Box-office analysis is a funny old business, one I find simultaneously fascinating and alienating: the line between success and failure can be as subjective as it is fine. Which is why it’s with some interest that I’ve been following the reports on the opening numbers for “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” in its first week of UK release: what initially appears to be good news turns out to have rather more mixed signals.
On the one hand, as The Guardian’s Charles Gant (the go-to guy for British box-office reporting, for those interested) tells it, the film’s a hit. Topping the charts with a first-week total of approximately $10.8 million (hey, we’re a small country), it’s enjoyed the biggest opening of any animated film this year. However, as Gant explains, when you factor in the money it made in previews, the film is actually tracking behind January opener “Tangled,” with the end of the UK half-term school vacation promising something of a drop-off. In other words: sure, it’s a hit. But it looks unlikely to be a phenomenon on the scale of Spielberg’s Spielbiggest.
So, why am I telling you this? Well, it does make me wonder what lies ahead for its US release in December. It’s an unusual occurrence for a blockbuster of this magnitude to give British audiences such a head start on America, and not an accidental one: with Tintin a far more familiar cultural icon in Europe than across the pond, Paramount was presumably counting on breathless advance buzz to butter up American audiences sceptical of a knickerbocker-clad Belgian boy detective. (Actually, when you put it like that, we should all be sceptical, but I digress.)
To a large extent, it’s worked: the reaction from audiences and critics (myself included) has been mostly warm. (I must, however, take a moment to mention The Guardian’s bizarre editorial vendetta against the film: in the past few weeks, they’ve run no fewer than three op-eds crucifying Steven Spielberg’s interpretation of the comic books, to go with two separate but equally negative reviews from their in-house critics. Batfans have nothing on the Tintin-heads, it seems.)
Still, the question remains: if the film isn’t a mega-hit closer to its cultural roots, will unfamiliar American audiences be any more enthusiastic? Does this merely prove that Tintin is an antiquated figure to kids in any part of the world? None of this math-talk should make much of a difference to the film’s awards hopes in the Best Animated Feature category (where its own medium remains its chief challenge), but if it’s to have any chance of crossing over to Best Picture territory — an outside possibility than some pundits have been mooting in the past few weeks — it’ll need to be more than a qualified success. For now, I’m intrigued.