Fragile Is the Word For 'High Concept' Films

By Robert Marich

   July 20, 2009 – The second weekend of Bruno plunged an astronomical 73% at the boxoffice, indicating the R-rated black comedy will fade fast after a decent opening and underscoring that “high concept” films are fragile.
   Universal Pictures’ Bruno grossed $8.3 million for the July 17-19 weekend on 2,759 screens in the U.S. and Canada. It took in $30.6 million on three less screens its premiere weekend.
   Marketing to Moviegoers: Second Edition defines high concept as a premise “that is so unconventional that it alone is a promotable element” like other elements that include a star, special effects, being based on a famous book or basic genre.
   A famous example is Charlie’s Angels, which is the action adventure TV series and movie built around the twist of having three young females with pin-up-girl good looks as crime solvers—not frumpy or two-fisted men.  
   Bruno—in which Sacha Baron Cohen portrays a flamboyant Austrian fashion journalist – got mixed reviews from critics and moviegoers. The centerpiece of the film is the high-concept premise of the journalist character interacting with real world people and situations. Cohen’s predecessor movie Borat in 2006 -- which is another reality-based movie -- got better feedback and grossed $128.5 million domestically via 20th Century Fox (Bruno won’t crack $100 million).
   A Reuters story suggests that Bruno’s undoing is bad buzz from Twitter, because digital media results in opinions of moviegoers who have seen films circulating more quickly than in the analog era. “Has everything speeded up? The answer is yes,” the Reuters story quotes Adam Fogelson, Universal’s president of marketing and distribution. “Depending on how big your opening day audience is, word-of-mouth starts playing a factor immediately.”
   That second week percentage decline of 73% is brutal. Once the falloff hits 50% for weekend #2, it’s an indication word-of-mouth from audiences is poor. Another takeaway is that Universal was wsie to squeeze what it could with a big marketing blitz aimed at premiere week.
   In many ways, Bruno was also a sequel to Borat and sequels tend to experience fall offs in boxoffice over the years. For example, family film Stuart Little 2 was just as heartwarming and clever as its predecessor, but its domestic gross of $65 million was half of the first incarnation. “The problem is that whatever came across as fresh and unique in the original is not so intriguing the second time around,” notes Marketing to Moviegoers.
   High-concept film series Back to the Future experienced sharp declines in the second and third incarnations. But there are exceptions such as the Harry Potter and Spider-Man series.
   Certainly, Bruno’s woes are no reflection on the R-rated comedies. Warner Bros. just touted that its surprise blockbuster The Hangover, which sports a no-name cast, became the top-grossing R-rated comedy of all time surpassing Beverly Hills Cop. Hangover’s domestic box office hit $235.9 million.
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