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Top 10 Takeaways: A Christmas to Remember as ‘Star Wars’ Awakens Holiday Season, Boosts 2015 Box Office Past $11 Billion

Top 10 Takeaways: A Christmas to Remember as 'Star Wars' Awakens Holiday Season, Boosts 2015 Box Office Past $11 Billion

Christmas is usually the most democratic of time frames in the movie industry, with plenty of bounty spread out over several strong performers among many pictures. Not this year, as the rules are being rewritten by Disney and box office juggernaut “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” with its mighty record-breaking numbers. But there are other new and continuing films as well.

We’ll be back on Tuesday to review the holiday final totals: the results sort out on the first Monday after the post-Christmas weekend, reflecting the impact of real-world in-person word-of-mouth, which boosts some titles at the expense of others. 

The Top Ten

1. Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens (Buena Vista) –  Week 2; Last weekend #1
$153,522,000 (-38%) in 4,134 theaters (no change); PTA (per theater average): $37,136; Cumulative: $544,573,000
2. Daddy’s Home (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire: C-; Metacritic: 42; Est. budget: $50 million
$38,800,000 in 3,271 theaters; PTA: $11,862; Cumulative: $38,800,000
3. Joy (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 55;  Est. budget: $60 million
$17,500,000 in 2,896 theaters; PTA: $6,043; Cumulative: $17,500,000
4. Sisters (Universal) –  Week 2; Last weekend #3
$13,800,000 (-0%) in 2,962 theaters (no change); PTA: $4,686; Cumulative: $37,148,000
5. Alvin and the Chipmunks – The Road Chip (20th Century Fox)  –  Week 2; Last weekend #2
$12,700,000 (-11%) in 3,705 theaters (+52); PTA: $3,428; Cumulative: $39,399,000
6. Concussion (Sony)  NEW – Cinemascore: B; Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 56; Est. budget: $35 million
$11,000,000 in 2,841 theaters; PTA: $3,872; Cumulative: $11,000,000
7. The Big Short (Paramount) –  Week 3; Last weekend #19
$10,520,000 (+2,681%) in 1,585 theaters (+1,577); PTA: $6,637; Cumulative: $16,013,000
8. Point Break (Warner Bros.)  NEW – Cinemascore: B; Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 41; Est. budget: $110 million
$10,220,000 in theaters; PTA: $3,512; Cumulative: $10,220,000
9. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 –  Week 6; Last weekend #4
$5,300,000 (-10%) in 1,813 theaters (-840); PTA: $2,923; Cumulative: $264,603,000
10. Creed (Warner Bros.) –  Week 5; Last weekend #5
$4,600,000 (-8%) in 1,518 theaters (-915); PTA: $3,030; Cumulative: $96,317,000

The Takeaways

The Weekend: Biggest Ever?

The three-day holiday weekend, aided by an optimal Friday placement for Christmas Day, brought in $278 million for the Top Ten. Not a record: that was set last weekend. And not even, surprisingly, a Christmas weekend record. 2009, when “Avatar” was playing, adjusting grosses to 2015 prices, the Top Ten grossed a tick more ($280 million). It was however way up from a more normal holiday weekend (last year, 12/26-28), 36% higher, which translates to $100 million additional revenue from the top films. This guarantees in unadjusted numbers an $11 billion 2015 in domestic ticket sales, and the most tickets sold overall over at least the past five years. (Claims about all-time records ignore higher ticket prices; both 2009 and 2010 were about the same, and many earlier years over past decades sold more.)

The comparison to “Avatar” and 2009 suggests the one fly in the ointment. It was a great weekend for theaters, an even better one for Disney. But it was uneven for other distributors. “Avatar,” as strong as it was in its second weekend, was only 27% of the total Top Ten gross. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” at over $153 million, did double that (55%). The rest of the Top Ten took in over $200 million. This year, the leavings for the rest of the pack only came to $125 million. Last year, the final “Hobbit” film took top spot (its third weekend), but three other films topped $20 million. This year, other than “Force,” only “Daddy’s Home” managed that.

And that’s why this usually share-the-wealth weekend has fewer winners than usual. It’s a key point, and one we will analyze below.

“Force Awakens” — How Big Is It Really, and How Big Will It Be?

It’s really big. The weekend gross (aided by the holiday, but with more seating issues and new film competition than most blockbusters face) dropped only 38% from its opening (which included Thursday shows in its number). Most openers close to this number fall 50% or more their second weekend and are still considered terrific. The gross if it were for a first weekend would (adjusted) be the 14th biggest ever. The 10 day number? $544 million domestic and over $1 billion worldwide so far (with China yet to open). It was thrilling when “Jurassic World,” recently the top opener ever, totaled over $400 million after its second weekend. “Force” isn’t just breaking records: it’s setting a pace that may never be broken.

But will that make it the biggest ever? You’ll hear that claim for various levels of achievement soon. Remember, it will be in unadjusted numbers. It  takes nothing away from its achievement to suggest that in the next seven days it will fall a little short of best ever in real same-plane grosses.

“Force”‘s average was around $38 million Monday to Wednesday last week (Christmas Eve always drops off). “Avatar” jumped a little its second set of weekdays. Even if “Force” falls slightly (that’s being conservative), and with New Years’ Eve usually a big moviegoing night, we’re looking at close to $700 million or more before the weekend. “Avatar” fell 10% that weekend. Give “Force” a bit less, and it comes to $840 million by January 3.

So now we’re talking record territory. But how much does it need to actually equal the biggest hits of the past? At that point it would already be knocking at the door, after 17 days, of the ten biggest hits of all time. and the second biggest film since “E.T.” in 1982. 

At that level, it would have a long way to go. If it does the same amount of relative business that “Jurassic World” did for the rest of its run, it would not only hit $1 billion domestically, but a staggering $1.35 billion. “Avatar” actually made slightly more money after Jan. 3 than before. That would bring “Force,” if it did the same, to over $1.5 billion.

That’s not likely to happen. But $1 billion looks doable. That would bring it at a minimum to ninth best ever (behind “Dr. Zhivago.”) And a more likely $1.15 billion would get it ahead of “Titanic,” currently the biggest hit in over 30 years. It “only” needs to get to $1.2 billion to take third place, ahead of “The Sound of Music.” $1.5 billion would take it ahead of the original “Star Wars.” What seems unattainable is surpassing “Gone With the Wind,” loosely estimated at a little under $1.7 billion.

Any placement within this group is massive, and for those who look carefully at history more impressive than the mere record, using just numbers accrued at the time of release.

How the New Openers Performed, and What Next Weekend Will Look Like

This weekend had an early winner among the new wide released films, promising initial numbers from a range of other debuts, a couple mixed, and one clear loser.

The initial winner is Paramount’s “Daddy’s Home,’ at just under $39 million, with seven big days ahead it should hit close to $100 million by next weekend. The opening gross is about the same as the August release of the 2010 Will Farrell/Mark Wahlberg comedy “The Other Guys,” which ended up about $120 million, with a little less than half of that amount overseas. With an estimated $50-million budget, and a projected worldwide total of perhaps $200 million (within a big potential range), it should be an ultimate moneymaker for Paramount. But topping all the other mostly star-driven high-profile new films is a big boost for its stars.

David O. Russell’s “Joy” pleased critics far less than his recent films, including Oscar-nominees “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.” Those three didn’t go wide initially. The last Russell film to do so was “Three Kings” (starring “Daddy’s” star Wahlberg). So it is tricky to make exact comparisons. But it is tough to not see that it is, in terms of best weekends, falling a bit short. “Hustle” grossed around $19 million its first two wide weekends over Christmas. “Silver” had grossed $41 million and played nine weeks before it first went completely wide parallel to Oscar nods, and did a little under $11 million for its best weekend. “Joy” is ahead of “The Fighter,” which was a steady performer and got to $93 million (its expansion was also over Christmas). But “Joy” has Jennifer Lawrence, supposedly a marquee draw these days, and unlike the last two Russell films, she’s the dominant lead. The comedy-drama needs word of mouth—quite possible—to thrive ahead, and with a $60 million budget and Lawrence’s overseas appeal, has likely a decent future. It’s just not the hoped-for goldmine it looked like it could be.

Give credit to Will Smith for combining serious subjects (in this case severe football head injuries) with mainstream filmmaking. For Sony’s sake, credit him for bringing “Concussion” in for $35 million, the least expensive of the new releases. But it is off to a middling start. His last Christmas release, “Seven Pounds,” managed to more than quadruple its Christmas season opening. That could mean, if duplicated, only $50 million domestic. Smith has become a major international draw: “After Earth” did $180 million foreign, four times its woeful domestic haul. But the football subject likely limits this overseas in many markets. The best news for Sony is that the second day drop was only 11%, the lowest among the Friday releases (“Joy” was close behind at 12%).

No ambiguity about “Point Break,” the weak close to a tough box office year for Warner Bros., which started 2015 with the huge wide release of “American Sniper” and went downhill from there. At $110 million in cost (reported all outside money, not their own), this could only muster $10 million and eighth place. A strong early opening in China has helped:  $43 million foreign early on, with some growth likely there. But this could struggle to hit $30 million domestic. That this will lose more money than Ron Howard’s $100 million dud “In the Heart of the Sea” isn’t going to impress anyone.

Paramount expanded Adam McKay’s “The Big Short” (director of his partner Will Ferrell’s “The Other Guy” and “Anchorman”) to 1,585 theaters, which seemed like a risky move. Continued great reviews, strong word of mouth among upscale adults, and in particular less competition for that audience this year all combined for a more than respectable result. “The Big Short” grossed about $2.5 million more than Weinstein’s strong “The Imitation Game” last Christmas weekend, although in double the theaters (the top ones were comparable though, and the PTA was 2/3s as strong, decent for the relative size of their breaks.) Best of all, it went up slightly Saturday from Friday. This has potential Oscar attention ahead, but meantime, Paramount is showing that it, like several studios of late, can platform critic-friendly films and quickly turn them into crossover successes (Universal’s “Steve Jobs” was the one big exception).

On a different plane, both The Hateful Eight” (Weinstein) and The Revenant (Fox) had stellar debuts in 100 and four theaters respectively. They both widen soon (this week for the Tarantino, January 8 for the Inarritu).

READ MORE: Christmas Arthouse Audit: ‘The Revenant’ and ‘The Hateful Eight’ Soar, ’45 Years’ Starts Well

The Holdovers

Four other holdovers managed to make the Top Ten, and each has something to cheer about. The surprise of the week is “Sisters” (Universal). Even with last weekend, it was fourth best overall, and ahead of two openings. “Sisters” indeed seem to be doing by themselves, and at some cost to “Joy.” A nice coda for a terrific year for Universal, which will edge out Disney as top domestic studio, with over a 20% market share.

“Alvin and the Chipmunks – The Road Chip” (20th Century Fox) has some strong days ahead to add to its $39 million so far, with still a chance of hitting $100 million with extended post-holiday play. Higher foreign totals should make it a success, though it will be by far the lowest domestic grosser of the series. It also managed to beat two of the openers.

“Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” (Lionsgate) during the extremely crowded holiday period did $5.3 million, down almost half from last year’s Part 1. But the film is up to $264 million, and has done better foreign. It won’t be the biggest of the franchise, but it has been a success by any measure.

“Creed” (Warner Bros.) was Warners’ best choice for a Christmas movie (perhaps they wanted to avoid Will Smith and another sports story). Still, it managed to do another $4.6 million, good enough for tenth, despite losing 40% of its remaining theaters. The franchise reboot should end up at around $120 million domestic, with most of foreign still to come.

Out of the Top Ten are stragglers “The Good Dinosaur” (Buena Vista) and “Spectre” (Sony). The Disney/Pixar game plan for “Dinosaur” called for it over Christmas in its fifth week to be doing much better (it has reached $105 million domestic, a bit more foreign). But it was very expensive, and for once a Pixar film, at least in initial revenues, might struggle to make a profit. “Spectre” (Sony) doesn’t have that problem, but unlike other recent Bond entries, it has little presence during the holidays. It managed only $865,000 in 372 remaining theaters in 19th place. That compares to “Skyfall,” which placed ninth the post-holiday weekend with $4.5 million. Domestic will total a bit under $200 million, down more than a third from the last entry.

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