Box Office Predictions: What are ‘Oblivion’s Chances with the Tom Cruise and Sci-Fi Combo?

Oblivion is headed directly toward one of three outcomes. The first scenario is that Oblivion is the rare sci-fi that attracts a broad audience in April, soaring past $50 million on its way to the fourth-best April opening weekend ever.

The second scenario is the film ends up being a complete tank job, a repudiation of Tom Cruise‘s box-office might, proof positive that The Matrix will forevermore remain a complete outlier for April sci-fi openings.

The third path is the one I’m headed down, and it’s not definitive either way, mostly because the key indicators are very messy this weekend. If this moderate view comes to pass it will allow websites, ironically enough, to spin the results however they like, leading to Monday morning headlines that read “TOM CRUISE IS BACK!” or “TOM CRUISE SINKS!!” depending on their disposition. The Internet: Where nuance has gone to die since 1994. But why all the fuss over one film’s weekend prediction? Enough Brad-like equivocation, let’s break it down!

Here’s the first issue: the two main tracking sources are a whopping $30 million apart on their calls for the weekend. $30 million! That is an awful lot of million to disagree about, as a $56 million opening for Oblivion would lead to a modest financial windfall (say $180m domestic, perhaps a little more domestically on a $120m budget) for Universal Pictures. This $56 million prediction is courtesy of (I don’t think they show an updated page for anyone but subscribers) and it’s based on polling, awareness, marketing, and the like.

The other major predictor you’ll hear us mention is MTC, short for “Major Theater Chain” tracking, and their number for Oblivion is $26 million, though clearly something is amiss with one of these numbers, no? In general, we’ve found MTC to be more accurate, which is why we usually reference it at the bottom of this column.

So there’s the situation, two sources, opposite feelings about the film’s outlook, both (hopefully) based on some sort of scientific reasoning. There is some precedent for this type of oddness, and if the precedent holds true then Oblivion is completely screwed. Here are the fine folks at breaking down how the tracking indicators occasionally interact with each other:

MTC/RS Rule – When MTC is predicting a figure much higher than RS does the opening weekend [of a film] will have a tendency to “break out” and go much higher then even the MTC prediction. This also works in reverse, in that if RS is much bigger then MTC, the opening week is likely to fail to meet even MTC’s expectations.

So there you have it, the stage is set for a fascinating weekend. If we take a look at April the closest thing to Oblivion‘s marketing level seems to be John Carter, another non-sequel sci-fi that had a really tough time gaining any traction at the box office. However, that one didn’t have a big name attached, so even though it’s the main comparable it’s not all that predictive. The film I actually like best in terms of comps is The Book of Eli, though the January release date is tough to figure. Still, Denzel and Tom are both highly marketable. I looked at I am Legend as well, but a December release date is far more lucrative than a late-April one.

If we look at just Tom Cruise, the recent results aren’t too promising. Jack ReacherMission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and Knight and Day all failed to crack $30 million on their opening weekend, which would lend credence to MTC’s number. The one life raft we could throw Oblivion is that director Joseph Kosinski had Tron Legacy debut at $44 million.

To put a bow on this maelstrom, my $34.2 million call is a nod to marketing and pent-up demand for a “big” movie. The reviews have been pretty middling, so that shouldn’t matter one way or the other, and there are IMAX dollars to consider as well. Finally, even though sci-fi doesn’t usually open huge, I would have given a number like this to a non-sequel action film opening right now too, I just think the public needs an escape, and a big piece like Oblivion will give it to them. But I’m definitely interested to see your predictions!

Lastly, I’m not entirely clear as to whether or not The Place Beyond the Pines will be expanding further, so my number is based on the notion that it will not.

Current Streak: Ten weekends in a row.
Chances of Streak Being Broken: Ten percent.
Reason: If the rule holds true and Oblivion bombs, 42 could theoretically put up a hold number strong enough to beat it. But clearly I’m betting against that happening.

Major Theater Chain (MTC / RS) Tracking
Oblivion$26 / $56 million


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