Cloverfield was anything but a stellar success

by Paul William Tenny

Thumbnail image for cloverfield.jpgFor all the hype, there was remarkably little known about Cloverfield other than it was a completely typical and well explored Godzilla knockoff. You could infer certain things based on who worked on the film, and in all honesty, those were not benefits so much as they were serious questions about the viability of the film as a film, rather than an open ended quagmire than neither satisfied nor really entertained -- though it may have been very intriguing.

I haven't seen it so I can't really make any judgments, but I figured what ought to be at least as enlightening is how well the film did end up doing, versus its hype. Snakes on a Plane, for instance, had three times the amount of hype that Cloverfield had, with far less going for it in terms of production talent, and bombed badly.
The expectation seemed to be that Cloverfield would be a huge success, so now with solid numbers out, I think it's fair to say that J. J. Abrams baby was neither a smashing success, nor was it an outright bomb.

The monster mash took its first weekend with $40 million against a relatively week roster of competition that, pessimistically speaking, guaranteed a win for Abrams and Paramount by default. I didn't pay much attention to the reviews as I have no real interest in well traveled territory and beyond that, Cloverfield provided absolutely nothing else that would compel me to spend money and time watching what I've already seen a dozen times before.

What is surely disappointing is what happened the following weekend, when the pic dropped from first to fourth place, and the per-theater average plummeted from $11,743 to $3,726 -- a drop of 68%. As these things go, that's pretty bad, but not fatal, especially with a cheap budget. Relatively speaking, that is.

This past weekend though was really just as bad, with another drop of about 60%, down to $1,610 per theater.

What is clear here is that a ton of people went to see Cloverfield, came home, and then told everyone they know not to bother seeing it themselves. In its third weekend of business, Abrams pic didn't even pull in $5 million dollars, just barely good enough for 9th place.

As an example of how big that drop really is, Cloverfield opened against a pic called 27 Dresses, which did half the business in that opening weekend, pulling in $23 million, good for second place. This past weekend while Cloverfield was scraping the bottom in 9th, 27 Dresses is still hanging in third, pulling $8.5 million against the monster's $4.8m.

The real saving grace here is that the pic only cost $25 million to make, with an unknown marketing budget. If some of that special effects money had been diverted to a better writer, it may have benefited the film overall. Maybe not, but either way, it hurts a lot less when you miss your goals when you were thrifty from the outset.

For what it's worth, Cloverfield has made $107 million worldwide, which after theaters take means a profit of $33 million -- hardly a blockbuster. But it did make a profit, albeit a small one, so it's hard for the studio to complain. It certainly didn't meet or exceed expectations, and it really wasn't even close.

Kind of makes you wonder if this was rolling the dice and coming up lucky, whereas Abrams rolling the dice -- while spending four times as much money in the process -- with the new Trek film is going to be taking too many risks with too little talent to fill the void.
in Film


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I saw it, and have come away with the opinion that the folks behind this did a wonderful job. It's too bad more people don't seem to agree.

While the approach was novel, I think it worked. There were admittedly a couple of all-too-convenient turns, but not to the point that I rolled my eyes and dismissed the tension I was feeling throughout.

I have heard that some viewers were "disturbed" by the film, and even demanded refunds. While I don't begrudge someone wanting to leave a theater due to motion sickness, I find it somewhat disappointing that having "a real response" to a film is something some people would rather avoid. I'm not alleging Cloverfield to be in league with Tennessee Williams - but it evoked a sense of tension I've not felt in a theater in a long time. And I welcomed it. I suspect many viewers would prefer another helping of the safely prepared buffet they usually get. That, or they got a little car sick.

I hope you see the film. I'm curious to know if seeing it will color the way you take in the facts of it's box office results.

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