"Godzilla" dominated the worldwide box office last weekend, torching pre-release tracking while racking up $93.2 million Stateside and an additional $103.4 million internationally.
The reboot of the venerable monster movie franchise stunned box office prognosticators, who credit a crafty marketing campaign, the bold decision to go with an untested director and strong word-of-mouth with turning the film into a phenomenon.
"The authenticity, the tone, the relevance of the movie to a broader audience was what allowed for this result," said Jon Jashni, president and chief creative officer of Legendary Pictures.
Going into the weekend, "Godzilla" was on pace to earn between $65 million to $70 million, but a late-breaking surge in interest pushed the film to unanticipated heights.
"Good movies rise to the occasion and this was a movie that offered something for everyone," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. "It played well in large markets, in small markets, in mid-size markets and it's not too violent so families seemed to enjoy it."
Unsurprisingly, plans are already underway for a sequel. However, the success of the nuclear-age creature's latest incarnation was hardly a foregone conclusion -- just ask Roland Emmerich, who presided over a much-loathed 1998 remake.
With that in mind, here's a look at five essential reasons the latest "Godzilla" gambit paid off.
Marketing, Marketing, Marketing
The primordial beast was front and center in trailers and posters for "Godzilla," but there was also a strong emphasis on an eclectic cast of veteran actors that includes Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins. In the case of Cranston, the film may have benefited from residual affection for the actor's dearly departed, Emmy-winning drama about a certain high school chemistry teacher turned meth dealer.
"They did a great job, not just in getting core fans, but in attracting a wider audience that may have been more interested in Bryan Cranston and 'Breaking Bad,'" said Eric Wold, a media and entertainment analyst with B. Riley & Co.
Promotional materials stressed that this was a monster movie that was equally concerned with the men and women, fathers and sons, husbands and wives struggling to stay alive.
"They made it about more than just the monster," said Eric Handler, a media and entertainment analyst with MKM Partners. "The trailers had some character development that made people realize this was about more than just special effects -- there was a story here."
Reviews for the film were strong, with Rotten Tomatoes awarding it a 73 percent "fresh" rating, and Warner Bros. and Legendary both say the response on social media has been largely positive despite a few quibbles from creature feature purists.
Warner Bros.'s Fellman said he became convinced that this could be a film that expanded beyond the fanboy set at this spring's CinemaCon. The reaction among theater owners to the footage the studio shared at the annual exhibition trade show was electric, he said.
"These exhibitors tend to be older males, but the response was terrific," Fellman said. "That's when we hit the fast track."
Gareth Edwards Just Joined the A-List
If the "Godzilla" director has a passion project collecting dust in a desk drawer, it's time to brush it off, because every studio in town is going to want to be in business with him.
Prior to getting tapped for "Godzilla," Edwards was best known for creating the indie horror movie "Monsters." That 2010 breakout film was shot for $500,000, probably less than the bagel budget on the $160 million "Godzilla," yet Edwards proved to be an inspired choice. He was a director who was able to balance the inherent spectacle of having towering creatures ripping apart major cities with intimate scenes of stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Cranston working to resolve long-simmering family tensions.
"There was a grounded sensibility and elevated execution," Jashni said. "With Gareth we knew there'd be an emotional and intellectual core that would hopefully result in a really good movie."
Premium Formats Delivered
IMAX and 3D showings were more robust than expected, as fans flocked to see Godzilla level the Bay Area on the widest screens available with all the attendant bells and whistles. The film grossed $14.1 million in domestic IMAX showings, with the premium format enjoying its highest revenue per-screen averages since last summer's "Man of Steel." Internationally, IMAX screenings contributed another $21.6 million.
"'Godzilla' lends itself to the size and scope of the IMAX experience and it was very much marketed with that in mind," said Greg Foster, chairman and president of IMAX Entertainment. "In our business we're in good shape when someone says 'if you haven't seen this in IMAX, you haven't seen it the way it was meant to be seen.' That's what happened with 'Gravity' and the [Christopher] Nolan movies, and that's what happened last weekend."
IMAX wasn't the only premium format company popping the champagne as studio projections rolled in over the weekend. Last summer, 3D attendance rates hit new lows with the release of films such as "Wolverine" (30 percent) and "World War Z" (34 percent), but since the opening of "Gravity" last fall, those percentages have steadily improved. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" both cleared 40 percent, and "Godzilla" was even stronger with 51 percent of its box office coming from 3D screenings domestically.
Michael Lewis, chairman and CEO of RealD, anticipates that the 3D rebound will continue through the summer. He attributes the turnaround to stronger collaborations between 3D vendors and studios that extends from production to distribution. Studios and filmmakers have been more willing to talk up the benefits of seeing films such as "Godzilla" in 3D with top talent taking to Twitter and other platforms to rhapsodize about the virtues of donning those signature specs.
"We're taking a more targeted approach to educating consumers about how good this can really be and they're coming back," Lewis said.
A Superhero Breather
No one would call "Godzilla," a film that has been sequelized and revived countless times since first stomping across screens in 1954, an original movie. However, as a monster movie, one that relies on thrills and scares as well as spectacle, it seemed to hit a different nerve than the steady stream of comicbook titles invading theaters of late. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" kicked off the summer with a costumed vigilante bang, and will be followed next weekend by "X-Men: Days of Future Past."
In that atmosphere, "Godzilla" benefited from appearing to be something -- odd as it may sound -- fresh.
"As successful as these superhero movies are, people are craving something a little bit different," said Phil Contrino, vice-president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. "They don't want a superhero movie every weekend. There has to be room for something else."
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