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‘Hunger Games: Mockingjay’ Dominates Holiday Weekend as Box Office Replays Summer Slump

'Hunger Games: Mockingjay' Dominates Holiday Weekend as Box Office Replays Summer Slump

Lionsgate hit “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” outpaced everything else, but it dragged behind its predecessors in the series. That summer slump seems to be spilling into the usually vital year-end holiday season.

The Top Ten

1. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (Lionsgate) Week 2 – Last weekend #1
$56,875,000 (-53%) in 4,151 theaters (unchanged); PSA (per screen average): $13,702,000; Cumulative: $225,693,000
2. Penguins of Madagascar (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 53; est. budget: $132 million
$25,800,000 in 3,764 theaters; PSA: $6,854; Cumulative: $36,000,000
3. Big Hero 6 (Buena Vista) Week 4 – Last weekend #2
$18,770,000 (-7%) in 3,365 theaters (-285); PSA: $5,578; Cumulative: $167,209,000
4. Interstellar (Paramount) Week 4 – Last weekend #3
$15,800,000 (+3%) in 3,066 theaters (-349); PSA: $5,153; Cumulative: $147,090,000
5. Horrible Bosses 2 (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 40; est. budget: $43 million
$15,700,000 in 3,375 theaters; PSA: $4,652; Cumulative: $23,010,000
6. Dumb and Dumber To (Universal) Week 3 – Last weekend #4
$8,295,000 (-41%) in 3,130 theaters (-58); PSA: $2,650; Cumulative: $72,205,000
7. The Theory of Everything (Focus) Week 4; Last weekend #10
$5,082,000 (+236%) in 802 theaters (+662); PSA: $6,337; Cumulative: $9,604,000
8. Gone Girl (20th Century Fox) Week 9; Last weekend #5
$2,470,000 (-13%) in 1,174 theaters (-435); PSA: $2,104; Cumulative: $160,757,000
9. Birdman (Fox Searchlight) Week 7; Last weekend #9
$1,880,000 (+1%) in 710 theaters (-152); PSA: $2,648; Cumulative: $17,237,000
10. St. Vincent (Weinstein) Week 8
$1,773,000 (-21%) in 1,256 theaters (-451); PSA: $1,412; Cumulative: $39,327,000

The Takeaways

Summer 2014 Redux?

One of the best-grossing holidays of the year, the long Thanksgiving weekend is a time to launch new films both for awards and/or long runs (heading toward the lucrative Christmas/New Years season), to reach families and kids, the key 18-30 audience, and adults.

On paper this Top Ten looks strong, but actually it’s not. After an uneven fall (disastrous September, strong October, less impressive early November), this key period showed a significant drop in attendance from last year. Not rock bottom — 2011 and 2008 in recent years had similar results. But the fall of 20% from last year — when “Catching Fire” and “Frozen” grossed $142 million, compared to $152 million for all ten films in 2014 — brings business back to the unsettling results from this summer’s 15% drop.

Most years, the two weekends before and after Thanksgiving Day are the biggest of the year end (particularly when Christmas doesn’t fall on the weekend — the later holiday period is overall bigger because between Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 every day effectively is Saturday). This weekend seemed to have the goods on paper — a “Hunger Games” entry, two top-end animated films, a hit comedy sequel, “Interstellar” still early in its run. But the result was a steep drop–except for Christopher Nolan’s film, finally finding traction–across the board.

Too Many Sequels?

The studios are in the franchise business, and arguably four of the top six films this weekend fit the bill. “Mockingjay” is the third of four films in a lucrative series, “Penguins” is the fourth in the “Madagascar” series,  and two comedies,  “Horrible Bosses 2” and “Dumb and Dumber To,” weren’t crying out for additional offerings (though the latter has had a credible playoff).  “Big Hero 6” marks the first animated entry derived from the bottomless pool of Marvel characters. Only “Interstellar” offers originality and something completely different. 

In recent years, comparing the top six, only between one and three films have been similarly unoriginal. Major successes like “Blind Side,” “Lincoln,” and “Life of Pi” either opened or were in their second weeks (as well as original Disney animated hits “Tangled” and “Frozen”) at this time in recent years. After a summer that saw only one stand-alone of the ten biggest grossers (“Maleficent”) and a downturn in audience response, it might be time for production mavens to consider more original alternatives.

How Disappointing Are the Two New Films?

“Penguins of Madagascar” is a spinoff of a series that saw opening three day weekends (two in summer, one in early November) of between $47 and $63 million. The five day holiday-boosted gross this time is $36 million. Preopening projections suggested $55 million or more was anticipated. Yes, “Big Hero 6” hurt, but last year “Frozen” by itself grossed $79 million for the five days, but “Hero” plus “Penguins” combined could only come up to $62 million. That’s a shocking drop.

The first “Horrible Bosses” opened in July 2011 to $28 million and a strong 4+ multiple to total $117 million domestically. In five days over a holiday, the sequel managed only $23 million, one of the biggest underperformers from projections of the year (the consensus was closer to $40 million). Did “Dumb and Dumber To” fill the comedy void for the fall? Or did disappointment in that film (as shown by its quick drop) make the public more wary of this new one?

Or is this more likely just another tried and true no longer drawing? The relatively low cost ($40 million) and foreign revenues will keep the losses here more minimal. But a major studio like Warners doesn’t look to Thanksgiving as a date for anything other than a surefire success. It didn’t come close.

Did Holdovers Help?

To “Mockingjay”‘s credit, its 53% fall was the same as last year’s. So even though it started from a lower level, it seems to be getting a similar audience response as previous entries. However, the concern is that since it is at a lower level at this point, the rest of the way will struggle to keep pace. “Catching Fire” had 2,315 screens in the prime Christmas week period last year, and added more than $125 million of its total gross after Thanksgiving weekend. “Mockingjay” is at $225 million so far, and though that is a strong figure by nearly all standards, now looks to top out at more than $100 million less than last year’s entry. Of course the gamble is that they will deliver big-time with the finale. 

“Big Hero 6” had “Penguins” to deal with, but still managed to keep its drop modest (7%), below average for later week animated/family films. (Only “A Christmas Carol” in recent years managed to go up among similar titles, and it was aided by no just-opened family competition). It wouldn’t be surprising to see this end up ahead of “Penguins” within a couple of weeks and have more dates through Christmas.

“Interstellar” jumped 3%, a clear trend reversal, and just in time for the strong but lagging sci-fi epic (compared to foreign — now just under $400 million). Forget earlier projections — this now looks headed to $200 million + domestic, with no danger of lagging behind the excellent take of  “Gone Girls.”

The holiday was of minimum help to “Dumb and Dumber To,” whose 41% drop would be OK most third weekend (with nearly all theaters holding) was the biggest among the 20 best grossing films.

Awards Season Kicks In

With “The Imitation Game” showing major strength in only four initial theaters (grossing $482,000) and the expanding “The Theory of Everything” and the longer-running “Birdman” both in the Top Ten (“Theory” was more than a third better than “Philomena” last year in slightly fewer theaters), the awards season is at hand in earnest. More analysis here.

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