Predictions for ‘Wall-E’, ‘Wanted’

Here are my predictions for the upcoming weekend of June 27-29:

1)Wall-E (3,992 theaters) – $63 million

2)Wanted (3,175 theaters) – $35.5 million

3)Get Smart – $20.7 million

4)The Incredible Hulk – $11 million

5)Kung Fu Panda – $10.9 million

6)The Love Guru – $6.4 million

7)Indiana Jones 4 – $5.3 million

8)The Happening – $4.7 million

9)Sex and the City – $4 million

10)You Don’t Mess with the Zohan – $3.8 million

UPDATED: My Wall-E prediction was dead on as it rocketed to $63.1 million, significantly higher than Pixar’s previous film, Ratatouille, which made $47 million on this same weekend last year but still below Pixar’s top openers, The Incredibles and Finding Nemo. Both opened to about $70 million each. Wanted was quite a bit higher than I expected with a $50.9 million opening, nearly doubling the previous high for a June R-rated debut. This was the first time in box office history that two films debuted to more than $50 million on the same weekend.

Box Office Data Source: The Numbers




Prospects for ‘The Dark Knight’ Part II

I’ve already given my two cents on how high The Dark Knight can fly on the quality side. (For Part I click here) Now, I will delve into the box office potential of the second installment of the rejuvenated Batman franchise.

Batman Begins didn’t exactly light the box office on fire on its opening weekend. Begins opened with $48.7 million in June of 2005, only slightly more than the $42.9 million launch from 1997’s Batman and Robin, the last in a series of films which had a much different style and less serious tone than this newer series. (Although the comparison is not entirely fair since Batman and Robin opened on the more traditional Friday, but Begins debuted on a Wednesday, a day that is never included in the weekend take.) Batman and Robin suffered from horrible word of mouth and finished with only $107.3 million giving it a horrible 2.5 multiplier (total box office gross divided by opening weekend). A 2.5 multiplier may not seem horrible by today’s standards, but that is mainly because the industry has been trending towards a more frontloaded pattern. Back in 1997, that sort of collapse was nearly unheard of.

Batman Begins, however, showed off some strong legs, finishing its box office run with $205.3 million. That gave it a very impressive 4.21 multiplier, extremely high nowadays for an action film. Still, that total is a far cry from the $330+ million that each film in the Spider-Man franchise, the most lucrative of all recent superhero movies, has generated. Begins, though, has been able to build up its fan base from those who watched it for the first time on DVD, which has been available for nearly three years. This gives The Dark Knight a huge box office advantage over its predecessor.

The success of a sequel largely depends on how many of the previous film’s cast members return. Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman, Michael Caine as Alfred, Batman’s butler, and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox all return to play their respective roles. Even Cillian Murphy returns to play Scarecrow, one of the villains. The only major actor/actress not returning is Katie Holmes who played Bruce’s girlfriend in Begins. The character is staying, but Holmes has been replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal, which in my opinion is good news. Director Christopher Nolan also returns, which is critical to keeping the darker tone intact.

The villains in Batman Begins were not among the more famous (or should I say infamous) in the Batman universe. However, The Dark Knight cast Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart to play two of the most popular villains in the comic world, The Joker and Two Face. This, of course, adds to the must-see status of the film. I still hate to even mention it, but this is Ledger’s last film, and judging by the trailers and what I’ve heard, it looks like he has gone out with a bang.

There are several benchmarks and records that The Dark Knight is looking to beat, or at least come respectively close to. The best opening weekend of the year is the $100.1 million launch from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull over the always lucrative Memorial Day frame. Unlike Crystal Skull and Batman Begins, Dark Knight opens on a Friday, which is an advantage when it comes to the official opening weekend. If a film opens midweek, the days preceding the first Friday are not included in the opening weekend. The best total for a film so far this year is Iron Man‘s $304.8 million and when it finally exits theaters it will probably have banked around $320 million.

While its uncommon for a sequel to more than double its predecessor’s opening weekend, it’s not unheard of. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Rush Hour 2, American Pie 2, and Shrek 2 are recent examples of summer sequels that have more than doubled (or even more than quadrupled in the case of Austin Powers) their predecessors, and in all of these cases the films only had two or three years for the originals to build up their audiences on DVD or VHS, about the same amount of time The Dark Knight has had. Batman Begins’ leggy run in theaters seems to indicate that the sequel will be a new member in this elite group. A $100 million opening for Dark Knight would be slightly more than double Batman Begins, but the industry is pointing to a number that is even higher.

Of the 10 films that have opened to more than $100 million on their opening weekend, nine of them are sequels. The only film on the list that isn’t a sequel happens to be a comic book movie, the first Spider-Man with a staggering $114.8 million bow from 2002, which was the biggest opening weekend at the time. Only three films have posted higher debuts since, including one of its sequels, current record holder Spider-Man 3 with a gargantuan $151.1 million opening last year. While the openings got bigger, each Spidey film has made slightly less in total than the last. Of all of the recent comic book franchises, only the X-Men films have shown substantial growth, in both the opening and the total, from one film to the next. The first X-Men is often credited with reviving the at-the-time waning superhero genre when it debuted to $54.5 million in 2000 on its way to a $157.3 million total. X2: X-Men United made its way to theaters in 2003, a year after Spider-Man made the superhero a part of pop culture again, and it debuted to $85.6 million en route to $214.9 total, a substantial increase over its predecessor. Even the mixed reactions to X-Men: The Last Stand didn’t put much a dent in that franchise with its $102.8 million bow and $234.4 million total two years ago.

Another factor that must be considered is the competition that The Dark Knight will face. This summer is full of superhero and comic book films. Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk have already launched. Will Smith’s latest juggernaut, Hancock, about a down and out superhero, opens just two weeks prior to The Dark Knight, but the Wednesday release date Hancock is taking suggests that film will have exhausted most of its audience before Knight begins its crusade into theaters. Hellboy II: The Golden Army opens just a week before Knight, but that film will play to a more cult audience and will likely not put a dent in the Caped Crusader’s latest pilgrimage.

Two other wide releases open opposite The Dark Knight on the same weekend, but they play to different and much narrower target audiences so they will be mainly a non-factor.

Ultimately, at this point, it looks like The Dark Knight will open to at least $100 million with a more likely opening in the $110-$130 million range and with even a slight chance of breaking Spider-Man 3‘s $151 million record. That points to a total of at least $300 million, even if there is bad word of mouth, and if the word of mouth is positive or even merely neutral, then $400+ million is certainly possible, making it only the 8th film to cross that milestone. $400 million would also likely be enough to become the highest grossing film of 2008.

Well, that about sums it up. The Dark Knight opens Friday, July 18.

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Prospects for ‘The Dark Knight’

The Dark Knight is arguably the most anticipated movie of the summer, maybe even the year. Because of this, expectations are through the roof, to say the least, both financially and critically. Everything seems to be coming together for this to be THE movie event of the summer. But just how high can it go?

Hollywood’s dabbling with sequels has been going on close to the birth of cinema. One of the very first sequels, The Bride of Frankenstein, back in the 1930’s, showed that a successsor could be more than just a cash grab. Then, of course, there is the magnum opus of all sequels, The Godfather Part II, one of only two sequels, along with The Return of the King, to win the Oscar for best picture. The Empire Strikes Back, Terminator 2, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly are some more examples of sequels that not only match but even surpass their predecessors.

Unfortunately, these are the exception to the rule that “all sequels are inferior to their originals”. It is one of the worst feelings in the world when you are highly anticipating a new chapter to an original film that you loved only to finally watch the sequel and be disappointed. There are countless examples but some of the most popular ones are The Matrix Reloaded, Return of the Jedi, The Godfather Part III, and the newest addition, Spider-Man 3.

The “all sequels are inferior to their originals” rule applies to nearly every genre with horror sequels being the most common. One sub-genre that is consistently an exception to this rule, though, is the comic book film. The second film in a superhero/comic book franchise is actually usually considered to be the best. Most of the popular comic book second entries, Spider-Man 2, X2: X-Men United, Batman Returns, Superman II, and even Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, are widely considered to be better than the first film in each respective franchise.

With this type of movie, the setup and introduction to the superhero can frequently be an awkward and slow endeavor. Superhero films are usually at their most exciting when the action quotient is raised, and this exhilaration is what drives fans of the comic books into theaters in the first place. This favors the sequel in this sub-genre since the setup has already happened. Also, while not exactly a sequel, the recently released The Incredible Hulk plays out like one because the setup is pretty much finished after the opening credits, leaving more room for exciting action sequences (and shortening the run time meaning more showtimes per day) . The fans have reacted positively with nearly everyone agreeing that this reboot is better than the 2003 version of The Hulk.

This, of course, bodes well for The Dark Knight, a sequel to a film which is already highly regarded as one of the best of its kind. Personally, I liked Batman Begins quite a bit. Christian Bale is the best actor to wear the famous cape, and I really appreciated director Christopher Nolan’s darker and more serious tone which suits Batman better. On the flip side, I thought the movie was a bit too busy with way too many villains and not enough room to devote to any one of them the screen time they deserved. My favorite villain in that movie, Scarecrow, saw his demise well before the movie ended. With The Dark Knight, however, it appears as though The Joker, Batman’s most famous arch-nemesis and arguably the most famous villain in the comic book world, will get ample screen time. Plus, lest we forget that the actor playing the Joker, Heath Ledger, is playing his last role in a movie due to his unfortunate passing away, only raising the anticipation.

On Rotten Tomatoes, the best reviewed comic book/superhero movie is a tie between Spider-Man 2 and Iron Man, both with a 93% positive rating. Batman Begins scored 84% positive, already better than any of the campier Tim Burton or Joel Schumacher directed versions back in the 1980’s and the 90’s. The Dark Knight has potential to do even better with the critics. At this point, it would be a shock if the reviews were below Begins, and mid-to-high 90’s is not out of the question. These are incredibly high standards to live up to, but I feel confident that this film can.

In a few days, I will delve into the financial side of the film, exploring the possible box office outcomes that may result. The Dark Knight opens on Friday, July 18, and you can guarantee I will be one of the first in line. For now, here is one of my favorite Dark Knight YouTube videos, comparing Heath Ledger’s Joker to Jack Nicholson’s from Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989.

Audiences ‘Get Smart’ Over the Weekend

Warner Brothers’ Get Smart won the battle of the comedies over the weekend, handily beating Paramount’s The Love Guru by nearly a 3 to 1 margin. Meanwhile, The Incredible Hulk and The Happening both posted massive second weekend drops. The overall box office was again very healthy as ticket sales were above last year for the fourth consecutive weekend.

Get Smart opened on top this weekend within range of expectations with a solid $39.2 million, according to weekend studio estimates, from an ultra wide 3,911 theaters. This makes it the largest start ever for a Steve Carell starring live action film topping Evan Almighty’s $31.2 million bow on this same weekend last year. It is also the largest opening for a live action comedy film so far this year. Even more encouraging for Smart, is the 5% Saturday increase over Friday in an industry where it’s more common for summer comedies to drop slightly on Saturday. Although, the increase is more likely attributed to the 25+ age group the film seems to be attracting in large numbers, a group who is not as inclined to rush out to a film on opening night.

Despite negative reactions both from critics and moviegoers, Evan Almighty was able to cross the $100 million mark with the help of typically strong late June/early July weekdays. $100 million should be an even easier task for Get Smart. It doesn’t face any direct competition until Hancock, still nearly two weeks away. The final target for Get Smart should be around $125 million.

Proving there is still at least some box office justice, The Love Guru flopped with an estimated 4th place $14 million launch from 3,012 theaters. This is by far the lowest opening of Mike Myers’ career since he became a household name after the success of Austin Powers. Awkward audience reactions to the movie’s ads and direct competition from fellow opener Get Smart cut into the potential of the $62 million budgeted Guru. Paramount had ample opportunity for months to move Guru‘s release to a more favorable date, such as next weekend, but instead chose to gamble that it would ultimately be the more appealing of the two high profile comedies. At this point, a $40 million total is about the best this film can hope for.

The Love Guru puts a dent in an otherwise exceptionally strong summer from Paramount, a studio that has released the three biggest hits of the summer so far: Iron Man, Indiana Jones 4, and Kung Fu Panda.

Speaking of Kung Fu Panda, the Jack Black led animated comedy continues to track a very similar course as Disney/Pixar’s Cars did two years ago. Holding at second place for the second week in a row, Panda fell just 35% for a $21.7 million weekend. Its $155.6 million total makes it the highest grossing animated film of the year topping Horton Hears a Who.

At the three spot, The Incredible Hulk fell a steep 61% in its sophomore weekend to $21.6 million. Although the Edward Norton led version held better than the 2003 Eric Bana led Hulk, which dove 70% in its second frame, this decline is still huge and maybe enough to convince Marvel Studios not to greenlight a future sequel. Another recent comic book reboot, Batman Begins back in 2005, fell only 43% in its second weekend. Incredible Hulk’s 10 day total stands at $96.5 million compared to $100.6 million for the 2003 version at the same point. The green giant will likely finish with a similar total as the 2003 version’s $132.2 million final total.

In fifth place, The Happening plummetted 67%, tying The Village for director M. Night Shyamalan’s largest second weekend decline. It’s $10 million weekend ups the cume to $50.3 million, and it will likely finish with around $65 million representing a very low 2.15 multiplier (total divided by opening weekend).

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull held reasonably well falling 43% in its fifth weekend for a $8.4 million and a new total of $290.1 million. It could cross $300 million as early as next weekend, which would be about ten days shorter than it took Iron Man to cross that milestone. You Don’t Mess the Zohan felt the heat of two new comedies, with a $7.2 million weekend, dropping 56%, and raising the 17 day total to $84.1 million. Unless the studio gives the film a push, Zohan may become the first Adam Sandler comedy in nearly a decade to fail to top $100 million.

Sex and the City fell a moderate 34% in its fourth weekend for a new total of $132.4 million. Sex may have enough room left to eventually penetrate the $150 million plateau since the film faces little direct competition for several weeks. Iron Man continues to hold exceptionally well dropping only 29% in its eight weekend. The $4 million weekend tally raises the Marvel Studios’ film to a huge $304.8 million, the highest of the year, and the second highest total ever for a non-sequel comic book movie behind only 2002’s Spider-Man. With a $1.9 million weekend and an impressive $49.6 million total from The Strangers, dropping 52%, the low budget horror film rounded out the top 10.

In limited release, Mongol expanded to 94 theaters and captured $744,000 in ticket sales representing a decent $7,914 per theater average. The Oscar nominee for best foreign language film about the rise of Genghis Khan has made off with $1.1 million so far and will continue to expand over the coming weeks. Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, starring Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin, opened with a strong $223,000 from only 5 theaters for a year’s best $44,600 average per theater. Kittredge will expand into nationwide release on July 2 offering some counter-programming to young girls not interested in Hancock.

Still from \'Mongol\'

Still from ‘Mongol’

Next week, the highly anticipated Disney/Pixar film, Wall-E, opens as well as the Angelina Jolie headlined action film, Wanted. Both films appeal to different audiences so there should be room for both to thrive.

UPDATE (Monday, June 23): The actual weekend numbers are in, and the only major change is Incredible Hulk and Panda swapping places. Most movies were slightly underestimated.

1) Get Smart- $38.7 million, NEW, $38.7 million total

2) The Incredible Hulk- $22.1 million, -60%, $97.1 million total

3) Kung Fu Panda- $21.9 million, -35%, $155.8 million total

4) The Love Guru- $13.9 million, NEW, $13.9 million total

5) The Happening – $10.5 million, -66%, $50.7 million total

6) Indiana Jones 4- $8.5 million, -42%, $291 million total

7) Zohan- $7.5 million, -54%, $84.3 million total

8)Sex and the City- $6.5 million, -33%, $132.5 million

9) Iron Man- $4 million, -28%, $304.8 million total

10) The Strangers- $2.1 million, -47%, $49.8 million total

Limited release:

Mongol- $778,963, 94 theaters, $8,286 per theater, $1.15 million total

Kit Kittredge- $220,297, 5 theaters, $44,059 per theater, $220,297 total

Box office data source:

Steve Carell vs. Mike Myers

Two high profile comedies duke it out at the box office this weekend. In one corner, the hilarious Steve Carell will try to lead the Warner Bros. TV adaptation Get Smart to victory. In the other corner, Mike Myers comes out of hibernation with Paramount’s The Love Guru, his first live action comedy in nearly five years.

First of all, this battle should not be happening in the first place. Two high profile comedies targeting similar audiences should never open on the same weekend. Smart and Guru will likely cannibalize each other limiting their chances to succeed. Plus, Adam Sandler’s latest comedy, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, is still playing at a very wide 3,000+ theaters in its third weekend.

When I first saw the funny teaser trailer last summer for Get Smart, I had high hopes for this film. The Office has become one of the best comedies on television right now and Carell’s idiotic, naive character on that show seemed like a pretty good match to translate to the main character of Maxwell Smart. Unfortunately, the most recent theatrical trailers and tv spots have been only sporadically amusing. I am not a huge fan of the director, Peter Segal, who has helmed such recent Adam Sandler comedies as Anger Management, 50 First Dates, and The Longest Yard. Segal hasn’t directed a really good comedy since Tommy Boy.

Get Smart is currently sitting at 52% positive on Rotten Tomatoes, not bad but I was hoping for better. The film is also flanked by a respectable supporting cast including Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, and Alan Arkin. ‘Smart’ will likely skew older than Love Guru because the television show is over three decades old, but it will attract a decent enough younger audience who regularly watch Carell on The Office. Carell starred as the title character in Evan Almighty, which bowed to a disappointing $31.2 million at 3,604 theaters on the same weekend last year. Get Smart is even wider at 3,911 theaters, among the highest ever for a live action comedy. The largest opening ever for a spy spoof is Goldmember with $73.1 million back in 2002. Smart will not be quite as high because it does not have the built in audience that the third Austin Powers film had, but at least half of that number is reasonable. I’m predicting about $37 million, but I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

The Love Guru looks to make considerably less this weekend. Every trailer or tv spot I have seen for this (alleged) comedy have been downright awful. The 15% positive reviews confirm my suspicions. I really enjoyed the first two Austin Powers films and Myers was perfectly cast as the voice of the famous green ogre, Shrek. Love Guru just seems like an ego trip for Myers, which is a shame because he used to be such a talented comedian. Still, the $18.5 million launch for Meet the Spartans back in the dumping ground of January proves that there is a demand for such a juvenile comedy. With decent star power from Myers, Love Guru could have opened much higher than Spartans had it not been going up against another comedy. I’m predicting a $19 million opening, making it Myers’ lowest debut since the first Austin Powers eleven years ago.

UPDATED (Sunday, June 22): Get Smart beat my $37 million prediction slightly with $39.2 million, according to studio estimates from Warner Brothers. Smart rose 5% on Saturday from Friday potentially indicating a lengthy word-of-mouth driven run in theaters. Meanwhile, The Love Guru did not fare so well with a $14 million 4th place opening, quite a bit lower than my $19 million prediction, which was already lower than what most were predicting.

Box office data source:

‘Hulk’ smashes ‘Happening’ over Father’s Day Weekend

Solid debuts from ‘The Incredible Hulk’ and ‘The Happening’, as well as a decent second weekend from ‘Kung Fu Panda’ led another strong weekend at the box office. For the third consecutive week, the overall marketplace saw significant gains over the same time last year. Also, for only the second time ever, three films grossed over $30 million in the same frame.

‘The Incredible Hulk’ smashed its way to the top of the charts with a strong $55.4 million from a very wide 3,505 theaters. The reboot of the popular Marvel character, with Edward Norton in the title role, was somewhat less than the $62.1 million launch in 2003 from the Ang Lee directed ‘Hulk’, which starred Eric Bana. At the time, ‘Hulk’ held the record for the biggest June opening weekend but has since been surpassed by ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’s’ $93.7 million debut back in 2004. ‘Hulk’ may have had a great launch, but the film suffered from horrible word-of-mouth which sent it crashing 70% in its second weekend, also a record for a #1 film at the time. Ultimately, ‘Hulk’ ended its run with $132.2 million giving it a pathetic 2.13 multiplier. The multiplier is the total divided by the opening weekend, and it is one of the strongest indicators of a film’s legs. That poor performance made this Norton reboot an uphill battle from the start, but the risk appears to have payed off. ‘The Incredible Hulk’ has been benefiting from much better audience reactions so the multiplier should be quite a bit higher. It needs a 2.39 multiplier to pass the 2003 version’s total. This is not guaranteed but definitely possible.

Breaking down the weekend, ‘Incredible Hulk’ earned $21.5 million on Friday, fell 14% to $18.4 million on Saturday, and dropped another 15% to $15.6 million on Sunday, a smaller decline than the 24% drop ‘Hulk’ dropped in 2003, although it did not have the benefit of Father’s Day, which is historically kind to large scale comic book adaptations.

M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film, ‘The Happening’, starring Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, scared up a better than expected third place opening with $30.5 million from 2,986 theaters, significantly higher than his last film, Lady in the Water, which bombed with an $18 million launch two years ago, but still well below his last truly successful opening, ‘The Village’ with its mighty $50.7 million debut. The movie benefited from marketing that focused on the Friday the 13th launch date and the ‘R’ rating, a first for Shyamalan, but also benefited from a lack of thrillers in the market. ‘The Strangers’ was its closest direct competitor but that film has nearly run its course.

It’s future, though, may be similar to the premise of the movie. ‘The Happening’ fell a disturbing 21% on Saturday. Thrillers that debut on Friday the 13th do have a tendency to take larger than normal drops on Saturday, but combining this pre-manufactured frontloadedness with poor audience reactions seem to indicate a very low multiplier. ‘The Village’ and ‘Lady in the Water’ managed respective multipliers of just 2.25 and 2.34. ‘The Happening’ will likely follow a similar course giving it a disappointing total of around $65-$70 million.

In second place ahead of ‘The Happening’, ‘Kung Fu Panda’ had a predictable 44% second weekend drop giving it $33.6 million. In ten days, the Jack Black animated comedy, has chopped up a strong $117.3 million. So far, it’s performance has been nearly identical to ‘Cars’, which debuted on the same weekend as ‘Panda’ in 2006. ‘Cars’ ultimately drove off with nearly $250 million, fueled by strong summer weekdays and holds. That film, though, had virtually no direct competition throughout its run, unlike ‘Panda’, which has to deal with ‘Wall-E’ in a couple of weeks. ‘Kung Fu Panda’ should still have enough kick to cross the $200 million barrier.

‘You Don’t Mess the Zohan’ dove 58% in its second weekend with $16.4 million, a larger than normal drop for an Adam Sandler comedy. It’s total stands at $68.8 million. $100 million is still possible but far from guaranteed since it has to deal with the debuts of two high profile comedies next weekend.

In fifth place, the latest ‘Indiana Jones’ banked $14.7 million in its 4th weekend, down only 35%, and upping its total to $276.5 million. Its strong hold was partially due to Father’s Day as ‘Indy’ only dropped 4% on Sunday from Saturday. ‘Sex and the City’ took another steep fall dropping 54% to $9.8 million in its third weekend, but it’s $119.5 million running tally is still very impressive.

‘Iron Man’ had its strongest hold yet, dropping only 25%. It will become the first film of 2008 to cross $300 million within a few days. Low budget horror hit, ‘The Strangers’ fell 55% and has scared up a good $45.3 million, making it the highest grossing horror pic since ‘Saw IV’ back in October.

‘The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian’ continues to trail its predecessor by a substantial margin. It’s $3.2 million 5th weekend tally is one-fifth of the $15.6 million weekend that the first Narnia film generated at the same point in its run. “Prince Caspian’ will likely finish with around $140 million, less than half of its predecessor’s total. ‘What Happens in Vegas’ was the final film in the top 10 with $1.7 million and a solid $75.8 million total thus far.

After a weak May, June has been very strong. Business was way up over the same weekend last year when ‘Fantastic Four 2’ opened with $58.1 million but with much weaker holdovers. Next weekend, two comedies, ‘Get Smart’ and ‘The Love Guru’ face off against each other. Smart money is on the former over the latter.

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