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Top Ten Takeaways: Robust ‘Hobbit 3’ Drives Healthy 2015 Launch

Top Ten Takeaways: Robust 'Hobbit 3' Drives Healthy 2015 Launch

That includes the January 16 expansion of “American Sniper,” which reached new heights for a platform limited opening with $640,000 in only four theaters. “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” (also Warner Bros.) took first place for the third straight weekend, and unlike the first two in the series managed to take both post-holiday weekends (the first film to do that since “Avatar”).

Close behind are two releases, aimed squarely at the older and younger crowds that show up in large numbers at this time of year. Both musical “Into the Woods” (Buena Vista) and war drama “Unbroken” (Universal) exceeded expectations and continue to play well.

As usual, the new studio release for the first weekend of the year is a horror genre entry:  “The Woman in Black: Angel of Death.” Relativity’s $1 million-plus acquisition (including a major marketing commitment) had a middling result, well below those that opened the past three years.

Family holiday pictures “A Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” (20th Century Fox),”Annie” (Sony) and “Big Hero 6” (Buena Vista) enjoyed good holds. 

The other big story is the continued strong performance of an array of specialty films, with Weinstein’s wide release “The Imitation Game” (Weinstein) the standout.

Read: Arthouse Audit: ‘A Most Violent Year’ Starts Strong, ‘American Sniper’ Stays in the Box Office Stratosphere

The Top Ten

1. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Warner Bros.) Week 3 – Last weekend #1
$21,910,000 (-46%) in 3,875 theaters (unchanged); PSA (per screen average): $5,654; Cumulative: $220,767,000
2. Into the Woods (Buena Vista) Week 2 – Last weekend #2
$19,006,000 (-39%) in 2,538 theaters (+98); PSA: $7,512; Cumulative: $91,209,000
3. Unbroken (Universal) Week 2 – Last weekend #3
$18,358,000 (-40%) in 3,190 theaters (+59); PSA: $5,755: Cumulative: $87,801,000
4. The Woman in Black: Angel of Death (Relativity) NEW Cinemascore: C; Criticwire: D; Metacritic: 42
$15,145,000 in 2,602 theaters; PSA: $5,821; Cumulative: $15,145,000
5. A Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (20th Century Fox) Week 3 – Last weekend #4
$14,450,000 (-28%) in 3,802 theaters (-112); PSA: $3,801; Cumulative: $89,726,000
6. Annie (Sony) Week 3; Last weekend #5
$11,400,000 (-31%) in 3,166 theaters (-31); PSA: $3,601; Cumulative: $72,600,000
7. The Imitation Game (Weinstein) Week 6; Last weekend #8
$8,111,000 (+2%) in 754 theaters (+7); PSA: $10,757; Cumulative: $30,808,000
8. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (Lionsgate) Week 7; Last weekend #6
$7,700,000 (-23%) in 2,505 theaters (-288); PSA: $3,074; Cumulative: $323,875,000
9. The Gambler (Paramount) Week 1; Last weekend #7
$6,300,000 (-31%) in 2,494 theaters (+16); PSA: $2,526; Cumulative: $27,566,000
10. Big Hero 6 (Buena Vista) Week 9; Last weekend #11
$4,816,000 (-4%) in 1,913 theaters (-52); PSA: $2,518; Cumulative: $211,628,000

The Takeaways

Holiday Wrap Up & Early Year Omens

The totals confirm that the downward spiral through much of 2014 has abated. At least five if not more December releases will cross the $100 million domestic mark before they’re done, more than either of the last two years, which boasted such box office drivers as “The Hobbit” entries as well as “Django Unchained,” “Les Miserables” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Some top grossers should see further growth depending on their awards boosts.

The fly in the ointment is the continued sign of lackluster attendance by young males 15-24, that the studios continue to chase as their staple target audience. The holiday numbers came mainly from ticket buyers 25 and over (often much older), pre-teens, and women.

While “The Woman in Black: Angel of Death” grossed over $15 million, exceeding expectations, even without original star Daniel Radcliffe (the original opened to $21 million). But the sequel still fell short of the last three years’ first weekend horror results (“Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” drew $18.3 million, “Texas Chainsaw 3D,” $21.7 million and “The Devil Inside” $33.7 million). Only about 30% of “Woman in Black”‘s audience were under 25 males, unusual for a horror film.

The coming year is jampacked with costly tentpoles aimed at this no-longer reliable target. The chances of a rebound in 2015 will be realized if this audience comes back in force along with older audiences and women.

The third “Hobbit” took in $4.4 million more than last year’s second installment, and even with its later release date is now only $8 million below the other’s take to date. “Into the Woods,” now consistently just ahead of “Unbroken” despite playing in just 652 theaters, took in $3 million more this weekend than “Les Miserables” the same one two years back, and despite its lesser initial grosses is now only $12 million behind that film’s post-New Years’ weekend total.

In a less exact comparison, “Unbroken” is performing considerably better for its weekend and to-date grosses than “The Wolf of Wall Street.” These are real surprises.

The Holiday Entries’ Awards Disconnect 

The hidden story of this holiday: some of the top-performing titles — “Unbroken,” “Into the Woods,” “American Sniper” — seemed initially to be conventional late-year awards fare, which were all considered before their initial November screenings to be top Oscar contenders and aimed straight at sophisticated adult big city crowds. After they screened, reviewers and awards prognosticators discounted them as potential heavyweight contenders. They figured that the core titles that had launched via festival premieres and pre-Christmas platformed openings, were the strong awards titles.

The result? All three of these films were mostly no-shows in the December awards and nominations, with pre-release expectations that all would struggle in a year with an apparent strong list of contenders in most top categories. Instead, the core older audience has flocked to all three films, and likely will continue to irrespective of their awards prospects, while much lower grossing quality films like “Foxcatcher,” “Whiplash,” “Boyhood,” and others that have done solid crossover business like “Birdman” and “The Theory of Everything” are figured to be much bigger Oscar players. And this comes on top of the unexpected success of “Gone Girl,” which may prove the Oscar pundits wrong in the end. 

One common thread is that the four hits mentioned all come from strong success in other media — a beloved stage musical (“Into the Woods”), two bestselling biographies of compelling military figures (“Unbroken,” “American Sniper”) and the last a best-selling mystery with strong female appeal (“Gone Girl”). That pre-sell trumped the usual film elements (including top-end reviews and elite insider hype) that usually seem so crucial.

Another key element is the appeal of each of these films to a broad mainstream of middle Americans who aren’t in the usual awards crosshairs. Notably, both “Unbroken” and “Sniper” are drawing crowds more likely to be Fox News watchers and churchgoers than those who go to the usual adult-oriented year-end Oscar contenders (neither film is overtly political or polemical, another key to their mass-market success).

Academy members are a mix of middle-brow movie fans and more sophisticated craft members; their ballots are due at the end of next week, with many already submitted). 

Also of Note – Top Ten and Just Below

This weekend removed any doubt that “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” will take the title of top grossing 2014 release, despite its significant shortfall from the series’ first two releases. Contrary to initial reaction that this would not get strong word of mouth, this grossed $600,000 more this weekend than “Catching Fire” last year. This had an impressive recovery.

“The Gambler” isn’t looking great, but its 31% drop shows some life left, so foreign markets ahead and a $25 million budget may help it recoup. “Big Hero 6” got back into the Top Ten, and while it’s no “Frozen” (which came back to first place late in its run last year) it still got to $211 million, with more yet to come. “Wild” is approaching $26 million with nomination attention ahead. “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is only at $61 million domestic, with not much left, and its likely $250 million worldwide take won’t be enough to avoid a substantial write-off. “Big Eyes” is still not among the top films, but fell 13% (with a modest increase in theaters), enough to expect Weinstein to aggressively push this further. “Interstellar” added another $2.4 with $190 million in sight, while “Top Five” also took in over $2 million.

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