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Weekend Box-Office Analysis (December 14-16, 2012)

Even though this weekend just saw one opener and all the holdovers in the Top 5 were at least four weeks old, this one newcomer was strong enough to elevate the Top 12 cume to $129.9 million – an 80.2% increase over last weekend.  Compared to the similar weekend last year when Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows took the top spot, the numbers were up 17.6%. This weekend 2012 has officially passed the overall box-office cume of 2011 and has become the 3rd-biggest year in box-office ever. It is also tracking 4.2% ahead of 2009 – the current record-holder. Unless the openers all disappoint next weekend, 2012 will inevitably take the crown, though the hoped for $11 billion is out of reach for yet another year.


After months of guessing and anticipating, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has arrived – and that in the most unspectacular fashion possibly. The movie neither did well enough to be called a huge opener nor did it open low enough to qualify as a major disappointment. The first part of Peter Jackson’s three-part fantasy saga bowed to $84.6 million from 4,045 locations including $13 million from midnight showings. It averaged a solid $20,919 per theatre with around 49% of its gross coming from 3D-showings – a rather unimpressive share as well. IMAX tickets made up around 12% of its weekend gross. It was easily the best opening weekend of all-time in December (including by far the strongest midnight showings gross in that month), besting the previous record-holder I Am Legend by $7.4 million. So just looking at these numbers, everything is looking good, isn’t it?

Well, not quite. There is little doubt that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will turn into a profitable venture for Warner Bros. even despite the production costs rumored to be exceeding $200 million. However, one has to consider the film in question and the expectations towards it. The Hobbit is an official prequel to one of the most successful franchises of all-time. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, released between 2001 and 2003, brought in a total of more than $1 billion at the domestic box-office. Each of the three films grossed around $343 million on average. Each film grossed more than its predecessor, culminating with Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King making $377 million and winning the yearly box-office of 2003 (as well as 11 Academy Awards). Those were hugely beloved and immensely acclaimed movies, hailed to be the new generation’s Star Wars. Now it was clear from the get-go that The Hobbit (a book written before The Lord of the Rings) would tell a much less epic story and would be a step back in scope. However, Peter Jackson and the Warner Bros. marketing department did their best to gloss over that fact and market the hell out of the film’s connections to the first three films. Nine years after the last Lord of the Rings film, with the added bonus of IMAX and 3D and, for the first time in this series, a Friday opening (the first three films opened on a Wednesday), it was just logical to expect at least $100 million opening weekend. Afterall, Return of the King opened to $72.6 million over the Friday-Sunday portion despite opening on a Wednesday. In its first five days, Return of the King grossed $124.1 million, whereas its predecessor, The Two Towers, made $102 million in the same time frame. The Hobbit probably won’t hit Return of the King’s five-day total in its entire opening week – and that without inflation being accounted for. Adjusted for that, I Am Legend and Return of the King had bigger three-day opening weekends than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. That’s also before the 3D premium being added into the equation. Subtracting the 3D-padding, The Hobbit had fewer admissions over the three-day weekend than The Two Towers and even The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The biggest shocker, however, is probably that The Hobbit delivered a smaller opening weekend than Skyfall (which also didn’t have 3D) and didn’t even make the Top 5 of the year’s biggest openings. Hell, The Avengers, the year’s biggest opener, made almost 2.5 times as much as The Hobbit in its opening weekend.

It’s not too late for things to turn around. Last year, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows opened to disappointing numbers over the very same weekend, but recovered very well later in its run and didn’t finish that far off the first film. The Hobbit scored a promising “A”-CinemaScore with those under the age of 18 awarding it an “A+”. That means the film will play well with families. That will particularly come in handy, considering that the January marketplace is completely devoid of any family-oriented flicks. The Hobbit still has Christmas ahead and this is the perfect type of a film to play well throughout holidays. What will help it is that, despite its softer-than-expected opening, it’ll still remain the must-see event movie for most audiences for weeks to come. The only thing that makes me wary of predicting very good legs is that it proved to be somewhat frontloaded over the weekend, giving that the midnight showings made up over one-third of the film’s Friday gross. In fact, the film’s Saturday gross was lower than that of I Am Legend or Avatar. Either way, I believe it will perform similar to TRON: Legacy. It might be more frontloaded than that, but it will also benefit more from the lack of competition. A final gross of around $320-340 million looks achievable at this point, though I wouldn’t even rule out $350 million in the very best case scenario.


Remaining steady in the second spot, Rise of the Guardians lost 31.3% and brought in another $7.1 million for a four-week total of $71.1 million. That’s hardly anything to write home about for the $145 million production, but it is a slow recovery after an embarrassingly bad opening. Next weekend, it’ll face animated competition from Disney’s Monsters Inc. 3D re-release. Clearly the movie is enjoying the huge benefit of the holiday season that its themes tie into. It’ll be interesting to see whether the movie will drop like a rock after Christmas is over (as Christmas-themed movies usually do) or whether it’ll stick around, given the fact that Christmas as a holiday does not even appear in the film (though Santa Clause is one of the characters). I’m thinking it’ll be a mixture of the two. It certainly will drop off, but should also stick around throughout January. It should stay in theatres just long enough to pass $100 million by the end of its run, though that will probably take weeks from now. Either way, it’ll go down as one of the year’s bigger disappointments even though, once the DVD/BluRay figures are added, it will probably turn into profit for Paramount/DreamWorks.


Fresh off seven Golden Globes nominations, Lincoln climbed one spot on the weekend chart to #3, as it dropped just 21.1% to $7 million, barely missing out on #2. Disney finally expanded the film a bit more, adding 271 theatres and bringing its total theatre count to 2,285. With $107.7 million in the bank it has become the 25th film of 2012 to cross the $100 million mark and Steven Spielberg’s first non-sequel to do so since War of the Worlds in 2005. Given the film’s 2.5 hours running time and a subject matter that does not necessarily scream blockbuster, it is an extremely respectable achievement. It is even more impressive, given that the film still has its entire Oscar buzz ahead. It is a lock to score multiple major nominations and will at the very least remain a favorite for major wins up until the ceremony in February. I expect Disney to put the film even into more theatres after the announcement of the Academy Awards nominations. Whichever way the awards go, the movie is already a shoe-in for a total gross exceeding $160 million. It will most likely get to $125 million by the end of the year and more than $130 million by the time the Oscar nominations are announced. It will be well beyond $150 million by the end of February. Even if it loses Best Picture, the least it’ll do will be something around $165-175 million. However, winning the big trophy means a $185+ million total for the flick with a slim shot at $200 million.


Skyfall lost most of its IMAX theatres to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as well as its “event movie” status. In the wake of that, if fell 39.2% to $66 million and down three spots to #4 of the charts. Its running total currently stands at $271.9 million, making it more than $100 million higher than the unadjusted total gross of Quantum of Solace, the 2nd-highest-grossing James Bond flick. This gap is simply incredible. Skyfall has also begun catching up to The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, shrinking the gap down to less than $4 million. It should take it until January, though, to overtake the film. It is also tracking $10 million ahead of Inception. Skyfall is well on track to finish with more than $300 million. The question is just how far it will go beyond that. With Casino Royale’s multiplier from this point on, it’d finish with more than $330 million. I expect shorter legs, but it should still find itself in the $305-310 million range, making it one of the 40 biggest films ever domestically.


Life of Pi held well and spent its third week in the 5th spot of the box-office. After a 35% drop, it achieved $5.4 million over the weekend. Its total gross has reached $69.6 million after 26 days in release. So far the movie’s run has been good, but not spectacular. The awards buzz hasn’t really kicked in. However, once it does, next month, I expect it to recover and easily pass $100 million before the end of its run. It might not get close to becoming Ang Lee’s highest-grossing film (or even his second-highest-grossing), but a $105-110 million total is nothing to complain about either.


The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 dipped 43.9% in its 5th weekend and brought in $5.1 million over the three-day frame. Its running total amounts to $276.8 million. It is less than $5 million away from passing Part 1’s final gross and should do so before the end of the year. It is also currently tracking more than $2 million ahead of New Moon at the same point of its run, making $300 million more likely by the day. It will most likely crawl past the mark, just far enough to become the franchise’s highest-grossing film and will then stop with about $301 million. It’s a worthy finish.



Wreck-It Ralph occupied the 7th spot again with $3.2 million (down 33.8%) for a total of $168.7 million after seven weeks. The film’s performance has been pretty much on par with expectations. There has been a slight hope that the film would break out, but it didn’t, performing well, but not delivering any extraordinary numbers or gravity-defying holds. It has now fallen behind Tangled by $3 million and is unlikely to ever catch up. Even with Christmas ahead it doesn’t have any chance at $200 million left. With Monsters Inc. 3D hitting it hard next weekend, it will even struggle to reach $190 million, ultimately settling for $186 million by the end of its run. A very solid total, but given the marketing and the $165 million budget, it’s not that terrific.


Playing for Keeps had the worst hold in the Top 10, diving 45.3% in its sophomore weekend for $3.1 million and #8 of the charts. After ten days it has made a total of $10.7 million – a pathetic figure for the star-laden $35 million feature. It’ll make it to around $20 million before disappearing from theatres altogether.


Red Dawn slid down one spot to #9, grossing $2.4 million (down 43.1%). It upped its total to $40.9 million which is impressive enough for a movie shot over two years ago. It will end up with $48 million in the bank.


Silver Linings Playbook made it back into the Top 10 as The Weinstein Company ridiculously opted against expanding it for the 4th weekend in a row. Still playing at just 371 venues, the movie dipped just a miniscule 2.9% to $2.1 million, giving it a running total of $17 million. The movie’s enjoying a lot of buzz at the moment, not least thanks to the four Golden Globe nominations it has scored. It remains to be seen whether the Weinsteins will expand it over Christmas or wait all the way to the Oscar nominations to go wide. Either way, it should have expanded by now. The current strategy is hurting the film that is quite accessible to mainstream audiences. It could have been a great alternative to heavier Oscar fare such as Lincoln or Argo. Either way, it’ll still gross $50-60 million at the very least, but it might have lost its shot at $100 million.


Out of the Top 10, Flight occupied the 11th spot of the box-office this weekend. Down 39%, it added $1.9 million to its running total, bringing it to $89.4 million. It has passed Inside Man ($88.5 million) to become Denzel Washington’s 7th-biggest film at the domestic box-office. It still remains to be seen, whether it’ll be able to pass $100 million before the end of its run. It might be tough as it will likely lose a lot of theatres to the five wide openers next weekend, but an Oscar nod for Washington will help matters. I see it barely crawling to $100 million.


Argo found its way back into the Top 12 in its 10th weekend. One of the year’s leggiest films, the political thriller dropped mere 21.1% to $1.2 million, pushing its total to $105 million. With Oscars ahead, I still see a re-expansion in January and a finish around $115-120 million. This has been a very healthy run.


Hitchcock went wider in its fourth weekend. Fox Searchlight added 380 theatres, bringing its total theatre count to 561. However, its per-theatre-average was merely $1,974, giving it a mediocre $1.1 million weekend at #11 and a total of $3.1 million. The film will be lucky to make it to $7-8 million, even if Helen Mirren scores an Oscar nomination for her performance.

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