In this era of streaming video, high-definition TVs, and infinite distractions, it's getting harder and harder for movie studios to lure us out of the house and into a cineplex with anything other than the Hollywood "tentpole" films -- or so the prevailing narrative goes. Yet if you look at the numbers this year, second-tier movie releases are doing better than expected -- sometimes much better.
Case in point, the latest reimagining of The Grinch crushed expectations to take the No. 1 spot at the box office this weekend, and in this segment from MarketFoolery, host Chris Hill and Motley Fool Asset Management's Bill Barker discuss the particulars, as well as how studios are positioning their movies these days. They also consider which one of them is the bigger fan of The Grinch -- the answer may surprise you.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Nov. 12, 2018.
Chris Hill: One more news item from the weekend. It goes in the plus column for shareholders of Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), because Comcast is the parent company of Universal Studios. The box office winner of the weekend, inexplicably, was the animated movie Dr. Seuss's The Grinch. Took in north of $65 million domestically, and probably bodes well for the coming weeks, simply because we've got Thanksgiving coming up. That's typically a time for family movies and families looking to take their kids to the movies, that sort of thing.
Our guest on Motley Fool Money this coming weekend is going to be Nell Minow. One of the things I want to talk to her about is the box office this year. I saw story this morning that, it's turned out to be a better year than expected. It didn't specifically call out The Grinch, but it gave examples of movies that, The Grinch falls into the same category, which are essentially, there are expectations for not the tentpole movies, but one level below that. And those movies, particularly over the last four months, have ended up doing somewhere from slightly to significantly better than expected. I think The Grinch probably fell into that category. Going into this weekend, it's like, "It'll probably do pretty well." And this is better than people were thinking.
Bill Barker: You're sort of an expert on movies. My question for you, and your expertise, is whether you would have opened this movie this early. It feels early to me to go Grinch.
Hill: I think it does. But typically, studios are positioning their movies as early as they can. In some cases, if you haven't decided on a release date, then you have to factor in what other studios have done. Disney has a Nutcracker movie coming out, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
Barker: I have breaking news because my computer is on. In fact, I have been cancelled for tomorrow.
Hill: [laughs] Really?!
Barker: In light of the market today. There'll be another rescheduling.
Barker: Told you.
Hill: That's amazing.
Barker: And yet, that's something that I could be considered kind of an expert on. The market is down. What's going on? I can do that. We could do that show right now.
Hill: We're not going to. We've gone long enough. For anyone who listens to the show and has ever wondered, "How much editing do you guys do?" There you go. There's your answer. We're not editing any of this.
My hunch is that Disney came out with their release date for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. And Universal came out and said, "We can't open a family holiday movie the same weekend that Disney is. We have to go another weekend." And in their case, it's probably smarter to go earlier. I agree with you. It's a little early. It's probably a week earlier than they were intending to do it. But you can't look at the results over the weekend and say, "They really blew it."
Barker: And you're confused as to the success of this so far? You're surprised?
Hill: I shouldn't be.
Barker: You're not as big on The Grinch as you are on Rudolph and some other Christmas products. But a lot of us think that The Grinch is really what Christmas is all about.
Hill: I'm a huge fan of the original Grinch. I'm a massive fan of the original.
Barker: Not as big as my family.
Hill: I haven't named a pet after Max.
Barker: Nor do you own an original cell from the animation.
Barker: My dad does.
Hill: [laughs] Oh. So, when you said "family," you weren't referring to you and your wife and your children. You were referring to your extended family.
Barker: I don't think of my dad as my extended family. [laughs]
Hill: To get back to The Grinch, huge fan of the original book and the original Boris Karloff-narrated animated TV special. The Jim Carrey live action remake, I am happy to say I have not spent one second watching.
Barker: Yeah, haven't seen that.
Hill: And I will not watch this one. But I'm not the target audience.
Barker: My original TMF was named after the Grinch's dog, as well. TMFMax.
Hill: What's your TMF name now?
Barker: I guess it still is.
Hill: Oh, OK.
Barker: We don't really use that once we're in MFAM Funds.
Hill: Are you going to go see this movie? Huge Grinch fan that you are?
Barker: It's a good question. I'm a Benedict Cumberbatch fan, so it's possible. It'll depend on what the kids do with it. They haven't mentioned wanting to see it yet.
Hill: Don't you think that doing voiceover work is probably hands-down the sweetest gig in all of Hollywood?
Barker: I would think. it seems to be good money and not the hardest work.
Hill: And not the most time-consuming work.
Barker: This is something you could get on. Your voice is known by dozens.
Hill: Not that Benedict Cumberbatch is hurting for work. He's fine.
Barker: He's fine. No, they had to pay up for him. But I think it's a good choice.
Barker: Have you ever seen his work?
Hill: Yeah, I've seen his work. Why do you think he's a good choice for The Grinch?
Barker: He's got a little bit of malevolence going on there.
Hill: I mean, he's British, he probably has a lot of malevolence. I'm kidding, come on.
Barker: An unnecessary attack on our friends across the pond.
Hill: I'm kidding.
Barker: Just going in with the times, huh? Why not take a swipe at them? [laughs]
Hill: [laughs] I forget, was it Jaguar that had that fantastic Super Bowl commercial with Mark Strong, Tom Hiddleston, better-known as Loki in the Marvel Universe, and other British actors, basically talking about playing villains. I'm going to find the ad and post it on the Market Foolery Twitter account. Do you know the ad I'm talking about? It's a fantastic ad. It looks great, it sounds great, and they're winking at, "Yeah, we're British, and we play villains, and it's fun." It probably is.
Barker: I would think so.