The post-Thanksgiving weekend soared this year, but not via the usual family films. Continuing the trend over the past several weeks, Oscar contenders appealing to older audiences provided the heft to elevate grosses.
Like last year, a "Twilight"-dominated weekend (again, the second) leads the pack. This year's entry continues the last's torrid pace (with even bigger grosses internationally). But last year, five of the top ten, and four of the top five were oriented to kids (including the more limited initial week for "Hugo" at #5).
This year, the six adult-oriented films – four with strong Metacritic ratings of 81 or higher ("Argo," "Lincoln," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Skyfall) – are rewriting the gameplan for year-end releases. Five of them are in wide release now, when in earlier years most of them would be either be just playing limited or delayed until closer to Christmas. With the Academy moving its deadlines earlier and considering a later earlier for the show as well, this shift marks a real sea change.
Overall business was up more than a third from the three-day post-Thansgiving weekend last year (down from last weekend's "Breaking Dawn" opening blowout), and in terms of tickets sold, ranks as one of the best of recent years. (Total gross is best-ever, but that is driven by ticket-price increases, particularly the now common 3-D surcharges).
1. Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (Lionsgate) Week 2 – Last weekend: #1
$43,070,000 (-69%) in 4,070 theaters (unchanged); PSA (per screen average): $10,582; Cumulative: $226,951,000
This "Twilight" finale was expected to be strong, but these numbers are impressive: a bit ahead of the second weekend of "Part 1" (also post-Thanskgiving). This Summit production takes the series out on a high note, even more so with the international numbers ahead of previous "Twilight" films.
What comes next: This has lots of money left in it even if upcoming weekends take the normal post-holiday drop.
2. Skyfall (Sony) Week 3 – Last weekend: #2
$36,000,000 (-12%) in 3,526 theaters (+21); PSA: $10,210; Cumulative: $221,700,000
Boosted by the holiday weekend to be sure, but nonetheless the strong hold for this latest Bond effort shows that it has incredible word of mouth and is attracting moviegoers who haven't been to a series film for a long time.
"Quantum of Solace" also had a third weekend over Thanksgiving and grossed a decent $18.8 million. "Skyfall" blew that away, with one of the best side by side later series efforts ever seen. These are amazingly strong numbers.
What comes next: This might jump back to #1 next weekend as this heads toward a likely $300 million or better domestic gross.
3. Lincoln (Buena Vista) Week 3 – Last weekend: #3
$25,020,000 (+19%) in 2,018 theaters (+243); PSA: $12,398; Cumulative: $62,177,000
The opening limited weekend was terrific, the quick wider expansion impressive, but this is the most important result yet – it solidifies the fact that audiences like the movie as much as the critics that it's one of the top 2012 releases.
How impressive is "Lincoln?" Its PSA is nearly as good as the expansion of "Silver Linings Playbook" with six times as many theaters, and is better than its own first wide weekend. It beat two new releases with many more theaters and the benefit of 3-D surcharges. It is already at $62 milliion in its third weekend. It is doing this with multiple films chasing the same adult audience.
At this point it's clear that the film has touched a nerve with the American public as an event film with a strong positive reaction. The risk that Dreamworks took in producing this seemed substantial, but the payoff now looks enormous.
What comes next: This clearly will easily pass the $100 million mark. The potential though is far above that. Disney is in a strong position – based on gross and its position as a competitive awards contender – to keep this on most screens through the lucrative Christmas period and then shortly after, capitalize on Oscar nominations. And the further it goes beyond that figure – $150 million seems possible, higher not unlikely – the more voters are likely to consider the film's success as a factor in their voting.
4. Rise of the Guardians (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic score: 57
$24,025,000 in 3,653 theaters; PSA: $6,577; Cumulative: $32,607,000
DreamWorks Animation's last Paramount release (they are with 20th Century Fox going forward) got the best Cinemascore rating of this week's three new releases, which defied concerns about how this action-oriented family film would play. The film is costly film – $145 million – and as strong as this gross is, it is not at the level that normally would be needed to propel this to profits. But if it does yield a strong positive reaction, and with much holiday playtime ahead, this still could surprise. The number is below last year's top Thanksgiving weekend family film for the three days – "The Muppets" scored $29 million. But that film had vastly more presold appeal.
What comes next: Paramount will make every attempt to keep this going for at least matinees all the way through Christmas down the line to help maximize the total gross.
5. Life of Pi (20th Century-Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic score: 78
$22,000,000 in 2,902 theaters; PSA: $7,581; Cumulative: $30,150,000
Opening above expectiations by some degree, Ang Lee's well-received spiritual/survival epic opened strongly enough to suggest that it has a real chance of recouping its major expense ($120 million before any marketing costs). Again, dealing with significant major competition makes these grosses more impressive.
If there is a caveat, it would be in comparison to "Lincoln." That film, playing in 30% fewer theaters and not aided by 3-D surcharges, did about 25% better in its second wide weekend. But unlike "Lincoln," this didn't have the benefit of an initial platform week to get attention — it opened cold, and wide, which was one of the more risky distribution decisions of the year. And it clearly, so far at least, has paid off.
What comes next: Word of mouth is critical in the coming weeks. Most Thanksgiving wide releases don't sustain their theaters through Christmas. Likely early nominations should help, but ultimately how the large initial audience reacts will have more impact. But whatever happens, this should be a strong international performer. This opening indicates the domestic take could be strong enough to put this into the black.
6. Wreck-It Ralph (Buena Vista) Week 4; Last weekend: #4
$16,760,000 (-10%) in 3,259 theaters (-363); PSA: $5,143; Cumulative: $149,512,000
Down only slightly despite competition from "Rise of the Guardians," this 3-D animated hit continues to thrive for Disney Animation.
What comes next: This has a lot of life left in it, even before it heads for matinees in in later weeks over the holidays, making an ultimate $200 million-plus gross possible.
7. Red Dawn (FilmDistrict) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic score: 32
$14,600,000 in 2,724 theaters; PSA; $5,360; Cumulative: $22,000,000
Produced by MGM three years ago before leads Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson had become bigger names, then languishing in that company's bankruptcy litigation, this opened to a solid number despite the long delay. Helped to no small degree by being the only new film with much appeal to the core younger audience, this overperformed compared to expectations.
What comes next: Though not likely to stick around for too long, this justifies FilmDistrict's push to get it in over the crowded holiday weekend, and will elevate their reputation as a solid provider of wide release films.
8. Flight (Paramount) Week 4; Last weekend: #5
$8,600,000 (-2%) in 2,638 theaters (+26):; PSA: $3,260; Cumulative: $74,880,000
Oddly hitting its largest number of theaters yet, but still falling slightly from last weekend, this Robert Zemeckis film continues to show strength but still seems to lag behind expectations. It seems to be drawing from a combination of adult and more general audience ticket buyers, and thanks to its $35 million budget is clearly a success. But between facing "Skyfall" on its second weekend and opening under 2,000 theaters, the film has performed decently while not reaching its full potential.
What comes next: This still should hit $100 million or close, but it won't be able to compete with Christmas ahead.
9. Silver Linings Playbook (Weinstein) Week 2; Last weekend: #17
$4,623,000 (+944%) in 367 theaters (+351); PSA: $12,597; Cumulative: $6,451,000
A strong performance for David O. Russell's off-beat romantic comedy, as it widened in a pattern nearly the same as "The Descendants" exactly one year ago. The PSA for "Silver" is about 70% of the Alexander Payne film, but the latter didn't remotely face the competition for adult audiences that this film did, making its grosses similarly impressive. Curiously, unlike the other awards contenders, grosses didn't improve on Thanksgiving from Wednesday, as most films do with primary adult appeal. But the hope is that this becomes a wide audience hit, so it reached its target by coming back as well as it did the rest of the weekend.
What comes next: The shift from an initial wide release is working well as word of mouth should position this well going into Christmas. It is too early to project its ultimate fate, but assuming strong audience response, this should hold steady and then be in position to benefit from nominations ahead.
10. Argo (Warner Brothers) Week 7; Last weekend: #6
$3,875,000 (-4) in 1,255 theaters (-955); PSA: $3,088; Cumulative: $98,114,000
Despite all the intense competition, losing 40% of its theaters and the length of its run, "Argo" showed its ongoing strength both in grossing and as a contender by staying in the top 10 this week.
What comes next: This will stick around in many theaters for the next few weeks, then have a presence through the upcoming holidays to benefit from its award bounty ahead.