Welcome to Going Bionic #199. Today we’re going to analyze The Lego Movie, which just became the single highest-grossing motion picture ever to be released Presidents Day Weekend. The picture earned $50,015,000 on 3,775 screens from Friday through Sunday, and $63,515,000 when including Monday, giving it a $143,818,000 domestic total since its release.

The film also won its opening weekend by earning $69,050,279, also on 3,775 screens, which is a healthy $18,291 per screen average. Thus, not only did The Lego Movie set the record for Presidents Day Weekend, but it also enjoyed the second-highest grossing February opening in history. Only The Passion of the Christ (2004) earned more, with $83,848,082.

While you may not think a toy-inspired studio film has anything to do with your indie film career, you may want to think outside of your indie box today. Hollywood is full of copycats, and once an industry leader (i.e. in this case Warner Brothers) is successful on a low-risk/high return formula, all others tend to follow their lead.  So, like it or not, the success of The Lego Movie will more than likely serve as a blueprint on how to release a successful film in today’s economy.

Relatively Low Budget
At $60 million, the budget for The Lego Movie is far lower than recent animated releases. Tangled (2010) had a $286 million dollar budget, Cars 2 (2011) cost $200 million, Up (2009) was came in at $175 million, Wreck-it Ralph (2012) cost $165 million, Frozen, (2013) chimed in with a $150 dollar budget, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012) cost $145 million, Rango (2011) cost $135 million, and even Rio, (2011), the least expensive of the comparable films, cost $90 million to produce. Thus, a $60 million dollar budget for The Lego Movie is 33% less than the least expensive comparable. Obviously, spending considerably less what audiences have been accustomed to from the genre was an enormous gamble for Warner Brothers, but it was one that paid tremendous dividends, considering that the picture made more money in its first three days of release than the cost of its production budget.

 Focus on Brand Recognition, not Star Power
One ingenious move made by Warner Brothers on The Lego Movie, was to bank on the picture’s branding to garner interest at the box office, instead of relying on the bankability of the film’s voice talent to drive moviegoers to the box office. While I take nothing away from the wonderful actors in the film, (Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Channing Tatum, Will Farrell, Liam Neeson, Jonah Hill, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, Morgan Freeman, Nick Offerman, Cobie Smulders), none of them are slam-dunk A-listers who drive heavy traffic to the box office. Thus, Warner Brothers banked on the Lego brand, and not the actors. Of course, Legos have been around for more than 80 years, have been named “the toy of the century,” are the third biggest manufacturer of toys on the planet, and have LEGOLAND theme parks in California, Florida, Denmark, England, Germany, and Malaysia, so Warner Brothers wasn’t exactly flying blind on this film. They clearly knew there was brand recognition for their film, even before they made it.

International Reach
The Lego Movie has already been released internationally in 25 international territories, totaling $51.2 million in box office receipts. Its $18.7 million dollar opening weekend nearly doubled in week two, when the picture earned $32.5 million.

What We Can Learn From The Lego Movie
The Lego Movie teaches us that studios have begun taking risks downwards as opposed to upwards. What I mean is that these days, ‘taking a risk’ means to underspend on a major release, and then hope the film preforms, as opposed to overspending on production, and then spending another ludicrous amount on prints and advertising, in hopes of garnering enough market interest and box office share to help your film break-even. Thus, while most major animation releases traditionally break the bank with their budget in order to compete at the box office, The Lego Movie broke the mold by delivering a major box office hit, all while spending a fraction of its predecessors.

Okay filmmakers. That’s what I have for you today. As always, I thank you for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them next Tuesday, when we celebrate out=r 200th edition! Until then, I hope you have a great week. I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.

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