Crowd Report / B.O. Outlook: "Team America"
Team America poster
By Lee Tistaert     Published October 11, 2004
After seeing it, I think it might land between Kill Bill Volume 1 ($22.1 million) and Volume 2 ($25.1 million), with even an outside shot at Dodgeball ($30.1 million).
I was hesitant about seeing Team America for the first time at a sneak preview rather than on opening night in a big, filled theater. First off, theaters usually book these sneaks in the smallest auditoriums, which means that you have a limited quantity of moviegoers to laugh along with (and for comedies, the crowd environment can be half the fun). I had been ripping heads off to see this movie since early August when I saw the teaser at Collateral, and had been counting down the days to its release. And considering the sneak preview move came at the last second, I wasn?t sure how many people would actually show up to this screening (and for this, I wanted a big crowd the first time).

There are so few movies every year that are meant to just make you laugh from start to finish and which have such an irresistible, ruthless attitude, and sometimes there are none. Comedies will come along and you may chuckle or laugh a few times throughout, but so rarely is there a film that is actually laugh-till-you-cry hysterical. And when a movie like Team America comes along, which can easily fulfill that description judging from the South Park movie adaptation, anticipation can get real high. I even begged a friend of mine in September to find me an early screening for this movie (he?s been successful before), but considering production for Team America didn?t even wrap until this month, I was forced to do the unthinkable: wait like a normal person.

Once I heard Paramount was doing sneak previews, I was a bit surprised and also almost wished they hadn?t booked those (and wondered if it was going to dampen the film?s box office), but then a rare thing happened and the sneak preview was actually booked at a huge theater.

In Westwood (LA), sneak previews usually don?t get beyond a 550-seat single screen theater, and Team America was getting the theater across the street from UCLA, which seats 1300. This is the biggest theater in the area and for big movies can draw in some of the most insane, rowdy moviegoers you?ve ever come across. Thus, I figured there had to be a reason this was sneaking here instead of the smaller theaters, and so I decided to go.

I bought tickets Saturday afternoon considering I approached Kill Bill Volume 1 at this theater in the ?Yeah right, it won?t sell out? attitude (and didn?t buy early) and ended up being locked out due in fact to it being sold out. Nonetheless, the show wasn?t sold out by the time I got there at 6:20 (for the 7), but the line was down the street, though not to an insane extent (probably 200-some people at that point). Predictably, it drew the UCLA crowd (or at least it usually looks like it?for all I know they could just be young people who live in the area), and the ages were mostly 20 - 30, males being a slight dominance over women.

The balcony (which seats 300) was closed off for this show, which forced everyone onto the main level, and the show ended up being about 65% full (I figure 650-people range). This attendance was a solid opening night crowd level, and was about in line with Starsky & Hutch?s Friday night.

Some cheers went into the air when the lights dimmed, but the response was actually more toned down than I was expecting.


Ocean?s 12 (teaser)
? A few people around me got really jazzed at first (with the music), but it played to silence like usual.

? I was curious if this was actually taking in this crowd, as it played silently (and the guy behind me knew what it was off the bat), but that was cleared up when part of the audience booed it afterwards. Though one crowd can be biased in determining whether a movie will sell, I?m curious if this will be mostly for the teen (horror) fan boys.

? When the ?PG preview? card was shown before the ad, people were already complaining about a PG ad. But then some cheers went up at the beginning, then it played humbly with a few chuckles here and there, and the last gag of the trailer got a lot of laughter and even some claps.

Blade: Trinity
? A few cheers when Wesley Snipes was revealed, but the crowd was quiet after that.

Coach Carter
? When Samuel L. Jackson says, ?I?m not your teacher. I?m your coach,? some guy let out a huge ?YEAH!? which lit up the room in laughter. Other than that, the ad played silently.

Since people had cheered on the THX, there was still ongoing noise in the theater when the Paramount logo came up. People were trying to quiet each other down at this point, and when the music loaded up immediately, people were already starting to laugh. When the title hit the screen soon thereafter, there were some cheers and claps, but it wasn?t an overwhelming reaction (it is absolutely nuts here at Star Wars during the opening title sequence).

I have to give it up for Trey Parker and Matt Stone. They had me really nervous during the film?s first, maybe, 10 - 15 seconds of official footage, having me go, ?Oh please no?? at the possibility that this was going to suck (and many people seemed to feel similarly, judging from the silence). But, then, the two guys proved their genius.

The film?s opening scene absolutely killed with this crowd ? people couldn?t stop laughing, and the film?s first attempt of a fight sequence drew many claps. The hilarity amongst the crowd continued for a little bit after the intro, but once the film was getting to the point, laughs started to fade a bit.

It was also fun to watch some of the people?s reactions around me, and in particular, a few young women around 23 - 25-years old. There was a big chunk of people laughing during the opening bits, and then I saw the faces of two young women (in different rows) during that segment who had deadpan expressions that read ?This isn?t funny. This is retarded.? I didn?t observe them after that point, but those select few people did not seem to be too happy at first.

The songs also blew this crowd away, and once the first one started, people were on the floor (and clapping). The tune, ?I?m Ronery,? nearing the end didn?t retrieve many laughs, but it did get a nice, light applause when it concluded.

As much as the film did get people laughing hard, there were little areas throughout that weren?t funny (the movie is really funny and then it takes a break, which is its continuous pattern). And there was even a certain point when this approach got to be a criticism of mine, as the story put the comedy in the backseat at times (and I wanted to laugh). The movie is not constantly funny, but when those guys (Stone and Parker) have it right, scenes are hysterical.

A few jokes are also repeated too many times to the point of being an annoyance, but there is enough classic Stone/Parker humor in general to make up for it. And there is even one gag near the end of the movie that appears to be pretty dumb at first, and then as the gag keeps on going for what feels like forever, it actually turns out to be one of the best bits in the movie.

I?ve heard that some crowds burst into monstrous applause when the movie ended on Saturday night, but here it was toned down in comparison, though there was some cheering and a solid round of claps.

I was not only pleased that Team America lived up to its promise in terms of comedy, but was equally impressed that Stone and Parker actually shot this film in widescreen. You never see animated movies (or movies in this nature) in widescreen format in theaters; usually they're in flat screen format, which is a square-shaped screen (which is pretty boring), compared to the rectangular-shape that gives films scope. South Park wasn?t filmed in widescreen, but my guess is that they made the change on this one due to the genre they were spoofing (since action movies are almost always wide)

Box office wise, this movie screams big. For a while I had been expecting Jackass-like numbers ($22.8 million) for its opening weekend, but it also depended on how wide Paramount went with it. And after seeing it, I think it might land between Kill Bill Volume 1 ($22.1 million) and Volume 2 ($25.1 million), with even an outside shot at Dodgeball numbers ($30.1 million).

To my knowledge the highest grossing movie over its opening weekend that had sneak previews is Bringing Down the House ($31.1 million). I actually first thought it was Starsky & Hutch ($28.1 million), which made me compare Team America?s offerings with that movie. Stone and Parker have given their film a rather ?big? feeling through its energetic style and elaborate sets, components that Starsky didn?t have. And Team America?s pace also out-shines that flick, and it reminded me of Rush Hour ($33.0 million) in that regard.

And even if Team America doesn?t outdo Starsky's opening weekend debut (it also might not get as many theaters), I can?t really see it not outdoing that flick?s opening night per-screen average ($2,991). Jackass averaged $3,873 on its opening day in 2,509 theaters, which was right alongside Volume 2?s $3,551 average in 2,971 theaters. Jackass is the safest bet to me in that regard, but I could also easily see a figure in the low $4,000 range, which was what Dodgeball achieved in 2,694 theaters.

Some people may think the R-rating and sneak previews could dampen its box office prospects, but (R-rated) movies like Freddy vs. Jason, Scream 2, and Blade 2 (all of which were aimed at the same demographic as this) managed mid-$4,000 first day averages. Granted, their ad-campaigns might have been bigger, but Team America could very well benefit from the sneak previews. Hardcore fans might see it again and given the rave reactions so far, fans might persuade other people who were skeptical previously to give the flick a shot.

If you look at South Park?s six-day opening (it debuted on a Wednesday and had a decent Monday tally given the 4th of July weekend), that movie grossed $23.1 million in that period, but only in 2,128 theaters. The comedy averaged a whopping $10,844 per-screen, which, if you compare to today?s marketplace in terms of being frontloaded, that would probably translate to about a high $3,000 or low $4,000 opening day average (for a three-day weekend).

South Park was more of a low-key movie in comparison to Team America (in its looks and accomplishments), and not everyone was convinced it was going to be a good movie, as few adaptations are, from whatever media form (whether it?s book to movie or television show to movie, etc). But that flick drew in rave reviews from critics, which caught quite a few people?s attention and even those who weren't amongst the show's routine viewers. And given the vague teaser trailers in theaters, there was a bit of curiosity about what the movie really entailed, judging from the critics' reactions. Considering it had six days to make money, it didn?t start out too strong at first, but its legs throughout that frame were solid and word of mouth likely trudged it forward.

Had the movie not been received well by moviegoers, it would?ve likely fallen off not too long after its Wednesday opening. That?s what happened with Final Fantasy, though the argument there could?ve simply been that most of its fan base rushed out on opening day. Final Fantasy wasn?t set up to be a guaranteed good movie, and many would argue that its visual effects were the best part of the movie, a description that does not usually sell all too well (especially when many considered the writing to be pretty stale).

Some people are also questionable as to how many moviegoers will want to see a movie surrounding puppets. But considering the buzz on Team America, ranging from its initial NC-17 rating (which took 9 attempts to get it down to an R) to the infamous puppet sex material that many are aware of, to its timely release given the election and various political details that this film mocks, curiosity is bound to be pretty strong.

And on top of that, Parker and Stone have a very dedicated fan base who love their sense of humor, and most of those people are likely fascinated with what those guys might pull off with puppets. And as more of a slight benefit, nobody has really spoofed conventional action movies before (a genre that has been in dire need of being ridiculed for quite some time), and there?s something about these two guys that you just know they wouldn?t screw up the opportunity.

Whatever its opening day gross ends up being, though, one thing that is almost a guarantee is that it?s going to drop on Saturday (I know that might be a ?Duh!? to some of you). The question is how frontloaded it will specifically be, and that might depend on how much of a dent it makes on Friday; Jackass dropped 20% on its second day and Dodgeball only dropped 7%.

If Team America opens close to $4,000 per-screen (or slightly over) in let?s say 2,700 theaters, that?s roughly $11 - 12 million on Friday; Saturday could then be anything from $8.5 - 10.0 million. There is a chance that this could be the most frontloaded movie ever (by second day standards) judging from some of the crazy hype that has been surrounding it, but such a feat is not guaranteed.

Perhaps Team America will prove me wrong and this analysis will have been more of a what-if, but like Fahrenheit 9/11 there just might not be any better of a time for its release. Team America was also rushed in its production, as the movie wasn?t scheduled for an October release until Paramount saw the rough cut and got ecstatic about the results, and moved its release up.

Usually being rushed doesn?t translate all that well into ticket sales (or quality), as that buzz can be just as burdening as a film that has re-shoots just weeks before its debut. But judging from the fact that Stone and Parker have carried a hit television show for many years, when many creators would?ve likely grounded the show just a few seasons in (bankrupt of ideas or with ratings falling), fans in general have faith in what those guys can accomplish.

South Park as a show started out as a hip, in-thing many years ago, and it faced the challenge of being funny after the R-rated movie adaptation, which had been one of the creators? ultimate tests. After the movie, Stone and Parker decided to take their material to the next level and satirize the political system in the show (and whatever was going on in the media); that move drew highly enthusiastic reactions, and they?ve managed to keep ratings and fans ever since. Team America, like their show, attacks the political agenda, and also blends in an attack on Jerry Bruckheimer and almost every stupid action flick you?ve ever seen; that, combined with an R-rating and promises of excessive foul material from their sense of humor, could be a gold mine.

I?m not sure what the actual ratings are for South Park, but Jackass, with a similar fan base, averaged around three million viewers every week. Ticket prices range from $7.50 to $10.00 depending on the theater, and some theaters don?t even have student discounts; and if three million people see Team America, that would translate to anything between $22 and 30 million.
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'Team America' Articles
  • Craig Younkin's Best and Worst of 2004
    January 26, 2005    Of all the films this year, one stood out as being the smartest, riskiest, funniest, and most original. -- Craig Younkin
  • Greg's Team America review B-
    October 21, 2004    Perhaps I was just expecting the comic genius that was the South Park film, and they just did not quite reach it. -- Greg Ward
  • Craig's Team America review A
    October 16, 2004    An outrageously funny film that uses all the Bruckheimerisms, over the top action sequences, elaborate musical scores, and combines them with mean spirited shots at Hollywood liberals. -- Craig Younkin
  • Crowd Report: "Team America"
    October 16, 2004    The crowd situation was in line with the opening night of Jackass ($9.7 million - $3,873 per-screen), and the attendance also ended up being on par with Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle ($14.6 million - $4,224 per-screen). -- Lee Tistaert
  • Friday Box Office Analysis (10/15)
    October 16, 2004    The rather underwhelming figure poses the question of whether or not the sneak previews drove out Trey Parker and Matt Stone?s more hardcore fans. -- Lee Tistaert