The holiday season starts with strong numbers and an uptick from last year. But while there are huge expectations for a “Star Wars”-driven Christmas, Thanksgiving weekend didn’t get close to any record-setting numbers. Indeed, despite a number of decent performers, compared to similar films and past holidays, the market weakness that has been evident all year long continues.
The Top 10 (plus 2)
The Good, the Mixed and the Worrisome
The Top Ten totaled $168 million this weekend, up 11% from last year’s $152 million, which counts as positive news. But it falls behind the two previous years ($217 and $198 million respectively), so it’s at best a modest return to form. The number one film again is “The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 2.” Two decent grossing new films (along with a disastrous third one) came in at $30 million more than last year’s debut entries, so the improvement (though only $16 million better) is a result of better films.
The evidence though remains that most of these figures, even among the decent grossers, show signs of continued overall market weakness. The evidence is as follows:
1. The second “Mockingjay” fell 50%, an improvement (albeit from a considerably lower initial weekend total) from last year’s 53% drop. Often a weaker opening for a franchise film is followed by an even bigger drop. Apart from lessening the shortfall so far, it does increase the chances that Lionsgate is able to sustain most of these runs through Christmas and add to its take. With only two wide studio releases in the two weeks before the “Star Wars” tsunami, it should at least match Part 1’s three weeks at #1.
But it still, domestically at least, is atypically lagging behind earlier “Hunger Game” films, unusual for final films in a series. (International is also not up to 2014’s totals, though still strong.) And in an industry driven by sequels, that’s a concern.
2. One of the oft-stated reasons for 2014’s weak box office performance was the absence of a Pixar release. Well, 2015 has had two. Successful summer entry “Inside Out” ($356 million domestic so far) in adjusted figures (and going head to head with the massive “Jurassic World”) was the fourth biggest Pixar opening and sixth best overall, a solid if not record-setting performance for this premium brand.
“The Good Dinosaur”‘s $38-million is a credible opening for an animated feature. But out of 16 Pixar films, it is (again adjusting figures, as is essential to make comparisons) it is the lowest first weekend ever for one of their films (the $16 million grossed in its first two days mitigates this a little, but doesn’t really change the bigger picture). And in a three- day comparison against a Friday opening, “The Peanuts Movie” managed to amass $44 million its initial weekend. Disney’s “Frozen” did $67 million two years ago on the same weekend. To give the dinos credit, it is $14 million better than last year’s “Penguins of Madagascar” (a domestic disappointment).
If this can last through Christmas, it could stabilize. It likely will in some form: if nothing else, Disney could allow some matinees for extra screens of “Star Wars” after the first week to double with this, as happened with their earlier released “Big Hero 6” and also “Penguins” with other films last year. But at a budget reported at the low end as $175 million plus marketing, this is not a slam dunk profit maker the way most Pixar releases have been.
3. Credit Warner Bros. and production unit New Line for picking up on writer-director Ryan Coogler’s thinking outside the box in reinventing MGM/UA’s Rocky franchise with a lead African-American character while still maintaining core elements that made these films popular (adjusted, the six previous films with Sylvester Stallone in the lead have grossed over $1.5 billion in the U.S.). Sony is doing similar with their distaff “Ghostbusters” next year, and though 70s and 80s hits have a mixed reboot history (“Jurassic World” great, “Vacation” not), in a Hollywood searching for the familiar as less risky, finding ways to reinvent and find success is crucial.
“Creed” is a follow-up for Coogler and lead actor Michael B. Jordan, who were both acclaimed for their earlier work in the Sundance Weinstein pickup “Fruitvale Station.” It went into its release date with positive reviews: its Metacritic score is the highest of any initially wide released film of the year, which could turn this commercial film into a leading Oscar contender. For whatever reason the studio low-balled the five-day estimate at around $35 million, discounting its crossover appeal. So coming in 20% better (over $42 million) is positive. Check its trajectory since its Wednesday opening: up Thursday from Wednesday, unlike most films, and only down 1% yesterday from Friday again above average.
“Creed” looks like a long term success, with a shot now of fighting its way into the Christmas mix, though Warner Bros. has two other high-profile releases to complicate things (“In the Heart of the Sea” and “Point Break”). And its strong but not maximized start gives it a chance to make inroads into a younger crowd initially resistant to a “Rocky” reboot.
This is only the sixth wide studio release directed by an African-American director in 2015, still a pathetic total. What needs to be emphasized and perhaps what could change this, with “Creed” providing more evidence, is that five of them (“Straight Out of Compton,” “Get Hard,” “The Perfect Guy” and “Southpaw”) look like they will end up profitable, with the sixth (“The Longest Ride”) possibly breaking even. That’s a track record above just about any other profile of a group of directors. Hopefully this registers. Sylvester Stallone, key to this getting made, got it. Perhaps others in a position to make a difference, will.
4. Then there’s “Victor Frankenstein,” coming in #12 for the weekend. Here’s a dubious achievement for 2015: this fall has seen four wide release films (“We Are Your Friends,” “Jem and the Holograms” and “Rock the Kasbah”) open in over 2,000 theaters with full marketing support in over 2,000 theaters not place in the Top Ten their opening weekend. That’s more in three months than managed this dubious fete the previous three years. The public is finding it easier to totally reject bottom feeder films.
5. This was the first of the four Daniel Craig Bonds to have its fourth stanza over the Thanksgiving weekend, so we now can do an accurate head to head comparison. It remains the second best (though with adjusted figures not that far above the first two) at $176.1 million. That’s about 71% of what “Skyfall” did though through its fourth weekend, and suggests that anything much over $200 million, with fewer play through Christmas dates, is unlikely. A one third drop is another sign of declining audiences.
6. On this holiday weekend holdovers should be strong, with the Friday holiday and crowded shopping centers. Apart from “Mockingjay” and “Spectre,” the results were mixed and less than usual, although only a few others were in play. Last week’s lesser openings “The Night Before” and “The Secret in Their Eyes” had different levels of declines — the former a respectable 17%, while the latter only managed a 32% fall. “The Peanuts Movie,” already at $116 million, got hit by “Dinosaur” to drop 32%. The still popular “The Martian” only dropped 13% despite losing a third of its theaters. “Love the Coopers” fell short of the Top Ten with 26% drop. Two Top Ten entries increased their totals with added prints.
Read more about “Spotlight” and “Brooklyn” in Arthouse Audit.