An unexpectedly strong Christmas at theaters beat back fears that the absence of “The Interview” (Sony) from most complexes or an uncertain lineup of films might take its toll on one of the most important weeks of the year. The top ten was led by two films with strong appeal to women, Angelina Jolie’s prisoner-of-war drama “Unbroken” (Universal) and Disney’s Stephen Sondheim fairytale musical “Into the Woods” (Buena Vista) for a box office total of around $67 million, just about equal to the last two years.
“Unbroken” took in an estimated $15.6 million; “Into the Woods,” about $15.1 million.
The bounty spread to other films, including third-placed “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” (Warner Bros.), which with $13,140,000 million grossed $3.8 million more than last year’s “Hobbit” (helped by a week’s less playing time), with the nine-day total at $127 million, compared to $149 million in 2013 through Christmas Day.
Two limited releases showed serious strength: In only four theaters, “American Sniper” (Warner Bros.) took in $240,000 for a staggering one-day per-screen-average of $60,000; in 19 theaters and four cities, “Selma” (Paramount) grossed $322,000, for a respectable PSA of just under $17,000. And despite playing in just over 300 lower-grossing indie theaters and competing with online availability, “The Interview” took in around $1 million (riding priceless publicity for Sony and its home-viewing alternatives). Moviegoers dominated Twitter with their Christmas holiday reactions to “The Interview.”
Christmas Day is often the highest-grossing holiday of the year, with an adult skew. Opening Christmas Day films can deliver their best showing (with the added benefit of Christmas Eve previews), only to see positions change over the following days. In particular, family-oriented films soar right after December 25. But initial performance remains an important indicator of how the rest of the holiday period will roll out.
Taking fourth was “Night of the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” (Twentieth Century Fox) with $7.35 million, and in fifth “The Gambler” (Paramount), another new entry, with $5.0 million. “Annie” (Sony) added $4.6 million for sixth place.
In seventh, “The Imitation Game” (Weinstein) outperformed its excellent track record so far with an outstanding $3.1 million in 747 theaters. (By comparison, “The King’s Speech,” also expanding on Dec. 25, did $2.1 million in 700 theaters.) Box office disappointment “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (Fox) was eighth with $3.0, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” (Lionsgate) ninth with $2.7 (a bit ahead of “Catching Fire” last year) and “Wild” (Fox Searchlight”) tenth with $1.7.
The other new nationwide release, Weinstein’s semi-wide release of Tim Burton’s “Big Eyes” managed just over $1.4 million in 1,307 theaters for the 12th slot, behind “Top Five” (Paramount) with $1.5 million. Expect Buena Vista’s “Big Hero 6” (about $1.3 million Thursday) to climb in the rankings as kids come out in force over the weekend. Other shifts in position should occur as the new openers recede about a third or more from their Christmas Day take, while “The Hobbit” likely holds well to take #1 for the three-day weekend.
“American Sniper” and its $240,000 single day total in only four theaters (two in Manhattan, one each in Los Angeles and Dallas) are unprecedented for a limited Christmas Day opening, with no other film even coming close. And it saw numerous sellouts despite the huge gross, led by a staggering $98,000 for the day (including its Tuesday night “preview”) at the Arclight Hollywood. By comparison, similarly war-themed biopic “Lone Survivor” last Dec. 25 grossed $36,000 at two theaters, ending up just under $100 million when it went wide in January. Previous Clint Eastwood films have opened limited, but nothing close to this big. “Gran Torino” took in $272,000 in 6 its initial full weekend, while “Million Dollar Baby” in 8 grossed $180,000 its opening three days. Christmas Day for “Zero Dark 30” in 2012 (the end of its initial week) had a PSA of $22,000 in 6 compared to $60,000 for “Sniper.” If these comparisons hold, Warner Bros. might be looking at a stunning $150 million + domestic gross here, which could make it even adjusting for inflation the biggest hit in the 84 year old director’s career.
“Selma” in 19 theaters with an excellent estimated $322,000 would have stood out more without “Sniper”‘s dramatic numbers. Its wider run, including Washington and Atlanta, and more theaters than usual in New York reduced its PSA somewhat, but about $17,000 for one day is still impressive. Still, it lags behind “Precious,” which had an opening day PSA (in 18 theaters on an early November Friday) of over $32,000. “Selma” did beat “12 Years a Slave” opening of $14,400 (also 18, mid October). Paramount looks like it made the right choice in opening slowly to build word of mouth before going wide next month right after the Oscar nominations (and not coincidentally, Martin Luther King Birthday).