August 18th, 2009

(Thanks to Robocon on Twitter for the indirect inspiration for today’s blog post headline.)

The movie-going audience has spoken, the pennies have been tallied, and the verdict on Ponyo after its first weekend in U.S. theaters is a resounding … “meh.” In the grand scheme of things, Ponyo landed at ninth place on the weekend charts, beating out only Bandslam among the weekend’s new releases. Perhaps anyone who took my poll in the previous post was a bit overenthusiastic about Ponyo’s chances as well; it was a pretty resounding victory for the four-week-old G-Force, which earned about $3.4 million more than Ponyo this weekend. (Ponyo did, however, beat G-Force in average per-theater earnings, $3,868 to $2,256.)

© 2009 Nibariki-GNDHDDT© 2008 Nibariki-GNDHDDT. All Rights Reserved.

© 2009 Nibariki-GNDHDDT© 2008 Nibariki-GNDHDDT. All Rights Reserved.

And while Ponyo was certainly the best-performing film out of the three Ghibli films (Ponyo earned $3.58 million at 927 theaters; Spirited Away made $1.76 million in its peak release weekend of 711 theaters, while Howl’s Moving Castle made close to $865,000 at 202 theaters; all numbers in this post courtesy of Box Office Mojo), one would think Disney would have wanted a bit more than what it got.

Let’s trot out the tote board of theatrical releases with anime ties (seen earlier in “‘Blood’ money’”) and see where Ponyo stands among its peers in average per-theater earnings:

  1. Spirited Away (limited release, Sept. 20-22, 2002): $17,301 (26 screens)
  2. Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (April 4-6, 2003): $12,338 (19 screens)
  3. Howl’s Moving Castle (June 10–12, 2005): $11,888 (36 screens)
  4. Pokemon: The First Movie (Nov. 10-12, 1999): $10,199 (3,043 screens)
  5. Pokemon The Movie 2000 (July 21-23, 2000): $7,113 (2,752 screens)
  6. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (Sept. 17–19, 2004): $6,760 (47 screens)
  7. Blood: The Last Vampire (July 10-12, 2009): $5,501 (20 screens)
  8. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (Feb. 27–March 1, 2009): $4,156 (1,136 screens)
  9. Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie (Aug. 13–15, 2004): $3,934 (2,411 screens)
  10. Ponyo (Aug. 14-16, 2009): $3,868 (927 screens)
  11. Steamboy (March 18–20, 2005): $3,490 (39 screens)
  12. Pokemon 3 (April 6-8, 2001): $3,080 (2,675 screens)
  13. Pokemon 4Ever (Oct. 11-13, 2002): $2,879 (249 screens)
  14. Spirited Away (post-Oscar wide release, March 28-30, 2003): $2,483 (711 screens)
  15. Digimon: The Movie (Oct. 6-8, 2000): $2,322 (1,823 screens)
  16. Dragonball Evolution (April 10-12, 2009): $2,181 (2,181 screens)
  17. Appleseed (Jan. 14-16, 2005): $2,157 (31 screens)
  18. Pokemon Heroes (May 16-18, 2003): $1,328 (196 screens)

Ponyo’s performance raises the question: Will any anime or anime-related property that gets a big push be successful in the U.S. market? I have no doubt that another such film will succeed sometime down the line … but it will take a franchise that captures mainstream America’s attention, as the early Pokemon movies did. And I’m not seeing anything hitting Pokemon-sized critical mass coming down the pipeline now or in the near future (the closest franchise, Naruto, is still largely being targeted at a niche audience). I also don’t believe the CG-animated Astro Boy will fill cash registers to overflowing when it bows later this year. (I’d love to be proven wrong, though.)

2 Responses to “PWNYO’d!”

  1. AniMatsuri:

    If you look at how Ponyo is doing in other countries, the US sits as #4 on over all box office with only France, South Korea, and (duh) Japan (over $164 million so far) taking in more.

  2. Jerome:

    Ponyo’s performance is still very strong for an anime feature film. Paprika and Tekkonkikreet both did a fraction of the business of the latest Miyazaki masterpiece. There are three reasons why Ponyo did not open bigger. 1. It’s 2D and modern audiences do not watch traditional cel-shaded animation in cinemas any longer (It’ll be interesting to see how Disney’s Princess and the Frog performs). 2. Ponyo is over 2 hours long! 3. It’s foreign.

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