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Pre-Holiday Box Office is Weak: Christmas Can’t Come Too Soon for Studios, Theaters

Pre-Holiday Box Office is Weak: Christmas Can't Come Too Soon for Studios, Theaters

Pre-Christmas weekends vary wildly in performance year by year, depending on where the dates fall (the closer to Christmas, the worse the business until December 25) and the strength of new openings. With the debuting films this year ranging for modest to weak, whatever strength there was came from the second week of "The Hobbit," which took a steep (but not unusual) fall from its smaller-than-expected opening. The result is a so-so total gross at best.

It looks like the fate of this holiday is in the hands of next Tuesday's highly anticipated openers, "Les Miserables" and "Django Unchained" as well as "Parental Guidance." After an adult-and "Twilight"-driven superb Thanksgiving, Christmas could prove a letdown. But that remains to be seen: when Christmas comes, every weekday is a Saturday and audiences rebound in the largest numbers of the year.

Apart from the top tem, the other big news is the strong weekend gross of Sony's "Zero Dark 30," which took in $410,000 in only five theaters. Though not a record-setter for a platform release, the film's 2 hour 39-minute running time and weak pre-Christmas doldrums– without the ability to have unlimited seating as theaters are fully booked at the moment, unlike when previous platform records were set–kept the gross from being even bigger. This and other limited releases (including Lionsgate's "The Impossible") will be covered in more detail in Arthouse Audit.

1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Warner Brothers) Week 2 – Last Weekend: #1

$36,705,000 (-57%) in 4,100 theaters (+55); PSA (per screen average): $8,952; Cumulative: $149,858,000

Much of the substantial drop can be attributed to normal second week slide after a huge opening – the decline is actually less than either "Breaking Dawn Part 2" or "The Dark Knight Rises." And the soft pre-holiday playtime is no help. But "The Hobbit" faced weak competition, and opened up far less well than either of those films. It also benefits from 3-D and other surcharges which increase its ticket prices.

The result is something of a mixed bag – this looks to be the biggest December release since "Avatar" three years ago, but doesn't look (even without adjusting for higher prices) to rival the take for "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" in 2003-04, even less the top-grossing films released for 2010. Worldwide is quite strong (the worldwide total should already be at $400 million), with Christmas still ahead. But with the expense of the production and two sequels to come, the performance, though certainly enough to make everyone money, doesn't look quite strong enough for this series to fill the void left for Warner Brothers after the end of the "Harry Potter" films.

What comes next: A battle with "Les Miserables" and "Django Unchained" for top spot next week.

2. Jack Reacher (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic score: 48

$15,600,000 in 3,352 theaters; PSA: $4,654; Cumulative: $15,600,000

A modest but not entirely unexpected opening for Tom Cruise's latest action film (returning to his comfort zone after the failure of "Rock of Ages" over the summer). Based on Lee Child's ex-soldier vigilante character in a series of best-selling thrillers, this overcame so-so reviews and pre-Christmas spottiness to get to #2. While he's down from his heights, Cruise remains one of the few movie stars with marquee power.

The second directorial effort of Christopher McQuarrie, who won an Oscar for his script of "Usual Suspects" and seems to now be building on previous ties with Cruise (he wrote "Valkyrie" and is involved with the pre-productions of "Top Gun 2" and "Mission: Impossible 5"), this is one of two films from Skydance Productions to open this week, far more successful than "The Guilt Trip." Costing a thrifty $60 million, quite low for a Cruise film, between Christmas ahead and worldwide grosses, this should end up at least a minor money maker.

What comes next: Word of mouth will be crucial in the upcoming face-off with "Django Unchained" among action fans, but this will quickly fall from #2 as the holiday unfolds.

3. This Is 40 (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Metacritic score: 58

$12,000,000 in 2,912 theaters; PSA: $4,130; Cumulative: $12,000,000

With decidedly mixed reviews, the lack of major star power and suggestion of less than great audience response (based on the low Cinemascore), this is actually a pretty solid gross for the weekend before Christmas. Hardly in the same league as director Judd Apatow's earlier efforts (even "Funny People," aided by summer playtime and Adam Sandler in the lead did $22 million in its opening before limping to just over $50), it suggests that the film's marketing (as a kind-a sequel to "Knocked Up") found a receptive audience.

This autobiographical comedy has less slapstick than Apatow's first two smashes (starting with "40 Year Old Virgin"), and married with children aspects don't lend themselves to younger audiences as those films did. It fills the "Fockers" Christmas slot, but without anything like those films' initial take. "Little Fockers" two years ago did $31 million its first weekend, which included the usually dead Christmas Eve. However, with an economical production cost of $35 million, this appears to have gotten out of the gate with some hope that it can do well enough ultimately to claim some success, if not remotely what Apatow has achieved previously.

What comes next: This seems vulnerable to the Christmas Day openings as well as possible mixed response. But getting open early has managed to fill the coffers enough to help in the long run.

4. Rise of the Guardians (Paramount) Week 5 – Last Weekend: #2

$5,900,000 (-17%) in 3,031 theaters (-356); PSA: $1,947; Cumulative: $79,694,000

What do we see here? One of the biggest disappointments among Thanksgiving openings has the highest position of any of them going into Christmas. It helps that there isn't much competition for family films, as Disney's "Monsters, Inc. 3D" is not gaining traction. Still, seven 2012 animated releases have grossed $140 million or more, so this still counts as a let-down.

What comes next: This will have more than 2,000 theaters from Tuesday on (at least for matinees), so its coffers will continued to be filled for a couple weeks, with $100 million still possible.

5. Lincoln (Buena Vista) Week 7 ; Last Weekend: #3

$5,633,000 (-20%) in 2,293 theaters (+8); PSA: $2,457; Cumulative: $116,800,000

Another extraordinary hold for the film that looks increasingly like it will be hard to beat at the Oscars. This has outlasted all the other November adult-oriented releases and is primed to continue reaping much more gross for weeks to come.

What comes next: Only set to lose a bit over 300 theaters on Tuesday, this will see a pop in gross ahead. And then shortly after come the Oscar nominations. $200 million is looking more likely all the time.

6. The Guilt Trip (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Metacritic score: 51

$5,390,000 in 2,431 theaters; PSA: $2,431; Cumulative: $7,421,000

Its weakness immediately apparent when it opened on Wednesday, this mother/son road trip film with Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen has not gotten much better and looks likely to fall to the low end of holiday releases going forward. This is a real disappointment considering director Anne Fletcher's earlier success with "Step Up," "27 Dresses" and particularly "The Proposal," which grossed $164 million.

Ironically, this opens the same weekend as "This Is 40," which is the first of Judd Apatow's films not to star Seth Rogen. Rogen in turn continues to struggle to gain traction in live action films – most of his recent films have fallen far short of what he achieved with Apatow.

What comes next: This will tread water for the next couple weeks (getting a bit of an uptick with holiday audiences), but looks like it won't be around for too long.

7. Monsters, Inc. 3D (Buena Vista) NEW/REISSUE

$5,040,000 in 2,618 theaters; PSA: $1,925; Cumulative: $6,525,000

Coming in more than $11 million below what last September's 3D reissue of "Finding Nemo" grossed isn't an encouraging start for Disney, particularly since though this is not prime playtime, neither was early September, However, unlike with "Nemo" (which brought in $49 million in its runs), this has the bonanza of Xmas week and beyond to take advantage of, so this still could end up approaching that film's reissue haul.

What comes next: The $94 million "The Lion King" did as the first 3D redo suggested a lot of easily found money ahead for Disney, but the declining results are another sign that parents are resisting the extra expense of the format, particularly for films their kids may have already seen.

8. Skyfall (Sony) Week 7; Last Weekend: #4

$4,700,000 (-28%) in 2,365 theaters (-559); PSA: $1,987; Cumulative: $279,972,000

This amazing success comes down to earth, but is still bringing in enough to warrant a presence through the holidays, more than previous November Bond releases. This is on the verge of outgrossing "Breaking Dawn – Part 2," big as that film is (it already has worldwide), which was not expected. The full total now is just under $1 billion.

What comes next: Sony looks like it will hold on to 2/3s of these theaters next week, which will push the domestic take over $300 million by the time this is done.

9. Life of Pi (20th Century-Fox) Week 5: Last Weekend: #5

$3,800,000 (-30%) in 1,750 theaters (-798); PSA: $2,171; Cumulative: $76,156,000

Though lagging behind "Lincoln" among November-released Oscar contenders, "Pi" continues to impress by any standard except for its high production cost (around $125 million) – and even that now looks like not too high to keep this from eventually being profitable. Already above $200 million worldwide at the end of last week, with significant territories still to open, the performance so far likely has caused a sigh of relief at Fox, even if it looks marginal for the bottom line.

What comes next: Only "Lincoln" among the Thanksgiving releases will sustain most of its theaters through Christmas (which actually rarely happens most years for any film). Fox's decision to open at nearly 3,000 screens initially turns to have paid off well. Meantime, it looks like this will keep on over 1,000 through the holidays, which will allow it to benefit from increase audiences over that period catching up on current films. And then hoped for Oscar nominations a couple week later should ensure this getting over $100 million.

10. Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (Lionsgate) Week 6 ; Last Weekend: #6

$2,600,000 (-49%) in 2,000 theaters (-1,042); PSA: $1,300; Cumulative: $281,606,000

This lost a third of its remaining theaters, but with this weekend "Breaking Dawn – Part 2" has now outgrossed "Part 1," with the rest of the run likely to get it past the $300-million mark.

What comes next: Another big drop in theaters, but more presence than last year as this series comes to an end with a major success.

Paramount also opened "Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away" in 840 theaters for a daily matinee and early evening show (what they describe as "paid previews" before Tuesday's "official" opening) for $2,254,000. The film has a modest $16 million budget, and with holiday playtime and worldwide interest should end up doing OK.

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