A couple months ago, I wrote a piece about how Paramount kept “Arrival” in theaters so the sci-fi drama could get to the $100 million mark at the U.S. Box Office. Last year, I wrote a similar article about how Sony extended “Spectre”‘s theatrical run simply so the James Bond installment could get to $200 million in the States.
Now, Sony is at it again. Sometime this week, “Passengers”, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, will pass $100 million in the U.S. The action/adventure, which opened on Dec. 21, has been stuck at $99M+ since the end of February.
I didn’t think “Passengers” had a chance to reach $100M, given that audiences simply didn’t seem to respond to the film out of the gate. The New Year’s weekend helped significantly, but I still thought it would be pulled from theaters before reaching $100M.
So how is Sony attempting to reach their goal this time? They used a clever tactic that (almost) got by me. A few weekends ago, on Saturday March 25, the studio held advance screenings of “Smurfs: The Lost Village” in theaters across the country. They hoped to attract some buzz heading into this past weekend’s release of DreamWorks “The Boss Baby” – with “Smurfs” set to open this Friday, April 7th.
These screenings cost regular admission prices. I thought it was odd that as I entered my local theater that day to see “Smurfs”, the sign above it read “Passengers”. Thought it was a Sony movie coincidence. Turns-out all the money made off of the “Smurfs” screenings went towards the total of “Passengers”.
The proof: Box Office Mojo reported “Passengers” expanded that weekend to 506 theaters. On Friday March 24, it made $39,000 – for a per screen average of $77 (or about 6 people in every theater the entire day). On Saturday the 25th – the day of the “Smurfs” screenings – the gross was a whopping $338,168. Per Screen Average: $668 – about 50 people, which was the attendance at my “Smurfs” screening. Then on Sunday the 26th, “Passengers” was at $20,291, with a PSA of $40 (3-4 people).
By last Thursday, “Passengers” was less than $90,000 away from its target. Sony kept it in theaters this past weekend, though they did not release a theater count or weekend box office estimate on Sunday. Both figures will officially be revealed sometime Monday.
MON 4/3 UPDATE: “Passengers” stayed in 57 theaters this past weekend and added $46,196. It is still $43,268 away from $100 million. If the goal is reached by Thursday, it is likely Sony will pull it from theaters. If not, they will keep it out – even if only on a few screens – until the film gets to $100M.