Why Paramount Opened The Mystery Box Early On SUPER 8

With the crowded summer schedule SUPER 8 gives up some of its mystery to stay competitive.

JJ Abrams likes secrecy. He wants to surprise you at the movies, and there’s been a very tight lid on Super 8 for a while. But that lid was suddenly blown off this week when reviews were published almost ten days before the movie opens.

So what happened? If you go to GeekWeek and watch Jeff Katz’s tracking numbers report you’ll get a sense. Super 8 is tracking okay, but not as well as Paramount might hope. Tracking, for the uninitiated, is the imperfect science of gauging the public’s interest in movies that are coming out this week and beyond. Super 8 isn’t tracking to be a disaster or anything, but it’s not as strong as the studio would like, I’m sure.

That’s important because summer 2011 is a rough one. Super 8 will be dealing with the second weekend of X-Men: First Class; if that movie has a strong word of mouth it could retain the top box office spot a second week (I’m assuming it opens at #1; tracking has X-Men doing okay but not stellar, but I suspect it’ll squeak out a number one victory over The Hangover Part II). But scarier than that is the fact that Super 8 has Green Lantern and Mr. Popper’s Penguins nipping right at its heels the next week.

You may laugh at the Penguins movie, but it’s got huge awareness numbers, and it’s aimed at families. While Super 8 isn’t technically aimed at families only it’s a movie with kid protagonists; outside of the cadre of hypernerds who actually care about an homage to Amblin, this film probably reads like a kid’s movie. Although to be honest I don’t know how this film reads to anybody - the only star here is JJ Abrams, and the mystery box technique has kept the general audience from really getting a grip on what the movie is actually about.

Green Lantern, meanwhile, is tracking strong and Katz theorizes it’ll get even stronger once all the men see X-Men and move on to the next big superhero movie. Penguins and Green Lantern present real dangers to Super 8 in week two, and X-Men is a possible cock block at week one. Now, I don’t know what Super 8 cost (I honestly couldn’t even begin to guess. It’s possible it cost 60 million or less, or 100 million or more), but they need to open strong and put up a couple of good weeks no matter what the cost.

So this is why there was a flurry of screenings this week and last, and why Paramount is letting the alien out of the bag early. Tracking is inexact, as I said, and their efforts could make a big difference, but what this all says to me is that JJ Abrams’ name isn’t the general audience draw that the studio hoped. We’ll see in another week, I guess.

Sorry for this sidetrack into box office, something I rarely talk about, but I have found this summer’s brutal competition to be fascinating. The studios have been working their asses off to get awareness for their films, and it’s been fun to see campaigns morph and change. Green Lantern, for instance, has had a hell of a year’s worth of change, and X-Men: First Class went from sort of half-assed to much more confident in the last month. Meanwhile Thor‘s campaign was weird, but obviously effective, and Disney banked on people simply showing up for a new Pirates of the Caribbean without putting too much work into it.

What’s doubly interesting, though, is that everybody has done pretty well so far this summer. I thought this would be a bloodbath, but every major release so far as been successful. Bridesmaids is a super hit, closing in on 100 million. Pirates 4 took in record overseas numbers. The Hangover Part II could surpass the original. Thor did well, although I think it’s a double rather than a home run (it won’t make its money back domestic, for instance, although it’ll be generally profitable). Hell, even the new Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris, is doing really well. It seems like a summer where everybody is getting their shot despite the lineup being so crowded.