Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lady Lantern/Green Gaga: the precipitous falls of two media-generated objets d'commerce

Deadline has this weekend's movie estimates, and things don't look very good for last week's box office "champ," "Green Lantern":
The superhero fell apart its second weekend. Worse, there's little green overseas where grosses for Green Lantern never got off the ground: Friday showed a -60% drop from its soft opening in the UK alone. After this humiliation, Warner Bros needs to rethink how it mines its DC Comics library without Chris Nolan producing/directing/writing everything.
Green Lantern is estimated to have made just over $18 million, after making around $53 million last weekend.
And you thought X-Men: First Class was disappointing! Despite being in 3-D — and despite an avalanche of marketing over the last two months — Green Lantern could only (“only”) muster $52.6 million over the weekend. That’s just under $4 million less than the two dimensional First Class earned during its opening frame.
Box Office Guru Gitesh Pandya estimates that "Green Lantern" will end with a domestic box office total around $130 million or so:
#GreenLantern makes $3.75M THU for $70.95M 1st wk: below $74.9M of Hulk08 & $77.5M of FF2 which both ended at $130M+.
This is a nightmare for Warner Bros and DC. Of immediate concern is the budget, which some have reported to be as high as $300 million, including promotion and advertising, and print costs. And Warner Bros does not make all of that money itself-- it varies based on the week of release, but on average, studios get back around 60% of the money a film makes at the domestic box office.

As Deadline points out, "GL's" foreign gross is also spectacularly disappointing. Box Office Mojo has an almost comically low number that reads more like a parody than an actual number for a big summer tentpole release.

Perhaps the film has already made back its money in licensing and merchandising? TIME has an interesting article about the collusion between studios and toy makers, who begin collaborating during the production of the film itself.
If know what to look for, you can see a toy maker's fingerprints on big budget films like Green Lantern. Artists from both sides of the collaboration will often work together on designs for the film accessories, mainly gadgets and vehicles. "Yes, we're the studio and we're the closest to the people making the movie, but we integrate Mattel at the earliest stage with the film's producers, the director and the art director," Brad Globe, President, Warner Bros. Consumer Products. "We both know the important thing is to translate the movie's elements into something the kids can play with."
But what about the money?
Merchandising contracts for film characters established successful toy track records go high six figure amounts, though details of the deals themselves are often kept secret. Toy sales for new film franchises are unpredictable and the royalty fees paid to the studios are predictably lower, which means The Green Lantern is an appealing project for Mattel. Toy and family entertainment expert and editor of, Jim Silver, estimates The Green Lantern brand will guarantee Mattel about $20 million in toy sales, costing the company maybe $2.5 million in royalty fees paid to Warner Bros. for the film's licensing, with a possible bonus if sales reach a higher amount. Though there's no predicting if the film will actually perform well in theaters, a $2.5 million fee won't break the bank for a $5-billion-a-year company like Mattel even if there isn't a big payoff.

How awesome does this toy look???

I could have told you that "Green Lantern" was going to fail at the box office. He is a rotten character. Probably the worst concept in comics. A traitor to his own planet, a sell-out to a bunch of strange, arrogant colonialists with some one-size-fits-all theories of what is "good." Green Lantern is an authoritarian nightmare, and he is lame, lame, lame. He always has been.

Moreover, as director Terry Gilliam points out, these superhero movies all look the same:
What’s so funny is because of growing up with comics, and always wanting to do that kind of movie, I have no interest in them at all now. That’s what I wanted to do, and now everyone else is doing them, so I don’t do them. I don’t even go now. I see the trailers, and I think, I’ve seen that trailer for about 20 years now! The same shots, the same dilemma — what are we doing here?
But Warner Bros is committed to foisting "Green Lantern" upon us, whether we want him or not. We've been threatened with a sequel. There is a new Green Lantern television program to air this fall on Cartoon Network. So Warner Bros has a lot invested in this incredibly stupid character.

But even more than that, Warner Bros has planned to mine the DC library as its next, post-Harry Potter franchise. Green Lantern was to be the first of the next breed of DC superhero films, to get us all excited about, oh, a Flash movie. Or a Deadman movie. And then, eventually, maybe even a Justice League movie!

Green Lantern was supposed to carry the weight of the entire DC universe on his shoulders, and to lead the comic book fanboys into the light of the mainstream, where they would be greeted with open arms by the public at large. His film would make squillions of dollars (if WB actually spent $300 total on the film, they were expecting a squillion dollars, at least) and Warner Bros would have something as profitable as Harry Potter to carry it into the next decade. They advertised the hell out of it. They licensed the hell out of it. The literally thousands of Green Lantern fans took the internet to tell us how AWESOME the film was going to be. (Remember how they prevented Warner Bros actually doing something interesting and different with the tired character?)

Despite all of this, the general public has proven largely immune to the charms of this utterly charmless character.

It kind of reminds one of Lady Gaga, doesn't it? Like Green Lantern, Ms. Gaga is a character created by a few individuals that has become an important marketing tool for a major corporation. And like Green Lantern, she had fairly strong opening sales for her latest commercial endeavor.
Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” album appears to be on track for a 1 million-plus first week of sales, according to Billboard, helped along by’s decision to sell the hotly anticipated album for 99 cents for two days last week.
"One million units" is a lot of units. But wait-- some of those were for 99 cents?
It’s not free, but it’s close: Amazon is selling digital downloads of “Born This Way,” Lady Gaga’s newest album, for 99 cents.

That gets you 14 songs and a digital booklet. The same album goes for $11.99 at Apple’s iTunes, which seems more interested in pushing a 22-song special edition for $15.99–that’s the one currently featured on the retailer’s home page.
So many people took advantage of this opportunity to own these songs for the almost-free price of 99¢ that they crashed amazon's servers.
Lady Gaga's new album has caused Amazon's servers to crash. Born This Way found itself listed on Amazon for just ninety-nine cents, causing hordes of people to go to the website to purchase it. Enough people tried that Amazon's servers crashed from the traffic.

Amazon's spokesman said that everyone who purchased the album at that price will receive it despite the crash.
Ms. Gaga's sales fell precipitously in their second week.
Lady Gaga's Born This Way continues to rule the Billboard 200 albums chart for a second week as the set shifts 174,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That's down a steep 84% from its historic 1,108,000 start last week.

While it's not unusual for albums that enter with mighty big sales frames to tumble hard in week number two, Gaga's fall is amplified, courtesy of AmazonMP3.
In four weeks, the album has sold just under 1.5 million units. That's more than I've ever sold, but I don't have a media juggernaut promoting the hell out of me. But about 400,000 of those sales were from amazon's giveaway gimmick:
The Amazon promotion that offered the entire album for 99 cents for two days of the first week was great for fans, but was a gimmick. Lady Gaga would have still had an amazing first week—more than 700,000 copies sold—without the Amazon promotion. But the 1.1 million will forever have an asterisk by it since Interscope achieved the numbers by practically giving it away (we’re quite sure the label would have done that if Nielsen SoundScan counted giveways, but it doesn’t).
Ms. Gaga is everywhere. She is on magazine covers, gossip blogs, YouTube, television,, etc, etc. She is an objet d'commerce that we have been told to love because...

Well, why, exactly is Ms. Gaga so ubiquitous? Well, she's supposedly brilliant. She wears outlandish clothes (even to the airport!). She says outlandish things about her sexual organs. She has presented herself as a fighter for gay marriage.

But how many fans does she really have? Worldwide, her concert ticket sales are just behind Bon Jovi, AC/DC, and U2. In North America, she was behind Dave Matthews Band, Bon Jovi, Justin Bieber, John Mayer, Brad Paisley, and Paul McCartney. She sold about 1.4 million tickets in North America.

That's not bad, but it is a fraction of the 315+ million people who live in America. And yet, she's everywhere. Her every ridiculous move is studied and commented upon. She has an extremely loyal and active fan base that will come to her defense on websites and message boards. And, as with Green Lantern, there is something oddly familiar about Ms. Gaga's shenanigans.

She is a publicity-seeking semi-talented, occasionally clever gimcrack, who insists she's "shocking." Anyone who is photographed giving the finger to the camera is the opposite of "shocking."

Seriously, put a "power ring" on that finger Ms. Gaga is holding up, and you'd swear she was Green Lantern.

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