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Box-Office Spotlight: American Reunion

Hello dear WOKJ-readers,

Welcome to the second issue of the Box-Office Spotlight series. After my recent take on The Hunger Games which turned out to be a far more conservative prediction than I expected it to be, I will take a look at what certainly won’t be one of the year’s biggest films, but might still be an interesting performance to watch – American Reunion.

Nostalgia has always been a big selling point in movies, TV, fashion and so on. Last decade was all about 1980s nostalgia, but now as we are well into the 2010s, the Nineties nostalgia is kicking in. What a great time to revisit a franchise that started in 1999 and became obligatory viewing for teens growing up around the 199-2003 time frame. The first American Pie movie was the film that brought back the R-rated teen-oriented comedy in the same way that Scream revived the good ol’ slasher flick. It opened in the heat of the summer and dethroned Wild Wild West in its second weekend with a surprising $18.7 million opening. What was even more surprising was that the film went on to develop terrific legs and ended up passing $100 million, scoring a multiplier close to 5.5. Given the modest $11 million budget, it was a given that Universal had a new franchise on its hands. Two years, the boys from East Great Falls High returned in the record-breaking sequel American Pie 2. The film opened to $45.1 million which was then the second-biggest opening weekend ever for an R-rated movie. In fact, it still holds the 15th spot on that list and it wasn’t until Jackass 3D nine years later that a straight-up R-rated comedy managed a higher opening. The legs weren’t on par with those for the first film, though it still delivered an opening-to-total multiplier above 3.2. It was obvious that another film will happen. When American Wedding hit the screens in August 2003 it arrived with much less hype surrounding it compared to its predecessor and with only half of the cast returning this time. Nevertheless, it easily captured the top spot with a $33.4 million start and went on to pass $100 million ($104.6 million total), once again delivering a multiplier higher than 3.

Even though it was the last theatrical outing of the franchise, Universal was definitely bent on keeping the franchise alive and milking the cash cow as long as possible. What followed then were four direct-to-DVD sequels which all featured Eugene Levy as Jim’s Dad in cameo appearances, but no one else from the original cast (except for a short appearance by Chris Owen in American Pie Presents: Band Camp). Nonetheless, the movies became huge performers on DVD with the first film selling over one million units in the first week of release alone. The follow-up still sold well over 1.5 million DVDs. The franchise was doing perfectly well on DVD with Universal not investing all too much into the production of the films.

However, starting in the second half of the 2000s, many old franchises that seemed to be dead started hitting theatres again. One of the first such examples was Rocky Balboa which marked an impressive comeback comeback for its star Sylvester Stallone, grossing over $70 million in 2006. A year later, Live Free or Die Hard marked an even more impressive return of the franchise. The Bruce Willis-starrer became the series’ highest-grosser with $134.5 million domestically alone. Movies like Rambo and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull followed. In 2009, a different kind of revival occurred. The Fast and the Furious franchise was still well alive, but on a constant decline ever since its start in 2001 (ironically just a few weeks before American Pie 2’s breakout – both films ended up with almost identical total cumes). Unlike the first three films in the American Pie franchise, the Fast/Furious series has been losing major cast members ever since the second movie as Vin Diesel declined to return to the role that made him a star. In the third movie which made just $62.5 million none of the original cast was back, except for a short cameo by Diesel. However, three years after The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast and Furious reunited the entire major cast of the first movie and opened to thunderous results A $71 million opening (biggest ever for April back then) led to a $155.1 million total. It revived an almost dormant franchise in a way that rarely occurs as last year, the next follow-up, Fast Five actually outopened Fast and Furious. It delivered an $86.2 million start and ended up with $209.8 million in North America.

Months before the release of Fast and Furious rumors started circulating that Universal was planning to produce a third American Pie sequel for theatres, bringing back the old cast. The decision to fully go ahead with the film was certainly solidified after the cast reunion of the Fast & Furious franchise turned out to be a humongous success. However, it wasn’t until April 2010 that the film went into pre-production with Harold & Kumar creators Jon Hurwitz and Haydon Schlossberg signed to write and direct the new instalment. American Reunion, produced with a $50 million price tag, brings back the entire cast of the first film.

However, last year’s Scream 4 has shown that revivals of dormant franchise don’t guarantee you a hit. Even though its three predecessors made $98 million on average, the fourth entry in the series grossed a pathetic $38.2 million, just slightly more than Scream 3’s opening 11 years earlier. Even with that in mind, though, I’d argue that American Reunion has far more going for it than Scream 4 did. Scream was undeniably a huge and influential franchise, but horror is more of a thing of the moment and the audiences just moved on from it. As for American Pie, there is an entire generation that grew up with the films and despite all the exaggerations and outrageous situations portrayed in them found some of the characters identifiable. The mishaps shown in those films can be easily related to the growing-up process, something that is not possible with the hack ‘n slash scenario of the Scream movies. This is why I believe that the franchise has endured. Moreover, unlike Scream, the American Pie series never really disappeared over long periods of time and stayed in the public consciousness thanks to the numerous DTV sequels. On top of that, the R-rated comedy is on a current high with the Apatow brand and the Hangover movies going strong. In other words, while American Reunion will certainly bank on the nostalgic fans of the original movies, it will also appeal to audiences less familiar with the first three films as long as they appreciate R-rated comedies. The lack of a “4” in the movie’s title will help here as it doesn’t imply that it is in any way necessary to see the first three films in order to appreciate the new one. American Reunion will certainly not become another The Hangover as its brand of humor still feels a bit dated now, but with its wide appeal and strong marketing, it is guaranteed for a good showing this weekend. Besides, with Safe House, Contraband and The Lorax, Universal is having an amazing run this year – American Reunion should continue that. I expect a strong opening and a total gross well above $100 million. It might not reach the heights of American Pie 2, but the franchise has always been known for at least solid legs and with no real competition until the end of April, even a $35 million start might be enough for it to pass the $100 million mark.

My prediction:

Opening Weekend - $35-40 million

Total Gross - $105-115 million


The “Box-Office Spotlight” series will be back in a few weeks with a look at the box-office potential of The Avengers.

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Total Comments: 1
MadGez    Apr 7 2012 1:06pm
Great article Lecter. Even though it may fall short of the numbers (hopefully not) its a great series to return to. Certainly brings back many great memories for me.

I like how you brought up all the franchise revivals. I forgot that Rocky Balboa was quite instrumental in this process.

Fast/Furious is interesting. The audience was always there, its just that they stayed away from Tokyo Drift in droves.