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Box Office: ‘The Hobbit’ Holds Off ‘Jack Reacher’ & ‘This Is 40’; ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Starts Strong

Box Office: 'The Hobbit' Holds Off 'Jack Reacher' & 'This Is 40'; 'Zero Dark Thirty' Starts Strong

The Hobbit‘ what happened? You were supposed to be our hero. The “Lord Of The Rings” pictures, all released during the holiday period, had steady-to-muscular second weekend holds. But ‘Hobbit,’ you’re looking more like an average blockbuster, losing almost 60% of your audience. What’s going on? You were expected to dominate this frame like you did last weekend. Could it be that your mighty Cinemascore was inflated by the first-weekend Tolkien superfans? Could it be that your ad campaign simply emphasized the ties to the earlier films, implying less of an individual story and instead, “Yes, more of this”? Oh, ‘Hobbit,’ you’ve disappointed us greatly.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is still pulling in enough money to justify the expenditure. Overseas, the film did the bulk of its damage already, however, it very much looks like the billion dollars pulled in by “The Lord of The Rings: Return of The King” is out of reach. But never fear: chances are audiences spent the weekend shopping to deal with an early-week Christmas, and it’s very likely families will continue to make ‘The Hobbit’ a top attraction into the new year. $300 million domestic is still a possibility, though it would have to show a stronger hold next weekend to maintain that pace.

The first two ‘Hobbit’ films are said to have cost (after rebates) somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million each, essentially double what the first two ‘Lord Of The Rings’ films cost. You would have to think that WB are a bit concerned. To be certain, ‘The Hobbit’ has a massive core audience, but core audiences don’t drive films to a billion dollars; casual low-interest moviegoers do, and right now it seems like they’re not turning out in the same numbers. The movie is looking, domestically at least, more like “King Kong” than any of the LOTR pictures, but it’s not exactly the strongest launching-off point for a new trilogy.

Meanwhile, expectations were muted for “Jack Reacher,” which was pushed as more of an off-brand entry for Tom Cruise. The ad presence seemed to dim in the days up to the release, due to the recent tragedy in Newtown. But it was a somewhat tough sell in the first place, selling Cruise as a vigilante bruiser, but downplaying any story that could interest potential ticket-buyers. And those familiar with the best-selling book series were not enticed with the prospect of the diminutive star stepping in the considerably huge boots of Reacher himself, often described as a hulking giant of a man.

Placing the film in the heart of the holiday season was an attempt to grab the same audience that spent last Christmas making “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” Cruise’s biggest hit of all time. But even though the ads attempted to hide this fact, “Jack Reacher” was always destined to be a much smaller effort, costing a respectable $60 million (which isn’t very much once Cruise’s salary is subtracted). But despite the sometimes-negative press, Cruise is still Cruise: superstar comfort food for casual audiences who like to know what they’re getting. “Tom Cruise Action Film” is basically a genre similar to “Superhero Film” at this point, so that basic brand recognition could allow the film to quietly play through January as the top choice for action junkies and, possibly, teen audiences. And while it is fairly lengthy for what seems like a generic procedural, one cannot ignore that it seems to be the only wide release out there that isn’t eleventy billion hours long.

Speaking of overlong, “This Is Forty.” “Knocked Up” was only five years ago, but given how prolific Judd Apatow has been over the years, it might as well be a distant memory. This had none of that film’s emphasis on youthful fun and quipping despite using the title as part of the marketing campaign, instead hoping that the Apatow fanbase had aged. But those hoping for a similar experience to “Knocked Up” helped give this effort a ‘B-’ Cinemascore, which is likely not what the studio was hoping for. This opening is less than half of the initial showing for Apatow’s “Funny People,” itself considered a disappointment at the time. And while the sell was on Apatow as a brand, it’s clear that Paul Rudd (who also led the Apatow-produced, Universa-released flop “Wanderlust” earlier this year) and Leslie Mann aren’t star power draws, and perhaps better utilized as strong supporting players.

Maintaining a level box office from last weekend was “Rise Of The Guardians,” which inexplicably has had no competition for the CGI-toon dollar since its release five weeks ago. How is this possible? How is it that Hollywood was asleep for so long that they left all of December bereft of animated kiddie fare, particularly as it feels like we’re bombarded with them every three weeks? Perhaps there were fears ‘The Hobbit’ would be ruling the marketplace, but whatever the case, ‘Guardians’ will benefit from being the only ‘toon around at Christmas, and the only seasonal offering, allowing it to possibly pole-vault over $100 million by next weekend. That looked unlikely after the film’s tepid opening, so it’s something of a victory. Then again, DreamWorks Animation expected a lot more, and they’ve been flummoxed with the lack of traction overseas, so, not much of a victory.

Holding strong in its eighth week of release was “Lincoln,” solidifying its position for the Academy Award voting by also looking like the people’s choice — a steady stream of ticketbuyers could keep the film afloat into the new year, possibly up to $140-$150 million or more. It depends on if award nominations in January provide the film with an extra oomph. Still, for Daniel Day-Lewis, long considered the finest actor of his generation, this is his first $100 million domestic grosser, and the first real suggestion that the notoriously reclusive legend could be legitimately bankable. “Quick, get this guy in a cape and tights,” said some asshole in Hollywood.

The bloom is off the rose for Disney’s 3D re-releases, with “Monsters Inc. 3D” failing to move the needle since its Wednesday debut. The 3D-ified Pixar favorite had a piddling per-screen average on 2,618 screens, strictly playing to the animation nuts. It’s been a downward trend since Disney brought back “The Lion King” to a surprising near-$100 million gross last year. This cow has sufficiently been milked, though at least they had a built-in excuse: this re-issue essentially works as a pricey ad for the upcoming “Monsters University.” You have to wonder, though, given that Disney opted for a couple of Pixar films in their 3D re-release plan, while also openly giving a platform to sequels to “Monsters Inc” and “Cars” as well as next summer’s spinoff “Planes” — is the over-familiarity a possible threat to dilute Pixar’s brand? The flimsy overseas numbers for “Brave” this summer don’t dispute this.

The Guilt Trip” opened and… yeah. Other than pushy grandmas and that distant aunt you never talk to, who exactly was the audience for “The Guilt Trip”? Why would you even title a movie “The Guilt Trip” in the first place, releasing it during the holidays? Might as well call it, “You’re A Miserable Excuse For A Son” and charge 3D prices. While marrying Seth Rogen‘s youthful audience with Barbra Streisand‘s huge older fanbase might have seemed genius on paper, it didn’t work in execution, as nobody seemed to want to see it.

Skyfall” is now in spitting distance of $1 billion worldwide, and is expected to hit that target by the end of 2012.  “Life Of Pi” is also wrapping up, but a nine-figure landing spot is unlikely domestically — overseas is where the film continues to bring in the heavy cheddar.

In limited release, “Zero Dark Thirty” got out of the gate huge, torture-endorsing or not. It played to a spectacular $82,000 per screen average on five screens in New York and Los Angeles, and as chatter grows around the movie, that January 11th wide opening release looks more and more like a smart move by Sony. Particularly as it will come the day after the Oscar nominations are announced. Paramount put out its third movie of the weekend after “Jack Reacher” and “The Guilt Trip” with two-a-day shows for “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away.” The 3D attraction grabbed a so-so touristy audience with $2.3 million to land outside of the top ten. Finally, “The Impossible” will collect a respectable $115k at its fifteen locations. Support your local arthouse theaters, boys and girls.

1. The Hobbit: Un Journey Expectado (WB) – $36.7 million ($149.9 mil.)
2. Tiny Enforcer (Paramount) – $15.6 million
3. Judd Apatow Presents: Marriage Counseling (Universal) – $12 million
4. Rise Of The Guardians (Dreamworks/Paramount) – $5.9 million ($79.7 mil.)
5. The 16th President – No Googling (Dreamworks/Disney) – $5.6 million ($116.8 mil.)
6. The Guilt Trip (Disney) – $5.3 million ($7.4 mil.)
7. Trailer For Monsters University (Disney) – $5 million ($6.5 mil.)
8. Skyfall (Sony) – $4.7 million ($279.9 mil.)
9. Life Of Pizza Pi (Fox) – $3.8 million ($76.1 mil.)
10. The Twilight Saga: Yeah, They’re Still Buying Tickets For This (Summit/Lionsgate) – $2.6 million ($281.6 mil.)

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