How Many Millions Will 'The Wolf of Wall Street' Make?

The Wolf of Wall Street has hit American theaters and viewers are raving. The New York Times calls it a "vital and troubling document of the present," and Rolling Stone says director Martin Scorsese "tells the truth about America," something few blockbusters are able to do. According to Time Warner's  (NYSE: TWX  ) Rotten Tomatoes, 75% of critics and 81% of audience members like it, placing the movie at the top of the heap of Christmas Day releases.

This critical success begs the question: Just how many millions will the Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio film make?

What the past tells us
The Wolf of Wall Street marks the 16th time since 1997's Titanic that DiCaprio has held a major starring role.

Film* Box Office (Millions) Budget (Millions) Dollar Per DiCaprio**
Titanic $2,186 $200 $874
The Man in the Iron Mask 183 35 n/a
The Beach 154 50 8
Gangs of New York 194 97 19
Catch Me If You Can 352 52 18
The Aviator 213 110 11
The Departed 289 90 14
Blood Diamond 171 100 9
Body of Lies 115 70 6
Revolutionary Road 75 35 4
Shutter Island 294 80 15
Inception 825 160 413***
J. Edgar 84 35 42
Django Unchained 425 100 21
The Great Gatsby 348 105 17
The Wolf of Wall Street - - -
Average $394M $88M -

Box office and budget data from Box Office Mojo. Dollar Per DiCaprio was calculated by the author. *Doesn't include Don's Plum, which was released to limited European audiences in 2001. **Calculated using raw salary data only, does not include net/gross point payments. ***Assuming a 90% pay cut, which was rumored but not officially reported.

On average, each of these movies has done well at the box office, generating $394 million in revenue, more than four times their initial budget. In terms of 'Dollar Per DiCaprio,' which measures a film studio's initial return on Leonardo DiCaprio's upfront salary, the results have been equally as profitable. Recent standouts include Inception and J. Edgar, where the actor reportedly agreed to take significant pay cuts to his upfront salary.

Clearly, Leo is one of today's most bankable movie stars. According to Forbes, Hollywood's best values typically generate $20 to $40 in revenue for every dollar of salary received, and most of DiCaprio's projects fall near this range. More importantly, though, none of the movies he's starred in since Titanic have flopped, and only The AviatorBlood Diamond, and Body of Lies have failed to make back at least twice their budget.

So what about The Wolf of Wall Street

Source: IMP Awards.

It's in an even more exclusive club. DiCaprio had already starred in four Martin Scorsese films -- Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, and Shutter Island -- before the duo's latest project. Each of these films made an average of 2.5 times its budget, so by this math, the $100 million Wolf of Wall Street should gross at least $250 million.

Like The Wolf of Wall Street, Gangs of New York and The Aviator opened the week of Christmas, and each had very successful Decembers.

What the studio thinks
Viacom's (NASDAQ: VIAB  ) Paramount Pictures, which is responsible for The Wolf of Wall Street's distribution in the U.S., thinks the movie will make $30 million in its first five days. Industry sources cited by the LA Times put this number closer to $35 million.

Historically speaking, five-day totals typically account for between 20% and 40% of domestic gross according to Box Office Mojo. If these estimates hold, then, The Wolf of Wall Street would theoretically make anywhere from $90 million to $175 million in the U.S. alone. Add on another $140 million in foreign sales, which is the Scorsese-DiCaprio overseas average, and The Wolf of Wall Street looks set to make between $230 million and $315 million.

What 'big data' projects
A few 'big data' companies make forecasts, including BoxOffice.com. The site predicts The Wolf of Wall Street will make just under $24 million in its opening weekend; this works out to a five-day total slightly larger than Paramount's estimate. It also notes that the film has a 7:1 positive-to-negative tweet ratio on Twitter (NYSE: TWTR  ) , larger than Anchorman 2The Hobbit, and American Hustle

Some other non-traditional measures of box office buzz include Fanticipation from Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) and NBCUniversal's Fandango, and the Cantor Fitzgerald subsidiary Hollywood Stock Exchange, or HSX. Earlier this week, Fanticipation released data showing The Wolf of Wall Street was the most buzzed-about film of Christmas. On an equally positive note, the HSX classified it as its top-priced 'movie stock' of those opening this week. 

While none of these metrics specify how much money The Wolf of Wall Street might make on a global scale, each demonstrates the high level of buzz surrounding it this holiday season.

What the future holds
This paints a pretty picture of where Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio's latest film is headed. Industry and studio estimates line up quite nicely with the $250 million, I can reasonably say the The Wolf of Wall Street should make that much when it's all said and done.

Going forward, there are a few dates you can watch to see if this prediction remains on track. First, pay attention to the five-day gross that will be calculated at the beginning of next week. If the movie can surpass the $35 million mark for this period, there's upside to my estimate.

Second, I'd also recommend paying attention to The Wolf of Wall Street's international debut, which is slated to hit most of Europe by the middle of next month and Japan by Jan. 31. Comcast and NBCUniversal's Universal Pictures is handling most overseas releases. Foreign sales greater than the $140 million figure Scorsese-DiCaprio have averaged would be a promising development.

Most experts think DiCaprio and the film will also be nominated for several Oscars a few weeks from now, which would only add to the take. But regardless of which awards are won, the money looks set to flow in by the millions.

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