The surprise box-office boom for the cartoon "Despicable Me" is making it clear again to Hollywood this summer that family films are the most likely to be top-grossing films. "Toy Story 3" is No. 1 for 2010, not only among the critics, but among the people as well. "Despicable Me" already has broken into the top 10 box-office hits for the year to date with almost $130 million in ticket sales.
It happens over and over again. And still the "executives" are caught off guard. It shouldn't be that hard to figure out. Nobody needs a graphing calculator. Bring out the whole family, and you bring out a bigger audience. It's summertime, and the kids are bored. If the whole family doesn't go, the driving-age teenager gets assigned to take the young ones to the movies, sometimes more than once.
(Memo to Hollywood: Really, truly, this is how it works.)
And yet, The Hollywood Reporter finds the movie market gurus slightly embarrassed at what they call the "family stampede." Family films have well outpaced pre-release projections repeatedly since May, and the studio bosses are puzzled over why these movies "outperform" their guesses.
"The simplest answer is that the tracking doesn't include the young kids themselves," Disney distribution boss Chuck Viane said.
"It's just harder to get a handle on what kids are thinking," another brilliant marketer guessed. "Tracking surveys are based on what people express in phone and Internet surveys, and you're not going to find the young kids that way." Pre-release tracking surveys focus on parents. "The nag factor is what drives those kind of movies," a studio executive tartly declared. "The parents might be less inclined than the kids to see a picture, but then the kids pester the parents, and the rest is history."
So why don't the studio bosses start factoring in the possibility of a "nag factor" from young children wanting to go to the movies with parents who demand quality for their children, and make some movies accordingly? No million-dollar marketing exec has thought of that yet?
"There can be a disconnect in tracking sometimes about how far a picture will reach across all audiences," said Sony distribution president Rory Bruer, whose gone-to-China remake of "The Karate Kid" debuted last month with a much-better-than expected $55.7 million. "There's no doubt that word-of-mouth is important in that aspect." Maybe the studio underestimated the affinity of parents for the first version of the film, released back in 1984. It's well on its way to grossing $200 million.