Inglourious ROI

With their “media empire” on the verge of collapse, the Weinstein brothers were pulling out all the stops to promote the opening of Inglourious Basterds last week. They’ve even played the contrition card in explaining to the NYTimes that they lost their focus after leaving Disney and starting their own company, using investor money to buy a fashion line, invest in a TV channel and a social networking site, and other activities that don’t qualify as making movies people would pay to see. (Here’s a fun takedown of that article, at the AV Club.)

So it must be gratifying to them that the new Tarantino movie was #1 at the box office this weekend, with nearly $38 million in tickets sold. The marketing is a bit misleading, since the Basterds — a squad of Jewish-American soldiers who ambush and scalp Nazis in occupied France — don’t actually get much screen time. But that’s a minor quibble. I still enjoyed the heck out of the film; it just wasn’t the movie it was marketed as. (I’m assuming the 4-hour DVD version will have plenty more carnage.)

Which leads me to this WSJ article about the movie’s performance and its marketing. It highlights the problems the Weinstein Co. still faces, but the article also seems to have buried the lede:

Part of the success of “Inglourious Basterds,” which was directed by Quentin Tarantino, comes from its $35 million marketing campaign, which Weinstein Co. executives say Harvey Weinstein approached with a renewed focus after missing the mark of previous campaigns. Last year for example, the company used stick figure drawings to sell Kevin Smith’s “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” which underperformed at the box office.

Let me see if I have this correct: the film grossed $38 million domestically and the marketing cost $35 million? With another $27 million in overseas sales, the movie made $65 million last weekend.

If that $35 mil. covers worldwide marketing, then they spent 54 cents for every dollar in ticket sales. If it was only for the domestic campaign, then it was almost 1 dollar spent for 1 dollar in sales (which are shared with the movie theaters).

Between this marketing campaign and the movie’s production cost of $65-70 million, that means this big success is still $35-40 million behind the 8-ball. Sure, there a lot of other revenue streams to help them close the gap, but this is probably not a good model for running a business.