one of my favorite works of music ever. It is truly stunning. I hope it gets submitted to the Academy Awards. I've been wondering like you why there isn't a domestic release of the soundtrack. Who knows? Maybe we should try to contact the folks at Disney and urge them to release it.

Well anyway, I bought the soundtrack CD at a Japanese bookstore here in New York for about $40. That's quite expensive for a CD obviously, but it was worth it anyways. However, I still felt stupid afterwards because I found that you can buy it on Ebay for WAY cheaper. So that's my strong recommendation to you when looking for any Hisaishi soundtrack if you don't have a local Japanese store. Go to, search for "Ponyo" under the "music" category, and I promise you'll find a price to your liking. Right now I'm seeing some there for as low as about $9 or $15.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@sean l: Thanks for the advice about soundtrack CDs. I wanted to share it with everyone, so your comment is now a post at the top of the page.

Weigy said...

Ah, I've came back and haven't checked out all these new posts you have up. This one in particular caught my attention first.

My good friends and I have stopped puzzling about why or how this wouldn't do all that well in America. It's also maddening sometimes when people ask you why do you like it when you know full well, no amount of explanation will divulge or make the movie any more "acceptable" for them.

There's an insane amount of layering in Ponyo and each layer digs further into a maze a handful would enjoy traveling in. The sightseeing, the nostalgic recollection of a magical time in each individual's unique memory but encompassing emotional experience is particularly impossible to "teach". Either you like it or you don't.

The rest wants a trip straight through from the mouth into the bowel and the flush.

I'm not a fan of Pixar but I'm a fan of Lasseter for having such dedication to bring Miyazaki's works here. Compromised in certain sense but I'm still glad I could have seen it on the big screen. Will rant more next time but cheer up! It played here.

Don't let the lack of appreciation over his recent masterpiece bring you down!

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