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With ‘Moana’ and ‘Office Christmas Party,’ This Was The Little Box-Office Weekend That Could

This December weekend has never been memorable for the box office, but as the last one before "Rogue One" it more than held its own.

Office Christmas Party

“Office Christmas Party”

Paramount Pictures

For the third weekend”Moana” repeated at #1, but that’s likely the last one it will see. It’s one of several November releases that remain strong, for a top 10 total of $73 million — a fine number for this time of year, especially without the support of a blockbuster’s opening weekend.

READ MORE: Arthouse Audit: ‘La La Land’ Box Office is Stunning

You also can’t discount the trajectory of “Office Christmas Party” (Paramount). With no other openers (and even less competition from what little debuted last week) and the seasonal tie-in, it earned $17.5 million — about $6.5 million more than last year’s much pricier “In the Heart of the Sea,” which lost nearly all its theaters after two weeks. “Office” should fare much better.

 

The Top Ten

1. “Moana” (Disney) – Week 3; Last weekend #1

$18,842,000 (-33%) in 3,875 theaters (no change); PTA (per theater average): $4,862; Cumulative: $145,009,000

2. “Office Christmas Party” (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 47; Est. budget: $45 million

$17,500,000 in 3,210 theaters; PTA: $5,452; Cumulative: $17,500,000

3. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (Warner Bros.) Week 4; Last weekend #2

$10,785,000 (-40%) in 3,626 theaters (-362); PTA: $2,974; Cumulative: $199,311,000

4. “Arrival” (Paramount)  Week 5; Last weekend #4

$5,600,000 (-23%) in theaters (+200); PTA: $1,798; Cumulative: $81,452,000

5. “Doctor Strange” (Disney) Week 6; Last weekend #3

$4,631,000 (-31%) in 2,763 theaters (-172); PTA: $1,676; Cumulative: $222,362,000

6. “Allied” (Paramount)  Week 3; Last weekend #5

$4,000,000 (-43%) in 3,018 theaters (-142); PTA: $1,325; Cumulative: $81,452,000

7. “Nocturnal Animals” (Focus)  Week 4; Last weekend #

$3,194,000 (+356%) in 1,262 theaters (+1,135); PTA: $2,531; Cumulative: $6,220,000

8. “Manchester by the Sea” (Roadside Attractions)  Week 4; Last weekend #13

$3,115 (+39%) in 368 theaters (+212); PTA: $8,621; Cumulative: $8,326,000

9. “Trolls” (20th Century Fox)  Week 6; Last weekend #6

$3,110,000 (-%) in 2,786 theaters (-370); PTA: $1,116; Cumulative: $145,490,000

10. “Hacksaw Ridge” (Lionsgate)  Week 6; Last weekend #9

$2,300,000 (-31%) in 2,277 theaters (-217); PTA: $1,010; Cumulative: $60,862,000

 

The Takeaways

Hanging in There

$393 million. That’s roughly the increased gross in 2016 to date, and 2015 was a record-setting year. However, that will be high point for the increase. Why? Because as massive as “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” will be, it won’t gross $652 million as “The Force Awakens” did last year through Dec. 31. Still, we’re on track to beat 2015.

This weekend’s $73 million total was more than 10 percent better than last year. So as we anticipate “Rogue One” and its potential $200 million weekend (and close to that would be outstanding), it isn’t the only game in town. Both present and upcoming releases need to perform, but the vital signs look good.

 

The Low-Key Success Story of “Office Christmas Party” 

“Rogue One” is the elephant in the room. Without its presence, many studios might have considered releasing “Office Christmas Party” next week and maximizing its presence over the holidays.

Last year, Universal positioned “Sisters” as counterprogramming to “The Force Awakens.” And though it opened below “Party” ($14 million), it went on to a great multiple of $87 million off a $30 million cost. However, “Office” came in with a 56 percent male audience, while “Sisters” skewed female. That suggests “Office” would be in a weaker position against “Rogue.”

Paramount gambled that it would do well enough to justify keeping theaters for more than two weeks. It paid off; now they’re positioned to play through the end of the year.

 

What Looks Good to Go Through Christmas

The approach of “Rogue One” makes this weekend crucial for distributors and exhibitors. Monday will see each end projecting ahead for how many screens will commit to Disney (and others). Those decisions won’t be final until next week, but theaters always look more than a week ahead.

“Moana” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” both started from strong positions, held well. “Moana” maintained its #1 spot with a 33 percent drop, a bit more than “Frozen” which fell 29 percent in its third wide weekend (and grossing $3 million more). At 40 percent down, “Beasts” is ahead of where the next-to-last “Harry Potter” film was in its fourth weekend.

The stunner is “Arrival,” which fell only 23 percent and managed to add 200 theaters in its fifth weekend despite Paramount also having “Office Party” and “Allied” in play.

The next two weeks have only six new wide releases scheduled; that’s a bit lower than normal. Another factor (apart from the likely lower gross for “Rogue”) leading to year-end weakness is their potential: Other than the new Star Wars entry, are all originals and tricky to project.

On paper, there’s a better chance for more current releases to make it through the holidays. At this point, “Moana,” “Beasts,” and “Office” all look likely to maintain nearly all their runs.

But there is room for more. The luckiest studio is Paramount, which has the increasingly impressive “Arrival” (now with some real Oscar buzz, which will only increase by ongoing theater presence) to compete with “Office” and the Christmas Day-wide opening of “Fences” (Denzel Washington’s film opens limited next Friday). They now look good to go.

With both “Moana” and “Rogue” in play, Disney has its share. But “Doctor Strange” has a shot of sticking around; that’s very unusual for an early November release. And expect Lionsgate, nursing long-shot Oscar hopes, to do what it can to keep “Hacksaw Ridge” in play.

Lionsgate is has an interesting opportunity. Their prime Oscar contender “La La Land” just opened at near-record levels. They planned to expand to something under 1,000 theaters by Christmas Day, with the widest release coming January 13 (closer to Golden Globe/Oscar nomination time). Might they, with space available, go higher?

Oscars can be an intruding factor in what makes most sense for a film. While “The Revenant” didn’t quite win Best Picture last year, it came close, and going wide mid-January likely helped. And going wider later could mean that, head-to-head, “La La” ends up above “Fences.” That could give it momentum.

These are nice problems for Lionsgate. But expect rival exhibitors to put pressure on them to move up the run.

 

Invasion of the Contenders

This week shows two key arbiters, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and SAG/AFTRA, announce nominations. For those on the cusp, these could prove vital for their short-term future.

Strong in its prime theaters so far, “Manchester by the Sea,” Amazon’s acclaimed film released by Roadside Attractions, should have no trouble holding nearly all of these and even expanding. However, it probably makes more sense to hold off and hit its widest point when its expected Oscar nomination haul comes along next month.

“Nocturnal Animals” will retrench from its 1,262 dates, but expect Focus to have a shot at holding some of its better numbers. “Miss Sloane,” which failed to make the Top 10 with only $1.9 million, needs lead Jessica Chastain to score nominations from both groups (a long shot) to have any chance to stick around.

That leaves two other contenders, “Moonlight” (A24) and “Loving” (Focus), which have already backed down from higher theater counts, to figure out their holiday strategies and opportunities. “Moonlight” is a guaranteed strong nominee; with more opportunity, a mid-January rebound makes more sense for them. “Loving” has gone wider and likely already has maximized interest, but Focus also has “Nocturnal” with its lesser awards hopes. If “Loving” has life left, it likely will be later.

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