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Weekend Top Ten: Number One ‘Hobbit’ Underperforms as ‘American Hustle,’ ‘Frozen’ and ‘Catching Fire’ Sizzle

Weekend Top Ten: Number One 'Hobbit' Underperforms as 'American Hustle,' 'Frozen' and 'Catching Fire' Sizzle

The second Peter Jackson “Hobbit” film “Desolation of Smaug” is launching well below expectations–and last year’s “Hobbit” opening. But despite that and harsh winter weather in much of the country, the weekend top ten total was up by $10 million over last year. Coming to the rescue: strong holds for blockbusters “Frozen” and “Catching Fire” as well as a $15-million opening for Tyler Perry’s latest “Madea” entry. Signs are encouraging for robust year-end box office, although Hollywood will need a strong holiday indeed to bridge the $30-million gap between 2013 and 2012.  

Two films that should thrive as part of the Christmas mix opened limited. Sony’s “American Hustle” from the very hot David O. Russell yielded a best-of-year limited opening of $690,000 in six New York/Los Angeles theaters (per screen average $115,000), playing to overflow business and falling short of a potentially higher gross because of lack of seats in this intense period for key theaters. This opens wide next Friday, with potential as a top-grosser over the holidays. 

Buena Vista opened “Saving Mr. Banks” in 15 theaters in a broader run (six cities) for a lesser but still decent $421,000 (PSA $28,067). With other cities not usually grossing at the level of those in New York/Los Angeles and this film’s appeal being both older and more female (tougher to draw in pre-Christmas), these numbers should serve to at least help nurture initial word of mouth before it opens wide next Friday, with its best weeks likely to come during the prime holiday playtime. More on both of these limited openings in Arthouse Audit.

1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 66

$73,675,000 in 3,903 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $18,877; Cumulative: $73,675,000

This is was down about 12% from the opening of the first “Hobbit” last year, with weather in some of the country having an impact. It is still pre-Christmas, and the initially good audience response (A- Cinemascore grade) could set this three-hour extravaganza to come close to the first installment’s $300 million domestic haul. The initial entry hit #1 on all three holiday weekends (even beating “Django Unchained” and “Les Miserables” with their strong Christmas openings). This might not repeat that achievement, but should easily make back Warners’ expensive pre-marketing budget ($225 million). “Hobbit 1” wound up grossing $1 billion worldwide. Full worldwide weekend numbers are yet to come, but the initial overseas Friday grosses were about 5% ahead of last year.

This decline is different from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (released by New Line, which has since been folded as a production label into parent company Warners; “The Hobbit” films are a co-production with MGM). The second “Rings” film grossed $102 million its first five days, up from $75 million for the first (both films opened on Wednesday). But it’s unrealistic to expect lightning to strike twice. Midway through this trilogy there seems to be enough initial interest to justify the huge outlay (more than $700 million before marketing) for this lengthy trilogy. Jackson’s unorthodox gamble seems to be paying off.

What comes next: Assuming that word of mouth is enthusiastic enough to keep interest up in the following weeks, initial signs are positive despite the drop from last year.

2. Frozen (Buena Vista) Week 4 – Last weekend #1

$22,184,000 (-30%) in 3,716 theaters (-26); PSA: $5,970; Cumulative: $164,388,000

“Tangled” (2010) was Disney’s last holiday season animated juggernaut, ultimately grossing $200 million domestically after reaching $115 million at this point of its run. That suggests that “Frozen” (aided by 3D tickets) has a clear shot at hitting $300 million in domestic gross by the time it plays out next year. International so far is around $100 million, with nearly half the world yet to open and holidays likewise ahead to bolster it further. The drop this weekend was less than “Tangled” (-34% for the same weekend).

What comes next: With only one other kids’ film still to open (Fox’s “Walking With Dinosaurs” opens Friday), this should thrive over the upcoming weeks.

3. Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire: D+; Metacritic: 25

$16,160,000 in 2,194 theaters; PSA: $7,293; Cumulative: $16,160,000

The “Madea” films have been falling in their opening weekends from a high of $41 million down to $25 million for “Witness Protection” last year, but none of them has opened up in the often deadly pre-Christmas period where opening numbers often are deflated. This tends to be even more so for films with predominantly female interest like this. Lionsgate can revel in a solid audience response (the A- Cinemascore grade). With this poised to maintain most of these theaters over the next few weeks, and with a modest production budget of $25 million, this should eke out enough domestic gross (the foreign take for this franchise is minimal) to end up in profit, although by a slimmer margin than most of the other entries in the series.

What comes next: Next weekend won’t be good, but watch for something of a rebound starting on Christmas day.

4. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate) Week 4 – Last weekend #2

$13,150,000 (-50%) in 3,563 theaters (-600); PSA: $3,691; Cumulative: $357,000,000

The 50% drop for this is normal for the time of year, more so when it was the film hurt most by the “Hobbit” opening, but the big news here is that at $740 million worldwide, this has now topped last year’s franchise start. International has gone up strongly from last time, when international did only around 70% of the domestic take. Now with domestic looking to equal last year’s haul, foreign should increase enough to get to exceed $800 million.

What comes next: This needs to reach $409 million to top “Iron Man 3” to be the best for domestic gross this year, which remains possible if it holds through the holidays in most theaters. Worldwide though it won’t get close (the Marvel sequel did $1.2 billion).

5. Thor: The Dark World (Buena Vista) Week 6 – Last weekend #4

$2,700,000 (-44%) in 2,264 theaters (-810); PSA: $1,193; Cumulative: $198,125,000

Even better overseas (the worldwide total is now $620 million), this still makes the top 5 late in its domestic run, which isn’t over yet.

What comes next: Japan has yet to open, which will make the gap between this and the first “Thor” ($449 million worldwide) even bigger.

6. Out of the Furnace (Relativity) Week 2 – Last weekend #3

$2,320,000 (-56%) in theaters (unchanged); PSA: $1,104; Cumulative: $9,468,000

Christian Bale’s star power is boosting hit “American Hustle,” but this struggling heavier drama may have been too dark to cross over to a wider audience and continues to fall short of Relativity’s expectations.

What comes next: Most of international was presold, defraying much of the film’s cost. But the domestic take will struggle to cover the costs of marketing, making this an ultimate loss.

7. Delivery Man (Buena Vista) Week 4 – Last weekend #5

$1,872,000 (-50%) in 2,041 theaters (-864); PSA: $917; Cumulative: $27,995,000

Nearing the end of its run. this Vince Vaughn sperm-donor comedy has managed to gross equal to its production cost, but will need much more foreign to have a chance to break even.

What comes next: The scattered foreign openings so far have been minor, making recouping unlikely.

8. Philomena (Weinstein) Week 4 – Last weekend #9

$1,756,000 (-20%) in theaters (unchanged); PSA: $2,103; Cumulative: $11,019,000

This had the best hold in the top 10, an encouraging sign for what is turning out to be another in a series of recent Weinstein distribution moves that has paid off despite risk (in this case, the early leap to a wider run). With this Judi Dench-starring drama scoring well with early nominations, it looks now that this should be able to hold on to enough theaters to continue through the lucrative holiday playtime and then have the potential of expanding possibly further after the Oscar announcements. This is somewhat similar to last year’s very successful rollout of “Silver Linings Playbook” in design at least. This won’t ever reach that film’s heights, but this has been positioned to similarly build and then be maximized based on increased attention and good audience response.

What comes next: With “August: Osage County” now going wide on January 10, this and the expansion of “Mandela” are Weinstein’s only Christmas offerings, so even in a crowded market they should be able to target enough screens to get representative play for both films.

9. The Book Thief (20th Century-Fox) Week 6 – Last weekend #7

$1,675,000 (-36%) in 1,158 theaters (-158); PSA: $1,446; Cumulative: $14,877,000

A decent hold for this time of year, as Fox continues to get as much out of this serious eve of World War II German-set drama as they can. This won’t be able to hold many of these runs much longer though, so an ultimate total of $20 million seems out of reach.

What comes next: Foreign is going to need to kick in significantly better for this to have any chance to make back its budget.

10. Homefront (Open Road) Week 3 – Last weekend #6

$1,637,000 (-52%) in 2,103 theaters (-467); PSA: $778; Cumulative: $18,438,000

Coming to the end of its lackluster run, this Jason Statham/James Franco action film is going to end up grossing less than earlier better efforts from Open Road, which continues to be a home for independently-made wide audience appeal acquisitions.

What comes next: This will not make it much past $20 million.

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