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Why ‘Interstellar’ Disappointed and ‘Big Hero 6’ Topped Box Office

Why 'Interstellar' Disappointed and 'Big Hero 6' Topped Box Office

It’s rare to have a weekend at any time of the year with two $50 million or more openers. Disney’s animated “Big Hero 6” got there, leading the weekend, while Paramount claims the same for Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” (though that estimate seems high). We dig into both in this week’s box office takeaways below the weekend Top Ten Chart.

Despite these two high-scoring blockbusters, the 2014 film performance continues to lag overall. Even with them, the haul for the Top Ten is an estimated $144.4 million. That’s down more than eight per cent from the same weekend last year, when “Thor: The Dark World” dwarfed both this year’s entries with $85.7 million on its first weekend. And given last year’s boffo openings–see “Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and “Frozen” at Thanksgiving– it’s hard to imagine that this year’s total won’t slide back to a 5% drop from 2013.

Top Ten

1. Big Hero 6 (Buena Vista) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 75; Est. budget: $165 million
$56,200,000 in 3,761 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $14,943; Cumulative: $56,200,000
2. Interstellar (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire:; Metacritic:; Est. budget: $165 million
$50,000,000 in 3,561 theaters; PSA: $14,041; Cumulative: $52,151,000
3. Gone Girl (20th Century Fox) Week 6; Last weekend #4
$6,100,000 (-28%) in 2,224 theaters (-610); PSA: $2,743; Cumulative: $145,248,000
4. Ouija (Universal) Week 3; Last weekend #1
$6,017,000 (-44%) in 2,680 theaters (-219); PSA: $2,245; Cumulative: $43,472,000
5.. St. Vincent (Weinstein) Week 5; Last weekend #7
$5,707,000 (-21%) in 2,455 theaters (-97); PSA: $2,325; Cumulative: $27,356,000
6. Nightcrawler (Open Road) Week 2; Last weekend #2
$5,512,000 (-47%) in 2,766 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $1,993; Cumulative: $19,756,000
7. Fury (Sony) Week 4; Last weekend #3
$5,500,000 (-38%) in 2,834 theaters (-479); PSA: $1,941; Cumulative: $69,628,000
8. John Wick (Lionsgate) Week 3; Last weekend #6
$4,075,000 (-49%) in 2,152 theaters (-437); PSA: $1,894; Cumulative: $34,745,000
9. Alexander & the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Buena Vista) Week 5; Last weekend #8
$3,495,000 (-47%) in 2,381 theaters (-515); PSA: $1,468; Cumulative: $59,208,000
10. The Book of Life (20th Century Fox) Week 4; Last weekend #5
$2,800,000 (-66%) in 2,166 theaters (-628); PSA: $1,293; Cumulative: $45,215,000

How Disappointing Is “Interstellar”?

“Interstellar,” bolstered by strong international results (it dominated foreign markets with $80 million with several major territories still to come), is already at around $130 million domestic thus far. It looks likely to end up conservatively around $500 million worldwide (Warner Bros. releases it foreign). But it has to, as production and marketing costs combined might reach $300 million. The result is that this looks like a success, but not along the lines of Nolan’s three most recent films (the two Batman installments and “Inception” each took in over $825 million worldwide). And going back to the start of the director’s wide release career (“Insomnia” in 2002), it’s the first to not open at #1.

The disappointment comes from what the industry predicted from Nolan, who has earned more commercial and critical success of any current director. So expectations — including potential awards consideration — ran high.

The result comes in below the similarly anticipated “Gravity” last year. That opened to $55 million, which was then bolstered by amazing holds to a $275 million domestic take. Both films had premium IMAX dates. Cuaron’s film had the benefit of overwhelming preference for higher-priced 3D tickets. But it was an older-skewing film, while Nolan’s fan base is considerably younger. And a head to head comparison with last year’s “Thor” on the same weekend shows that this crowd is out there to be had. So some other factors seemed to have come into play.

On the review front, “Interstellar” had a respectable if not sensational Metacritic score of 73, five points ahead of his career average, and only one point below his Best Picture-nominated “Inception.” And among the strongest reviews were Time, the New York and The Los Angeles Times (it actually has a better score than this weekend’s top specialized opener, “The Theory of Everything”). Adults should not have been its main draw in any case.

Three factors, all related to the timing and staging of the release, are among those to have had an impact. The first is that it, unlike Nolan’s usually younger male oriented audiences, is not a summer release. Clearly a late year opening was designed to help with awards as it did with “Gravity” last year. But this comes at a cost to maximum gross to some extent.

The second is that, unlike Nolan’s other two most recent films, the field wasn’t cleared for this. “Big Hero 6,” though not considered one of Disney’s top animated entries compared to the Pixar films or “Frozen,” still has a Marvel comics connection with appeal to genre fans. Without “Big Hero 6,” “Interstellar” might have added another $10 million or so.

The third, and equally significant factor likely came as a result of a demand that Nolan, alone among nearly all directors, could insist on. With his commitment to film as well as digital projection, Paramount opened the film in 249 theaters in 35 and 70mm presentations (including IMAX). But with midweek this time of the year having less appeal than in summer or holiday periods, and the audience reaction (B+ Cinemascore) more muted than expected, the early dates — which added only $2.7 million to the gross, far lower than expected — seem to have taken some of the wind out of the opening weekend. Fanboys tend to be first-day attendees, building momentum through the weekend. This was like a soft-opening before the main event. The mixed word of mouth with the earlier showings may have talked possible ticket buyers out of going.

A fourth and separate reason might be the cast. No question Matthew McConaughey is at the top of his career, between his Oscar win, “True Detective” HBO attention and overall comeback. But his biggest ever opening as the lead was “Magic Mike” (summertime, with female appeal) at $39 million. Otherwise he’s carried many studio romantic comedies, action films and the occasional drama, to under $25 million openings. And most of those had a marquee co-star. With this being a less high-concept, more conventional sci-fi film than Nolan’s other efforts, the draw of the cast was more important here.

Big Hero 6 – Did It Overperform?

The Disney cartoon feature, unlike “Interstellar,” performed at about its last minute projections. But because of its timing (ahead of the usual Thanksgiving release date taken by “Frozen”‘s last year– Fox grabbed Dreamwork’s “Penguins of Madagascar” for that slot this year) and the anticipated “Interstellar,” it seemed somewhat secondary.

So no, it didn’t open to the level of “Frozen” (whose first five wide days over the holiday last year totaled $93 million), it did surpass two other Disney films that opened in early November — “Chicken Little” and “Wreck It Ralph,” and by a decent margin (neither of those reached $50 million). It is second only to “The LEGO Movie” for animated openings this year, and was exceeded by only three — two pre-sold sequels and again the holiday release of “Frozen” — in 2013. It was however facing the “Interstellar” juggernaut and some shared potential audience.

Several things helped. This has been a slower animated season (recently “The Box Trolls” and “The Book of Life” have been at best middling performers), so whatever Disney’s reason for vacating Thanksgiving, this date looks smart. The reviews have broadened its appeal. (Here’s a surprise — its Metacritic score is 75, one number ahead of “Frozen”). But the biggest is its Marvel connection. Though not a Marvel Entertainment production (unlike Disney’s all-time great multiple live-action franchises), it uses multi-ethnic Marvel characters and a manga comic book feel that now can be added to the other prime sources the studio uses for its animated features.

This, even with a likely impressive multiple and strong foreign numbers to come, isn’t going likely to be the goldmine “Frozen” became. For one thing, the very high production budget — $165 million, the same as “Interstellar” — is $15 million for than “Frozen.” And this may have opened a bit too early to capitalize as well on the Christmas playtime (as well as competing with “Penguins”) in two weeks. 

How Amazing Is “Gone Girl”?

It doesn’t hurt that other than the top two films nothing much has spark this weekend, but even with that caveat, David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” jumped to third place in its sixth week, with only a 28% drop despite losing 600+ theaters. Last year’s fall word of mouth smash “Gravity” ranked only sixth the same week (though with $8.5 million and 3D/IMAX price help as well as 500 more theaters). But that film opened bigger, had a resounding critical response, wasn’t R-rated and never was considered “divisive.” Most directors couldn’t have taken this risky film past the audience research phase. Now this could surpass $170 million, something like a 4.5 multiple over its opening weekend, and well exceed “Interstellar”‘s ultimate domestic take. Who knew?

The rest of the holdovers

The apparent best hold of any Top Ten film is “St. Vincent,” down only 21%, which nets it fifth place. Weinstein last weekend was way off on its estimate — they claimed the film held almost to the dollar, but when final figures came in it was down 7%, with their Sunday guess way too high. Sunday last week fell 50% from Saturday, unlike the 35% projected this week. For whatever reason the movie ranks fifth, rather than the more likely sixth or seventh place, and could likely surpass $45 million, far over initial (and opening limited weekend) projections. Good job for the company, as long as they aren’t overly aggressive with their numbers.

The most disappointing drop is the second weekend of Open Road’s “Nightcrawler,” down an estimated 48%. This means that hopes that its decent if not spectacular first weekend might translate into a strong initial hold and wider appeal beyond critics and some high end audiences were overly optimistic. It did face strong competition, but that didn’t seem to hurt “Gone Girl.”

“Fury,” which might take the fifth spot when the real numbers come in, continues to hold well with a 38% drop and $69 million total in its fourth weekend. It’s already at a three time multiple for its opening, and could approach $90 million before done, showing once again the steady appeal of military-themed films.

“Ouija” for a horror film after Halloween had a respectable 44% drop. Both “Alexander” and “The Book of Life” suffered from losing audiences to “Big Hero 6.”

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