By Mark Bell | September 16, 2014

Welcome to Going Bionic #232. We’ve recently spent time discussing how the collapse of the summer box office and the bleak sales at the Toronto International Film Festival muddy the outlook for smaller films, so today we’re going to discuss how Sony (Screen Gems) thriller No Good Deed, just performed a “good deed” for indies everywhere. Sure, any hope generated over the film’s first three days of release could fade like a cheap shirt if the picture tanks in its second weekend, but past performance of like-minded films says No Good Deed should continue to solidify the viability of mid-range budgets.

The Numbers
No Good Deed cost $13.2 million to make, which is why earning $24.5 million over the weekend has raised so many eyebrows. Even with the exhibitor taking an overall average of 53% of the box office receipts, distributors usually grab the lion share of box office income on the opening weekend. Thus, Sony has almost surely earned its money back on No Good Deed in the film’s first three days of release. The picture opened on 2,175 screens, giving it an $11,264 per screen average. Those numbers are solid and respectable, and more importantly, they are stronger than recent like-minded releases.

No Good Deed Vs. Recent Female-Lead Thrillers
No Good Deed fared better than last year’s female-driven thriller, The Call, a Halle Berry starrer, which was also distributed by Sony (TriStar). The Call , which had a nearly identical production budgetof $13 million, earned $17,118,745 on 2,507 screens on its opening weekend. Those results gave the film a second place finish and an anemic per screen average of $6,828. Nonetheless, The Call went on to earn $51,872,378 domestically, plus an additional $16,700,000 internationally, giving it a worldwide total of $68,572,378.

No Good Deed also preformed strongly against Obsessed (2009), another female thriller released by Sony (Screen Gems).

Obsessed, which starred Beyonce Knowles,had a $20 million dollar budget, which is over 50% higher than No Good Deed’s $13.2 million. Furthermore, Obsessed won it’s opening weekend with $28,612,730 on 2,514 screens, giving it an $11,381 per screen average.

While Obsessed earned $4,112,730 more in its opening weekendthan No Good Deed just did, Obsessed needed 339 more screens and $6.8 million production dollars to do so. Thus, No Good Deed seems as though it may turn out to be a better investment for Sony, as long as it winds up making $60 million plus domestically as expected. For the record, Obsessed also went on to earn $68,261,644 domestically, but only $5,568,696, giving it a worldwide total of $73,830,340.

Three Key Observations to Consider

1) Shorter is Better….
No Good Deed has a running time of 1:27, while The Call only took up 1:36 of screen time. Meanwhile, Obsessed was the longest of the bunch at 1:45. The short screen times could be a product of the small budgets, or the tense-riddled stories may only be able to keep their audience attention for so long. Whatever the reason, making a short, scary as hell story of a person’s life being invaded in their own home, tends to work every time. Subsequently, don’t forget that having a shorter running time will allow for about one additional screening per day, which can surely bump up the box office totals.

2) Female Oriented Thrillers Thrive Domestically
Should you be considering making a film like the ones discussed today, just know the bulk of theatrical income earned from these pictures is made domestically. Thus, foreign investment and pre-sales may not be as significant as you may like them to be. While the foreign box office tends to be greater than, or at least almost as good as to the domestic box office total for most distributed motion pictures these days, this sub-genre of modestly-budgeted thrillers with strong female leads, tend to only thrive on domestic soil. For example, The Call only made $16.7 million international, which represented 24.4% of its total box office, and Obsessed only trickled in $5,568,696, which represented only 7.5% of its total box office.

3) Keep You Dreams Big, but your Indie Budgets Small-ish
Yes, for many indie filmmakers, calling a $13.2 million dollar budget “small” is like calling me (I’m 5’4”) tall. But, in the great scheme of things, $13 million dollars is very little for a studio. More importantly, studios will need these mid-range, low-risk, bread and butter deals to combat their losses when their $250 million dollar summer tent pole films underperform.

Thus, if you’re a filmmaker looking to break into the game, maybe you should create, write or option a well-written thriller. You may not get to direct it, and the studio might order a rewrite from another writer and plant their own producer on the film, but a) maybe they won’t because Hollywood’s into spending less money these days and b) who cares if they do, because you’ll get cash and a foot in the door.

Okay, filmmakers. Thanks for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again next Tuesday. Until then, I hope you have a tremendous week. I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.

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