The summer of three-quels concludes with the release of Rush Hour 3, which opened to $50 million from 3,778 theatres for a $13k average. These are perfectly acceptable numbers, putting it squarely between the $33 million opening of the first entry and the $67 million opening of the second.
And yet, if you ask me, Rush Hour 3 could be the poster child for Hollywood excess, bad business, and totally reinforces my idea that what the movies really need is a salary cap.I realize this concept is pretty far out there, and yet I think it might be the only way to save Hollywood from itself. Let me start off by putting Rush Hour 3 into some perspective. New Line execs had been trying for years to put this movie together, because Rush Hour 2 was incredibly successful, grossing $226 million domestically and $347 million worldwide, on a budget of $90 million. Now that’s triple the budget of the first Rush Hour, with a lot of that money going to stars Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan. Chan’s salary went from $5 million to $15 million, and Tucker’s went from $3 million to $20 million (he had a good agent).
Part of what took so long in assembling the latest entry was putting the deals together for Tucker, Chan, and director Brett Ratner. They knew they were coming off the second most profitable buddy comedy in history (behind only Men In Black), and were in a position to demand big raises. Tucker in particular seems to have little interest in acting, and was perfectly willing to wait seven years to get the kind of numbers he wanted.
On a brief side note, I can’t help but respect Tucker’s position. Here is a guy who collected his first $20 million paycheck and realized, “I never have to work again!” He is unabashedly, unashamedly in it for the money. He hit the Super Lotto Jackpot with Rush Hour 2 and feels no desire to stay in the spotlight, make more money than he could spend in a lifetime, and live the life of a Hollywood superstar. Rather, he took the money and ran. That’s a little sad, because I really enjoy Chris Tucker when he does make an appearance (Friday is a quotable favorite among my friends, and his Beaumont in Jackie Brown and Skip in Dead Presidents are surprisingly fleshed out performances; if I had a wish, it would be to see Tucker and Sam Jackson in another Tarantino pic), but at the same time I think, more power to him. I wish he was in the game for the art, but I at least respect that he’s in it for the money and not the adulation and headlines.
Anyway, back to Rush Hour 3. The point is that Tucker, Chan, and Ratner were all three in a position to hold out as long as necessary, and wound up collecting the following paychecks: $25 million and 20% of the gross for Tucker; $15 million and 15% of the gross for Chan, and $7.5 million (and presumably back end points as well, although they’re not reported) for Ratner. That’s $47.5 million and at least 35% of the gross in the hole before a single frame has been shot. If those are what’s called ‘first dollar’ gross points (meaning they get a percentage before the film has recouped anything), that means that, out of the perfectly acceptable $50 million opening, Tucker collects $10 million and Chan $7.5 million, which means New Line has yet to recoup enough money to pay them their salaries. And that’s not even counting the theatres’ percentage of ticket sales.
So what I’m proposing is a salary cap, something like they have in the NFL. Basically, for writers (not really an issue since the glory days of Shane Black and Joe Eszterhas collecting $4 million dollar paychecks), directors and actors there would be ceiling on what they can collect on a movie. For instance, for actors, it might be $20 million and 20% of the gross. This ceiling would force the whole industry to readjust so that only the real superstars are collecting that fee, and other stars’ salaries would drop accordingly. In the case of Rush Hour, this would drop Tucker’s upfront money to $20 million, and Chan to, say, $10 million. If we cap director’s fees at $5 million, then we’ve knocked almost $15 million off the film’s reported $140 million budget (I hear it’s much higher, and that New Line execs weren’t thrilled with Ratner running over schedule and over budget). This would lower production costs substantially, lessening, at least somewhat, the risk studios take in greenlighting films and freeing up studio executives to take more chances. It would also free up capital that could be used to appease the various guilds as contract negotiations come up, perhaps finally giving writers a much-deserved cut of alternative media revenues, for instance.
At the very least, I think this solution is preferably to many studios’ current idea of eliminating residual payments altogether.
But enough of this humble blogger’s ideas to save the movie industry. In other news, The Bourne Ultimatum fell 51% in it’s second week to $33.6 million, raising its domestic total to $132 million off a budget of $110 million. Reviews and word of mouth are such that I expect it will have better legs in the coming weeks with less big name competition. The Simpsons Movie continues to fall hard, dropping 55% to $11 million and a $152 million total. With $189 million from overseas markets, expect a sequel summer after next.
Stardust opened poorly with $9 million from 2,540 theatres for a $3.5k average. That per screen average isn’t too bad, and with a budget of $70 million, and names like Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer in the cast, I’m wondering why Paramount didn’t open it in more theatres. The average would have dropped, but I’m sure it could have brought in another $3-4 million with another 500 theatres, and a respectable 73% rating on rottentomatoes.com means word of mouth shouldn’t be bad either, especially going into the lackluster days of late summer. It’s almost like they didn’t want to make their money back…
Underdog held up reasonably well in its second week (in spite of withering reviews), slipping 44% to $6.4 million and a $24 million total. Disney gave it a surprising marketing push, which should pay off on DVD and unlimited runs on The Disney Channel. Hairspray continues to show terrific legs (not Travolta’s), falling 31% to $6 million, a $92 million cume, and two Michelle Pfeiffer movies in the top ten. Good for her.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, hereafter known as INPYCAL, brought in $5.9 million, down 44%, for a $103 million cume, followed by Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, hereafter known as HPATOOTP (second note to Hollywood- you HAVE to get your titles under control; I’m getting carpal tunnel from typing these out), followed with $5.3 million and a $272 million total.
No Reservations is still hanging in there, dropping 40% to $3.9 million and a $32 million total. And finally, Daddy Day Camp opened really poorly in tenth place with $3.5 million from 2,332 theatres for a dreadful $1.9k average, $5 million since it’s Wednesday opening, and a crushing 2% rating on rottentomatoes.com (my favorite review comes from Minneapolis Star Tribune‘s Colin Covert, who writes: “Some would argue that kids aren’t as jaded as adults, and will enjoy an agonizingly unfunny experience like Daddy Day Camp just fine. Using the same rationale, you could feed them Alpo.”) But even though this appears to be another soulless summer sequel, desperately trying to squeeze ever cent out of a concept that was tired the first time around, I’m kind of sad to report those numbers. See, I like Cuba Gooding Jr. I know most folks would like to take that Oscar back and beat him over the head with it for Boat Trip, and I sympathize. But I really think he deserved that statue for Jerry McGuire (a movie I’m otherwise not very fond of), and he has an intensity in some of his earlier performances that borders on brilliant. Check out Judgment Night if you don’t believe me. The sad truth of it is, like John Travolta, Gooding is a really talented guy with terrible taste in scripts, but I look for him to have a Travolta-like comeback in a few years, probably playing a bad guy.
And DDC was directed by Fred Savage. I mean, come on…The Wonder Years? How could you not want good things for the guy?
Anyway, that’s it for this week. Check back next Monday when The Invasion proves that getting a Hollywood hack to do reshoots on your movie is always a bad idea; The Last Legion…well… opens; and Superbad turns out to be a sleeper hit, making Judd Apatow even richer. See you then.