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Weekend Box-Office Analysis (November 2-4, 2012)

After the previous weekend had been dampened by the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, the box-office recovered swiftly this weekend. The three new wide releases reinvigorated the business by taking in more than $80 million combined. On top of that, several holdovers delivered good holds due to the deflated last frame, but also due to the narrow focus of the new releases (two of them being rated R, another rated PG). In fact, for the first time in a long while there was only one single PG-13 release to be found within the entire Top 12 which amassed a total of $124.6 million, increasing a whopping 53.4% over the last weekend and 20.3% over the similar weekend last year when Puss in Boots defended the top spot with a miniscule drop. This superb recovery allowed for the year-to-date gap between 2012 and 2011 to increase to 5.1%. It seems very likely now that 2012 will finish as the highest-grossing year in box-office history.


The top spot belonged to Wreck-It Ralph which became the 6th animated movie to open at #1 this year. Its $49 million opening is the 4th-biggest for an animated film this year, ahead of Ice Age: Continental Drift and also the biggest non-Pixar animated opening for Disney ever. It might not have reached the lofty expectations of some, but there is absolutely nothing to complain about with this strong start. Wreck-It Ralph averaged $13,070 from 3,752 theatres. Supported by very good reviews and seemingly terrific word-of-mouth (the film scored a strong “A”-CinemaScore) Wreck-It Ralph should be well on its way to over $180 million and might even reach $200 million before it’s done.

The first weekend of November is a very traditional release date for animated movies, a tradition started by Monsters Inc. back in 2002. Pixar’s fourth film opened to a humongous $62.6 million back then and even fought off competition from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone later in its run on its way to $255.9 million total (a 3D re-issue is coming up next month). Ever since then, there has been a major animated release on the first weekend of November every year except for 2003 and 2011 (though Puss in Boots just opened on the last weekend of October instead. The release date has been used equally by Disney/Pixar and DreamWorks Animation with the biggest hits released on that weekend being the aforementioned Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles ($261.4 million). It’s easy to see why distributors would choose to release their animated tentpoles on that particular weekend. Coming off the horror- and drama-heavy October there is usually an open spot for family-oriented movies in the marketplace. At the same time, the entire holiday season, including Thanksgiving and Christmas are still ahead, giving the film a natural boost. Wreck-It Ralph’s only major competition this month will be Rise of the Guardians. While it will most certainly be a formidable opponent, I believe that during this time of the year two animated movies can perfectly co-exist. There is a wide range where Wreck-It Ralph could land in the end. Megamind’s multiplier would give it a $158 million total, whereas Puss in Boots’ legs would bring it all the way to $215 million. It’s a good bet to say that it’ll end up somewhere between these figures. It won’t have the longevity of Puss in Boots which had a deflated opening, but it also enjoys significantly better WoM than Megamind or Bee Movie. It should wind somewhere around $170-190 million.


Wreck-It Ralph might have won the box-office throne, but the Denzel Washington/Robert Zemeckis collaboration Flight was the weekend’s true winner. In an unusual move Paramount decided to give the film a release in far less theatres than it is the norm for Denzel Washington-led movies with plans to build up word-of-mouth for the drama and then expand it the weekend after Skyfall (Flight’s third week). So far it looks like the strategy paid off. Despite the small-ish release, Flight not just took the second spot of the box-office; it also bagged an incredible $24.9 million from just 1,884 venues and delivered the weekend’s best PTA with $13,217, narrowly edging out Wreck-It Ralph. Flight is mainly a showcase and a confirmation of three things. First, that this year has been really strong for R-rated movies. This is the 17th R-rated movie to open to more than $20 million this year as opposed to just six (!) last year. On top of that, 17 R-rated movies have already passed $50 million domestically this year and Flight as well as Paranormal Activity 4 will soon join them. Second, the film proves that Robert Zemeckis can still produce hits. For the director, Flight marks his first R-rated movie since Used Cars in 1980 and his long-awaited return to live action after Cast Away almost 12 years ago. With nine $100+ million hits under his belt, Zemeckis stands as one of the most successful directors ever. However his last two features, A Christmas Carol ($137.9 million) and Beowulf ($82.3 million) have disappointed relative to expectations and their production budgets. Carrying a price tag of $31 million, Flight is another bona fide hit for Zemeckis.

Third, the film is yet another of countless examples of Denzel Washington’s drawing abilities at the box-office. Washington has never really lost his magic ouch, but it has rarely been as strong as this year. After he has propelled Safe House to a $40+ million opening and a $126.2 million total this year, he’s back again with another R-rated hit. For Washington Flight represents his 13th $20+ million debut and falls just in line with the openings of Man on Fire ($22.8 million) and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 ($23.4 million) – except that it opened in over 1,000 theatres less than those films! Given a proper opening theatre count, Flight would have ended up as Washington’s 4th $30+ million opener. What is particularly impressive about this opening, aside from the low theatre count, is the fact that unlike most of Washington’s successful features, this s a straightforward drama and not a high-octane action flick.  Moreover, with Argo still doing very well, the marketplace wasn’t exactly lacking entertainment for adults. All that makes this start seem even more impressive. Whether the gamble to wait for yet another week to expand will pay off, remains to be seen. Either way, with its glowing reviews, strong awards buzz for Washington and an “A-“-CinemaScore it has received from its largely old audiences (89% were over the age of 25) should ensure a long life at the box-office and a final cume around $100-110 million, giving Washington his fifth $100+ million film. He might not be the industry’s biggest draw, but for many years he has been the most consistent one.


Even with such strong direct competition for adult audiences, Argo refused to budge. Down two spots to #3, the strong awards contender dipped just 15.5% to $10.2 million, bringing its running total to $75.9 million after four weeks. On average Argo has dropped 19.2% over its last three weekends which is simply unbelievable. At this point, Argo has pulled ahead of Ben Affleck’s The Town in tracking, now exactly $2 million ahead at the same point of its run, all while coming off a much bigger weekend. The Town went on to finish with $92.2 million, but it also didn’t have that amazing word-of-mouth and wasn’t able to rely on heavy Oscar buzz in the way that Argo will. At this point, Argo is actually more comparable to another successful October-released Oscars contender – The Departed. Albeit it had a bigger opening and also terrific legs, its initial drops haven’t been as great as Argo’s. In fact, The Departed’s fourth weekend is lower than Argo’s. Nevertheless, after four weeks Argo is still tracking around $15 million behind The Departed, but it is catching up. As I have said in the past, Argo’s final gross will heavily depend on its actual performance awards-wise, but at this point not only $100 million, but also $110 million is an absolute lock. At this point, it looks to cross $120 million even without winning any major awards. I project its final tally at $125-135 million. A strong performance at the Oscars could push it towards $150 million, though.


RZA’s passion project The Man with the Iron Fists has finally found its way on the big screen and while it didn’t exactly set the box-office on fire, its $7.9 million opening from 1,868 locations for a PTA of $4,235 is nothing to scoff at, particularly with its limited niche appeal and its $15 million budget. Sure, the reviews are lousy, the “C+”-CinemaScore is poor and Skyfall will destroy the male demographics for it next weekend. However, its likely $18-20 million finish is still a very good outcome for a movie with such limited appeal.


Another big winner of the weekend was Taken 2 the main benefactor of the curious circumstance that it ended up being the only PG-13 release in the Top 10. That helped to soften the blow as it decreased just 23.3% (the 2nd-best drop in the Top 10) and managed to climb a spot at the box-office despite three openers! The decline led to a $5.9 million weekend and $125.6 million in total after five weeks. Taken 2 is still almost $18 million ahead of Taken at the same point of its run. While the gap will keep decreasing with holds like this I don’t expect the first Taken to catch up before the second film’s 8th or 9th week on release. The Taken-franchise is a great success story for the straightforward action genre which doesn’t see many hits of this magnitude nowadays anymore. Now this was most likely the film’s last weekend in the sun. The PG-13-rated Skyfall will hurt Taken 2 most likely more than any other film, appealing directly to its audiences. After that I expect a rapid decrease of its theatre count, ensuring that it’ll leave most venues by the end of the month. It should still finish with about $135 million, retaining around 93% of the first film’s domestic total – a great percentage giving the scathing reviews and the initially expected short legs.


Despite mediocre WoM, the Wachowskis/Tom Tykwer epic Cloud Atlas held its own. Down 44%, the film settled for #6 of the charts with a $5.4 million weekend take pushing its running total to $18.4 million after 10 days. Obviously that is probably still less than expected for the IMAX-released $102 million movie, though it should be noted that Warner Bros. has paid just $20 million for the North American distribution rights (one needs to add the marketing costs too!). Skyfall will hit it as well next weekend, in particular by taking away its IMAX venues. I expect Cloud Atlas to fizzle out with $28 million.


Hotel Transylvania occupied the 7th slot of the box-office. Visibly hit by Wreck-It Ralph, the Adam Sandler-voiced animation flick dropped 53.3% to $4.4 million and a $137.5 million total. From now on it is mostly a question on how many theatres it’ll be able to hold on t until Thanksgiving which will give it one final boost. Crossing the $150 million-mark is still not a done deal. In fact, I still expect it to miss it and end its run with $147 million in the bank. Not that it is a number to complain about given the low expectations, its good overseas run and its $85 million budget. I’d expect a sequel announcement soon.


Surprisingly Paranormal Activity 4 didn’t crash and burn right after Halloween. In fact, the film lost 50% of its previous weekend’s audiences and dipped to #8 this weekend with $4.3 million. The outcome could have been much worse and this number at least ensures that Paranormal Activity 4 will end up grossing more than its immediate predecessor did opening weekend. That is a weak consolation of course, coming off a $100+ million grosser. The film’s current total stands at $49.5 million after 17 days. Paranormal Activity 4 will close its domestic run with around $54 million, failing to reach an opening-to-total multiplier of 2.


Unfettered by the arrival of Wreck-It Ralph, Here Comes the Boom held well once again. At #9, the comedy dropped just 32.3% to $3.5 million and stands at $35.5 million after four weeks. It should leave the theatres with around $43 million in its pockets.


Silent Hill: Revelation 3D had the weekend’s worst drop by far among the Top 12 movies. It declined 59.1% to $3.3 million, bringing its total to a pathetic $13.9 million after 10 days. The effects of bad WoM are clearly showing. The film doesn’t have much gas left in its tank and is looking at a total gross of $18 million.


Pitch Perfect, on the other hand, held terrifically. Clinging on to the 11th spot of the box-office, the music comedy dropped just 22.4% to $3.1 million and has already reached $55.6 million. With its $17 million budget, Pitch Perfect is yet another big hit for Universal which is having their best year ever. It’s looking good for $62 million when all is said and done.


Sinister has developed some surprising legs as well and held decently even after Halloween. The R-rated horror flick dipped 45.3% in its 4th weekend, taking in around $2.7 million over the three-day frame. Its current total is at $44.3 million, making it Summit Entertainment’s biggest hit of the year so far. I see it winding up with $49 million, though with some luck it might actually get past $50 million.

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Total Comments: 2
Crux    Nov 6 2012 1:48pm
Argo's holds continue to impress me.

Great article!
Arthur A.
Arthur A.    Nov 7 2012 6:24pm
Thanks you! :)