Hulk vs. Hulk vs. The Happening

by Paul William Tenny

There were a couple of interesting discussions going on last weekend that were supposed to spill over into this one, but seemingly haven't. Is M. Night Shyamalan back? Was the new Hulk going to shake off Ang Lee's failures and give us the second summer box office hit of the year?

Since quality is subjective, I won't bother making arguments about either film. People have been making a living out of trashing Shyamalan as if they had doubted him all along and have been proven right -- even though his new flick beat expectations.

What's left? Money of course, and the numbers may surprise you.
There are three factors we need to look at to understand what "success" means in the context of feature films.

What the studio spent paying actors, the director and writer, building sets, contracting special effects, and everything else that went directly into making the movie. Rarely accurate, but good guesses can be made.

What the studio spent creating and running commercials, cutting trailers, and doing press junkets. Rarely mentioned but can run as high as $50 million for an expected block buster.

Theaters take
The press reports the films gross revenue but doesn't tell you that theaters take 45% of that number -- the formula eludes me but I've been told it works on a sliding scale and works out to a 45/55 split -- which is money that the studio will never see. If a flick hauls in $300 million, the studio only gets $165m of that.

The budget matters hugely even though it isn't well reported. If your movie makes $200 million but cost $150m to make, then you're $40m in the hole before marketing is even considered. I'm taking the time to explain this because if you want to compare the relative box office success of a movie like The Hulk (new) with that of The Happening, you'll see the futility when I tell that the latter cost more than two-and-a-half times the former. Even if The Hulk has a larger gross, it needed it.

First let's compare the first Hulk and the remake. Everybody expected and wanted the remake to open bigger and when it didn't, they all backtracked and said the second week would matter more because Ang Lee's version had a huge falloff.


*The gross is domestic and only for the first two weekends.

Having a larger budget kind of handicapped the new Hulk right out of the gate, necessitating a larger opening than Lee's film and unfortunately it just didn't deliver. The second week returns aren't going to be enough to save it either. For whatever the studio wanted and the spin that followed -- I've already heard they want a sequel -- if Hulk 1.0 was a failure, than 2.0 was worse, even if only by a little bit.

So what about The Happening? Bloggers hit all the unclever headlines about Hulk smashing Shyamalan, but the numbers may tell a different story. Happening did better than expected business over seas, actually beating Hulk 2.0 by a million. Shyalaman's saving grace though was the (these days) cheap budget of just $60 million. Happening will only need about $110 million worldwide to break even which it undoubtedly will at some point. Hulk 2.0 needs $275m worldwide to break even with another $148m to go, which won't happen anytime this decade.

Rationalize it anyway you want, hate on Shyamala as much as makes you feel secure about yourself, but for what these two films cost, The Happening found more success at the box office than dud The Incredible Hulk.

in Film


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