Hotel Transylvania and Frankenweenie Hotel Transylvania and Frankenweenie
Feature FilmStop Motion

“Frankenweenie” Debuts Weakly, “Hotel Transylvania” Stays Strong

Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie debuted weakly last weekend in fifth place with $11.4 million. The opening is significantly lower than Burton’s last stop motion feature, The Corpse Bride, which debuted with $19.1M in 2005.

The opening of Frankenweenie concludes this year’s great stop motion experiment. It was the third high-profile stop motion feature this year, following Aardman’s The Pirates!: Band of Misfits and Laika’s ParaNorman. None of the three films were able to crack a $15 million opening. In fact, no stop motion feature has ever had an opening north of $20 million. It begs the question, Are stop motion films simply incapable of grossing as much as CG or has no one ever made a stop motion film with mass audience appeal? In a year with more stop motion features than usual, it’s a question worth considering.

Meanwhile, Genndy Tartakovsky’s Hotel Transylvania is on its way to becoming one of Sony’s biggest animated hits. The film dipped a modest 36% in its second weekend, grossing $27.1M and pushing its U.S. total to $76.7M.

  • Toonio

    Seems like Sony finally found an animation niche where they can outshine the competition.

    On the stop motion front. I guess the audience feels shortchanged with the looks of stop motion (compared with Pixar’s CG) plus the “who wants to see animated “barbie” dolls feeling” (heard that while in line for Pirates). Stop motion is not for everybody but it is an outstanding medium.

  • Barney Miller

    Another thing to consider in all this is the cost of stop motion versus CG. ‘Norman and Coraline are said to have cost $65-70m. Frankweenie rings in at $37m. Coraline grossed around $125 worldwide and Paranorman currently stands at around $86m with several more territories worldwide remaining. Hotel T cost WAAAY more than the $85m being reported after all the various iterations and directorial swaps are taken into consideration.

    Simply put, stop motion films don’t need to make nearly as much money to be profitable. Unfortunately, the trades love comparing apples to oranges and to them animation is animation no matter what the medium or budget.

    Having said all that, I’d love to see a stop motion feature draw in a larger audience.

    • James

      True, despite its weak weekend returns, Frankenweenie still has a pretty good chance to make a slight profit once domestic and foreign box office finishes its run. Its budget, like most stop-action features are often at least half of the average A-list CGI feature. Even if it just breaks even during its theatrical run, it will undoubtedly cover its costs once it hits the home video scene.

      • In the film industry, though, studios hope for a film to triple it’s budget. If it doesn’t, it’s not seen as successful or profitable. You have to remember, you can’t keep making a product if it only covers its own cost. The whole point is to make a profit and use that to make more products. Studios want to be able to make more films with the profit from a film. They are also hoping for a successful franchise which they can make sequels for. That being said, some films that did pretty well overall, are still considered flops, or at least unsuccessful, if they only covered their own cost, or even doubled their budget.
        Remember John Carter? That ended up making back all of its money. Still considered one of the biggest flops. This is also due to the fact that in order for a film to be considered a real success it has to blow everyone out of the water opening weekend.

  • “It begs the question, Are stop motion films simply incapable of grossing as much as CG or has no one ever made a stop motion film with mass audience appeal? In a year with more stop motion features than usual, it’s a question worth considering.”

    It’s worth considering if you’re in marketing or some other awful niche in the entertainment industry but not really a useful question if you draw or paint or sculpt or animate for a living.
    In fact if you draw or paint or sculpt or animate for a living it’s a question worth ignoring.

    • Liesje

      Hear, hear, Elliot!

      It also may have something to do with our obsession of ‘biggest’, ‘newest’, ‘shiniest’. Everyone wants the new gizmo on the market. Till something else comes along, CG will continue to be the ‘new kid in town’. We live in a digital age. Animation use to be about the magic of bringing something (drawings, puppets, etc) to life. CG trumps that in the sense that it brings life from nothing, pixels that exist only in the digital world. It’s magic from magic.

      But, as Elliot so eloquently put it, screw what sells! Do what you want to do. Like eating a bowl of mac n’ cheese at 3 in the morning.

      • That’s going too far Liesje.
        No carbs after 9pm.

  • Sarah J

    Hm, I’m not sure if being stop-motion was the only factor in the low openings for these movies. (though it very well could be a major factor. I didn’t have an appreciation for stop-motion until I was older) Frankenweenie and ParaNorman both have pretty creepy tones and sort of horror film feels, which I think puts off a lot of parents who feel that their kids would enjoy the louder, sillier, more comedic films like Hotel Transylvania. The Pirates! film didn’t get much advertising, though admittedly I did expect it to do a bit better. I saw the film the first day it went into theaters and the other audience members seemed to love it, wouldn’t stop laughing, I was really hoping the film would benefit from word of mouth.

    • Funkybat

      It makes me wonder if some of these films do better in certain media markets. I went to see ParaNorman and Pirates multiple times in the San Francisco area, even at different theaters weeks after they premiered, and the auditorium was 3/4 or better filled. There were not Friday or Saturday nights, either. Everyone I know thought Pirates and Paranorman were fantastic animation-wise, though some thought they were a bit “kiddie” for their tastes story-wise, but they were still happy they saw the films.

      • Polecat

        And where I live, the theater was pretty filled up for Frankenweenie (I’m on the East Coast.) Maybe middle America is the wrong demographic for these movies.

  • Besides being stop-motion, I’d imagine Frankenweenie being in black-and-white might’ve put some people off of seeing it. While I haven’t seen it yet, I don’t mind watching B&W entertainment. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of people who’ll refuse to see TV shows/movies/etc. just on that basis. Wonder if it’s even more prominent among today’s kids (who’ve probably seen very little or no TV shows/movies in black-and-white)…

    • True, but that never stopped THE ARTIST. Movie forecasters, including Ray Subers of Box Office Mojo, wouldn’t shut up about how “It will fail, because it was black & white, and silent, and audiences today don’t care for that.” And guess what? Regardless of its box-office performance, it won the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Actor (Jean Dujardin), Best Director (Michel Hazanavicius), Best Score (Ludovic Bource), and Best Costume Design (Mark Bridges)! Who would’ve thought that a great modern B&W silent French film (I saw it theatrically and loved it!) would walk away with the top Oscars, instead of many of those sordid, self-centered, all-American Hollywood narcissists (many of whom make meanspirited jokes about animation putting them out of work) and their overbudgeted, overmarketed vehicles? That was sweet poetic justice.

      If THE ARTIST deserves its accolades, then FRANKENWEENIE deserves to be a B&W stop-motion movie. But then, you have other factors behind the movie falling short at the box-office, like people expecting a repeat of THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. (A classmate of mine at college, who loves that film, was disappointed with THE CORPSE BRIDE, because she not only expected it to be more like NIGHTMARE, but thought the movie ended abruptly.) Or, people just have Tim Burton burnout. (His DARK SHADOWS remake, released months ago, held its own against THE AVENGERS, but not enough, even with the usual Johnny Depp collaboration.)

  • Blasko

    Things that are made lovingly and carefully aren’t usually as popular as things with explosions, action sequences and roller coaster camera work. Stop motion is a poor medium for “bang,” but it’s great for people who enjoy quieter smaller things, like miniatures, dioramas and high speed photography. It’s just a medium with a different kind of pace and vibe; it catches the eye and the mind differently. Though some, like the folks at Screen Novelties, might challenge that a bit in time.

    I would argue, however, that the medium’s strengths gave rise to the grandparent of all television special hits: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. And despite their slower openings, Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline certainly still seem to have legs. They’ve each outperformed a large number of other CG films over time.

  • To be honest, what also needs to be considered is the storytelling and themes used for stop-motion. Most of the stop motion animated films had to do with the undead and/or creepy subjects. Not just Tim Burton alone, but Laika as well for its first two films. It’s as if they have no other kind of story to tell, while CG can do lots lots more in the stories they want to share…and I don’t mean by the medium…but what they want to do with the medium.

    I think people in stop motion should look outside of the creepiness and try something else for a change.

    • …you know, like Rankin Bass Christmas Specials! Nothing wrong with that, I just figure i’d counter the creepy card you’re playing for stop motion.

    • Ara

      I totally agree. It’s “been there, don that” for me whenever I hear/see these ‘creepy’ stop-motion films being produced. There are other stories to tell, other ideas to be had.

      • A.H.

        Yeah, if the word creepy is it’s own story, sure, stop doing it!

        I think it’s better to wait for stop-motion films that make use of more different styles and aesthetics maybe. There’s nothing wrong with creepy. People just have different tastes. Creepy still isn’t one of them.
        Anyone here an animation historian? I’m not, so i probably shouldn’t speak, but hey, some of the first stop-motion films being animated with actual dead insects as puppets? That’s the origin of the medium in a way i guess.

        The stories aren’t bad themselves, people just need to grow up and accept that animation isn’t a genre and neither are CGI or puppet-motion films genres in the film industry. Just different ways to make film! They become genres because audiences and marketing and who knows what else start treating them as such. And that’s how we call something a ‘kiddie-film’ but aren’t sure about recommending it for actual kids to watch.
        I just don’t understand whether it’s some sort of ‘family friendly’ mentality or just……what…… why……..
        It’s really too bad Paranorman hasn’t gotten more success from this aspect? I mean geez, i think it would have done well for some horror-film quotient and teens maybe and such but hey, Non-CGI-Kids-Movie-predispositions! Better not see it, must be for families and wannabe-animators only. Ouch.

  • James

    The Aardman films are made primarily for British audiences and are essentially foreign films so I’m not sure if it’s a fair barameter. Also notice that Arthur Christmas and Flushed Away, full CGI features, did not fair any better if not worse than their stop-motion specialties.

  • drmedula

    Why is FRANKENWEENIE doing poorly? Frankly, I think people are just, finally, sick of Tim Burton.

  • akira

    frankenweenie is a bonus feature on the nightmare before christmas dvds…. i know this is a new different version of it, but it isn’t like something that people were begging for… probably most people didn’t even bother watching it as a bonus feature… coming a week after a more colorful halloween movie starring already famous monsters didn’t help at all…

    on the upside, the budget for this film is reported as 39 million… and it’ll make close to that back in US box office… of course there was marketing, but this’ll make a lot in dvd sales, etc. compare that with the CG feature, Mars needs moms, or whatever it was called.

    when Danny Elfman, Tim Burton (Henry Selick) and Disney get together and do the deal for NBX2, that’s when we’ll see what stop motion is capable of bringing in to the box office. personally i really hope it will happen. i’d love to see what they comes up with, and i’d love to give jack, sally, and crew another crack at the big screen.

  • Mike

    I’m torn, in a way. Though I wasn’t a big fan of Frankenweenie, I want to see it succeed like I want to see every well-crafted stop-motion feature succeed. Yet I want Hotel Transylvania to succeed also, because of what it would mean for Genndy Tartakovsky and the possibility of a Samurai Jack film. Guess it was inevitable that one would cannibalize the other.

  • axolotl

    I doubt that anyone saw a trailer for, say, PARANORMAN and said ‘Eew, stop motion, I don’t want to see that.’ A lot of (non-animation) people can’t even tell the difference between it and CG.

  • I think in order to understand why CG films do better than stop-motion, you have to look at what it is that CG can do that stop motion cannot. As much as there have been incredible technical innovations in the way stop motion films are made now, stop motion still has its limits. There’s one thing I think sells kids more on CG than anything: manic energy.

    Seriously, look at films like the Ice Age series or Madagascar. It’s all high energy, fast paced, characters popping into poses all over the place. Everything is quicker and faster in CG, and 90% of the time that’s what they sell to audiences in the marketing of CG films. It’s become the norm in practically every CG film that’s come out. For some reason CG films just seem to have no problem keeping up with that level of energy, where stop motion and 2D films just have a harder time with it. In stop motion, the pacing is generally slower, and its geared towards a very different style of storytelling. I suppose you can make a stop motion film that had as much energy as a CG film, but I bet it would be pretty difficult to pull off and keep that energy up for an 80 minute feature. You can try it, but it would be very very hard. It’s just that the kind of pacing in a CG film has become so ingrained in audiences now, that a stop motion film is just going to seem inevitably slower and more drawn out. I’ll bet you if “The Nightmare Before Christmas” came out today, it would not do well. This has nothing to do with good storytelling or quality or the hard work and level of craftsmanship put into those films. The audience doesn’t care about any of that. It’s what’s become ingrained in audiences expectations for animation now. They expect things to go faster, and if the film doesn’t look like its going to be that way, they’ll pass on it. Studio marketing knows this and plays on their expectations. Why else is Scrat at the forefront of all the marketing on all the Ice Age films?

    I think it’s just a sign of our society and what they expect. You can’t blame general audiences (non animation people), for wanting to take their kids to see CG films over any other medium. In their eyes, CG films offer so much more, they are so much more polished looking and it can do things that are a limitation in other mediums of animation. Hopefully its just a trend that will change the moment audiences get tired of everything going 90mph. But convincing them otherwise…that’s a challenge.

    • I’m not sure Nightmare was a big success when it was first released either.

      • V.M.L.

        It wasn’t a big hit when it came out, but it audiences grew to love it over the years.

    • Polecat

      Funny you should say that. I think the slower movements and more thoughtful pace are what draws me to stop-motion and puts me off Dreamworks to a large extent.

  • “Are stop motion films simply incapable of grossing as much as CG or has no one ever made a stop motion film with mass audience appeal? ”

    Chicken Run was the biggest moneymaker out of all stop motion films, and it made around $225 Million in 2000. The same year Dinosaur made around $350 Million, so I would say you definitely have a point.

    • Nicholas

      I dunno. Dinosaur kind of has two big things over Chicken Run: it’s Disney (so it may have had an in-built audience of animation fans, along with the capability for more advertising than Chicken Run was probably capable of), and it features dinosaurs (which, speaking as someone who was in the target audience at the time, was a big draw, moreso than chickens). I suppose Chicken Run might have had an audience of Aardman fans, but since that would probably be mainly limited to the UK I don’t think it’s exactly comparable.

      (I feel I should point out that I think Chicken Run is the better film of the two, but eight-year-old me was pretty much DINOSAWZ and nothing else)

  • Mac

    How aggressively were these stop motion films marketed? I think with John Carter, we can say we know that almost everyone who saw a successful adventure movie like Avatar saw the marketing for John Carter, and rejected it, and we could try to figure out why qualitatively. If the scale of the marketing is correlated, is Sony comparable?

    Personally, I went to see Paranorman in 3D, the 3D didn’t work, and despite pleas that it would be up and running soon, I griped about the death of the movie house being on their hands, as I walked away refund in hand, in stark contrast to the unpopulated mallscape outside. “Christ, what an asshole”

  • mike schlesinger

    One other thing the three have in common: they all skew toward adults. I remember walking out of an early PIRATES screening thinking that hardly anyone under 25 would enjoy this, given the dry subtlety of its humor. NORMAN and FRANKEN both exist in that “creepy” universe that us monster kids love but is anathema to today’s young’uns, who prefer wise-cracking animals, a deafening soundtrack, fast cutting and fart/barf/pee/poop gags. Still, as long as they can be done for a price that ensures profitability, hopefully they’ll go on being made. Not EVERYTHING needs to be made for six-year-olds!

    • Sarah J

      That’s true. A lot of stop motion movies tend to have slower pacing, it’s a lot harder to do something fast and zany. I don’t know if it’s so much that kids enjoy that stuff more, just that the parents assume the kids will enjoy the loud stuff more and never give the slower stuff a chance.

      Though I will say, when I went to see Pirates! there were a lot of kids in the movie theater, and they seemed to enjoy the film as much as the adults. So I did have hopes that the movie would make some money with the help of word of mouth, but I guess that didn’t take.

    • Matthew Koh

      Are you trying to tell us that kids are stupid these days?

  • Mark Cee

    I don’t know why, but most stop motion films tend to skew to the older and/or darker side of story telling. Which in my humble opinion might be a big reason why these films don’t bring in the big, box office $$. It will be interesting to see what happens when a “family friendly” stop motion film opens.

    • Vik

      I wonder if audiences are just tired of the gothic, ‘grimdark’ genre that started with Edward Scissorhands and Nightmare Before Christmas? The gothic thing seems so old-hat now. I don’t think Burton’s “Dark Shadows” film (also gothic) has done very well either.

  • Tom

    Sad for Frankenweenie (I still need to see it) but hopefully with success of Hotel Transylvania, Sony will give Genndy the go-ahead to make his Samurai Jack opus.

    • Funkybat

      Maybe. Next on Genndy’s plate is Popeye. I can’t help but think Samurai Jack will come out a “heads I win, tails you lose” proposition insofar as Hollywood’s money machine. If Popeye does gangbusters, they’ll immediately want to get Genndy onto some other high-profile project with broad “brand name recognition.” If Popeye does middling to poor, they will not want to “take the risk” of producing a feature version of what they probably consider a niche cartoon series from over a decade ago. Not what I would like to imagine would happen, but that’s what the cynical pragmatic side of me thinks would happen.

  • To be honest, I saw all three of the stop-motion films and I loved ParaNorman the most. But I think marketing plays a big role in getting across what the movies are about and I just felt that in all three cases, the trailers didn’t really tell an interesting enough story of the movies.

  • It’s probably a bit of both but seeing as stop-motion has advanced to the point where it can mimic CGI pretty well, one has to assume that the quality of the output is becoming a more significant factor.

    To be fair, there isn’t the same diversity (insofar that less of them are released) in stop-mo features that there is in CGI or even traditionally animated films, so that could well be the reason.

    Having said all that, it is necessary to point out that box office grosses are only a vague indicator of the profitability of movies in this day and age.

  • It’s definitely a disappointing box office return for “Frankenweenie,” but if you take a step back it’s amazing that it made anything at all.

    “Frankenweenie” might have one of the least marketable premises of any animated movie.

    Imagine some artist at Disney or Pixar pitched this idea to the studio brass: “Hey, I’d like to make a movie about a boy whose loses his dog and then brings the dog back to life ala “Frankenstein.” The movie will be a giant homage to 1930s Universal Horror movies. And it’s going to be in stop-motion and black and white!”

    The fact that a feature-length “Frankenweenie” exists is truly mind-boggling. My hats off to Tim Burton for pushing it and Disney for letting it happen.

    • I’d argue the opposite. Universal itself uses the terms Universal Horror and Universal Monsters to refer to its horror films, and their related characters. Dark Shadows as a big-budget, Hollywood blockbuster is more of a stretch. DS wasn’t a high-rated soap opera in its heyday, and is buoyed by its loyal fan base.

      Ironically, DS is Tim Burton’s “big” film of 2012, while Frankenweenie is his “small” film. If you count Timur Bekmambetov’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (which Burton produced), that’s three Burton-related films in five months. Frankenweenie‘s relatively weak first week might be a simple case of audience burnout.

  • See Wan Sun

    Simply put, most stop-motion films aren’t feel good disney-esque family films. Seems to me the lack of large success is a result of poor marketing and smaller target audiences. American stop-mo films have been dark which targets a small audience, and imported stop-mo films are either dark, poorly marketed, or they target (or attempt to appeal to) an etsy audience which is not exactly the majority of people.

  • i only found out about frankenweenie from the trailer in paranorman, i was totally surprised about it. i think it’s just down to marketing.

  • Nipplenuts McGurk

    Stop motion is so slick now…especially ParaNorman, I don’t think audiences really give it a thought in terms of how the movie was created. Honestly I think it just comes down to marketing, release timing, and word of mouth.

  • Funkybat

    I think ParaNorman didn’t do that well because it came out too early for Halloween, and because it was honestly somewhat more dark and mature than most “kids films.” I would say the marketing did a good job promoting what the film actually was, and I saw a lot of marketing for it, so I was surprised it didn’t do at least as well as Hotel Transylvania ended up doing.

    Frankenweenie I suspect didn’t do all that well because of the current glut of “spooky kids movies” with ParaNorman and Hotel Transylvania having already come out. I also suspect there is a certain degree of Tim Burton burnout on the part of audiences. I know that I’m not alone in feeling like Tim Burton’s films have gotten creatively stale, and while I’m more interested in Frankenweenie than most of his 2000s-era stuff, I tend to think of his best work being in the 80s & 90s, and just don’t get that excited to see his name on a movie poster anymore.

  • Kyle

    Has no one considered its not the stop motion as much the black and white that’s keeping people away? Defend its artistic integrity all you want but it doesn’t exactly have the mass appeal of full color.

  • Jenovasilver

    I think it was a variety of factors, I think people are burnt out on Burton, I think it came out after Hotel which everyone was running too, I think it was because it was in B/W instead of colour and finally I think it was practically unmarketable. Every time I saw the trailer in theaters there were audible groans, it was a film no one cared about at least IMO.

    There were three Halloween-esq movies coming out within a month and a half of each other, Paranorman (which was FANTASTIC) came out too early and suffered from the ‘unmarketable’ problem that Frankenweenie has. Hotel looks fun, zany, catchy, colourful and SAFE, I haven’t seen it so I can’t judge on the quality of the film but a good portion of my friends seen it and noticed the ‘glee’ from the children.

    I think there will always be a place in animation for Stop Motion, but it has to be in a place where there’s little to no competition from other animated films. Which is sad really. And if you haven’t seen Paranorman GO SEE IT! SEE IT HARD!