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Top Ten Takeaways: ‘Hobbit’ Finale Leads a Limp Christmas Roster

Top Ten Takeaways: 'Hobbit' Finale Leads a Limp Christmas Roster

The individual results — all leading toward a big Christmas Day bump on Thursday — are just adequate. The cumulative take once again shows a shortfall from a year ago.

This weekend of Hollywood’s Christmas offerings continues the dispiriting 2014 trend of box office shortfalls, with a drop of 9% in the Top Ten (less as you go deeper into the list due to specialized film performances). It’s going to be a weak end to the year. We’ll preview the year-end box office below, figuring in the consequences of Sony pulling “The Interview” and a lackluster Christmas Day line-up.

This order may change by Monday. Also supporting the overall box office is out-of-left field Bollywood release “P.K.,” which grossed $3.5 million in only 272 theaters.

The Top Ten

1. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 59; est. budget: $250 million (1/3 of total project cost)
$56,200,000 in 3,875 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $14,508; Cumulative: $90,627,000
2. Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore; B+; Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 46; estimated budget: $127 million
$17,300,000 in 3,785 theaters; PSA: $4,571; Cumulative: $17,300,000
3. Annie (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 33; estimated budget: $65 million
$16,300,000 in 3,116 theaters theaters; PSA: $5,231; Cumulative: $16,300,000
4. Exodus (20th Century Fox)  Week 2; Last weekend #1
$8,065,000 (-67%) in 3,053 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $2,302; Cumulative: $38,902,000
5. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (Lionsgate) Week 5; Last weekend #2
$7,750,000 (-39%) in 3,174 theaters (-557); PSA: $2,442; Cumulative: $289,227,000
6. Wild (Fox Searchlight)  Week 3; Last weekend #10
$4,150,000 (+171%) in 1,061 theaters (+ 945); PSA: $3,911; Cumulative: $7,221,000
7. Top Five (Paramount) Week 2 – last weekend #4
$3,570,000 (-48%) in 1,307 theaters (+328); PSA: $2,731; Cumulative: $12,456,000
8. Big Hero 6 (Buena Vista) Week 7; Last weekend #5
$3,563,000 (-41%) in 2,407 theaters (-369); PSA: $1,480; Cumulative: $190,441,000
9. The Penguins of Madagascar (20th Century Fox) Week 4 – Last weekend #4
$3,525,000 (-51%) in 2,715 theaters (-595); PSA: $1,297; Cumulative: $64,172,000
10. P.K. (UTV) NEW
$3,500,000 in 272 theaters; PSA: $12,868; Cumulative: $3,500,000

The Takeaways

End of an era: how Peter Jackson’s  “The Hobbit” trilogy compares to “The Lord of the Rings”

Peter Jackson in the last 14 years has created six films (more accurately, two films, each released in three parts) from J.R.R. Tolkien’s middle earth novels. The changes in the industry have been massive since he started his journey, but the result has been an overall major success as well as some significant influence, both in terms of production influence and genre content. With the initial decision to shoot all of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy at one time, then going through multi-year post production to create three rather than a single film (since replicated in the “Harry Potter,” “Twilight” and “Hunger Game” franchises to great success) as well as increasing interest in fantasy worlds (extending to “Game of Thrones” on HBO among others), Jackson has had a profound impact on cinematic creativity on multiple levels.

“The Hobbit” series was a far bigger gamble than “Lord,” despite the earlier series being a major roll of the dice for New Line (now folded into parent company Warner Bros.) and its partners at the time. And it has paid off, though far below the profits and acclaim the initial trilogy produced.

Take the budgets. The “Lord” series cost around a quarter billion dollars. The three “Hobbit” releases total nearly three times as much. The “Rings” cycle grossed just under $3 billion worldwide. The “Hobbit” films will end up at close to the same, although base ticket prices overall are significantly higher even before getting into the increase from the second series being offered in 3D (unheard of a decade ago). About half of the tickets over the weekend were 3D, 15% IMAX.

But another way the “Hobbit” films will come close to “LOTR” overall is due to another huge shift. The first series saw just over half of the gross coming from the U.S./Canada, while for the latter one, it will be around 40%, with the total for all three coming in around $800 million domestically compared to $1.1 billion + earlier.

The last difference is the trajectory of the series. “Return of the King,” the last “Lord” film, was the best-grossing of the three. It is too early to say for certain where “Five Armies” will place among the “Hobbits,” but because of its later domestic date, and lower acclaim and interest for the series beyond its large and enthusiastic base, it is likely it will not reach the $303 million domestic and $1,017,000 worldwide haul of “Hobbit 1,” the bigger of the two. Because of the Wednesday opening (the other two opened on Fridays), the three-day total is substantially lower (the earlier ones were $84 and $74 million). The five day totals are roughly comparable. But the other two opened earlier, and grossed much more through today’s date –which is important, because even if the holiday take is the same, it will likely not catch up.

Two things though that might help equalize things are the apparent better reaction from audiences (if not critics) to Part 3 and the likely less intense competition from a weaker slate of holiday releases this year, so all hope is not lost by a long shot. Still, this won’t have the outstanding performance, climaxing with its Oscar sweep, that “Return of the King” enjoyed.

It is the end of an era, with the combined two series likely standing as the most significant in Hollywood history this century thus far.

“Museum” and “Annie” have far to go

Apart from the second weekend of “The Hobbit” on the same time last year ($31.5 million), three other releases last year (the opening of “Anchorman 2,” the “American Hustle” expansion and the ongoing “Frozen”) grossed between $19 and $26 million, all better than “Night of the Museum 3” and “Annie.” The second “Sherlock Holmes” film in 2011 grossed $39.6 million, while family flick “Chipwrecked” took in $23.2 million.

The two family-oriented films “Annie” and “Night at the Museum” likely took away from each other, with “The Hobbit” also sharing some of the same audience. Only upcoming musical “Into the Woods” looks to be going after a similar family group as part of its broader appeal. But “Annie” and “Night at the Museum” are works in progress, particularly “Annie,” which will likely have less international appeal and will competing with musical “Woods.” “Museum” benefits from the absence of “The Interview,” which would have been the only other new comedy, although its R-rated appeal was aimed at a different core demo.

“Annie” is relatively inexpensive for a holiday release ($65 million). “Museum” on the other hand reportedly came in at $127 million, so that with marketing costs and sharing revenues with theaters, the film will need to gross in excess of $400 million worldwide to make a profit. It likely will be in that range, but prime holiday releases are intended to be juggernauts, not only slightly in the black.

“The Interview,” Holdovers and the Rest of the Year

The pulling of “The Interview” and its 3,000+ screens will have impact on the gross totals, but screens will hardly go empty. Weinstein stepped in quickly and announced an expansion of Tim Burton’s “Big Eyes” to more screens than the mid-level initial release planned. They also are looking to add more to the original 600 planned for the red-hot “The Imitation Game.” Other new films will more easily get to their goals in what is usually the most intensely hard-scrabble playtime of the year.

Other beneficiaries will be four holdovers — “Mockingjay Part 1,” “Interstellar,” and the two animated films in play, “Big Hero 6” and “Penguins of Madagascar.” “Mockingjay” looks to hold even more than the 2,000+ screens it had last year and rise to at least striking distance of “Guardians of the Galaxy” as the biggest 2014 release. “Interstellar,” around longer and steadily losing dates now, could see new life and get closer to $200 million than appeared possible. Disney looks to win the battle of the animated features — despite playing three weeks longer, it edged slightly ahead of “Penguins.” The studio only has “Into the Woods,” while Fox has both “Museum” and the rapidly collapsing “Exodus” as higher priorities. So “Hero” should hold more screens.

The other will be the suddenly thriving specialized wide releases, which often struggle to stay on screen over Christmas. Their success this weekend — in part because of the lack of any equivalent to “American Hustle” at this point — will not only guarantee an easier path to prime holiday play at more than the usual number of theaters, but also could have some impact on Academy members as a variety of contenders get greater attention than usual as ballots are being filled out.

This year’s Christmas openers look like an uneven bunch not likely to come close to the outstanding lineup in 2012, when both “Django Unchained” and “Les Miserables” both roared out of the gate to major success. Last year was less impressive, with only “The Wolf of Wall Street” passing $100 million domestic (“Walter Mitty,” “47 Ronin” and “Grudge Match” were the other three big studio releases).

The four opening wide this Thursday — “Into the Woods,” “Unbroken,” “The Gambler” and “Big Eyes”– are not  guaranteed successes. “Into the Woods” has an initial edge due to the show’s fan base, Disney marketing and Meryl Streep’s draw.

Christmas 2014 looks like a replay of the summer with a sizable drop below the previous year and ongoing concerns about audience draw that are not going away.

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