This weekend, theaters saw a healthy 22% increase from the same weekend last year, with lone studio entry “Krampus” outpacing expectations as Universal returns to its year-long success. Meantime three other mid-November releases topped $15 million, compared to only one in 2014 ( like this weekend, the annual “Hunger Games” entry led the way, though by a smaller margin).
The Top Ten
1. The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 2 (Lionsgate) Week 3; Last weekend #1
$18,600,000 (-64%) in 4,086 theaters (-89); PTA (per theater average): $4,552; Cumulative: $227,112,000
2. Krampus (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Metacritic: 47; est. budget: $15 million
$16,020,000 in 2,902 theaters; PTA: $5,520; Cumulative: $16,020,000
3. Creed (Warner Bros.) Week 2; Last weekend #3
$15,540,000 (-48%) in 3,424 theaters (+20); PTA: $4,539; Cumulative: $65,138,000
4. The Good Dinosaur (Buena Vista) Week 2; Last weekend #2
$15,512,000 (-60%) in 3,749 theaters (unchanged); PTA: $4,138; Cumulative: $75,952,000
5. Spectre (Sony) Week 5; Last weekend #4
$5,425,000 (-58%) in 2,840 theaters (-100); PTA: $1,910; Cumulative: $184,520,000
6. The Night Before (Sony) Week 3; Last weekend #6
$4,920,000 (-41%) in 2,794 theaters (-166); PTA: $1,761; Cumulative: $31,988,000
7. The Peanuts Movie (20th Century Fox) Week 5; Last weekend #5
$3,525,000 (-64%) in 2,917 theaters (-172); PTA: $1,208; Cumulative: $121,438
8. Spotlight (Open Road) Week 5; Last weekend #8
$2,927,000 (-34%) in 980 theaters (+83); PTA: $2,987; Cumulative: $16,633,000
9. Brooklyn (Fox Searchlight) Week 5; Last weekend #9
$2,430,000 (-38%) in 906 theaters (+61); PTA: $2,682; Cumulative: $11,210,000
10. The Secret in Their Eyes (STX) Week 3; Last weekend #7
$1,950,000 (-56%) in 2,147 theaters (-245); PTA: $908; Cumulative: $17,241,000
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The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Early December Weakness
Holiday horror comedy “Krampus” entered the weekend with guestimates of a gross between $10-14 million. One, it had the feel of a film thrown into an open week (its core male audience has been AWOL if not bled off by “Creed”), and two, many box office observers consider this weekend to be a throwaway.
No question “Krampus” outperformed recent similar openings: it marks (unadjusted) the best post-Thanksgiving weekend opening in a decade. The dearth of new competition helped a marginal film, a reminder that one person’s off-weekend is another’s opportunity.
The list of films opening in early December past years, such as “New Year’s Eve,” “The Sitter,” and “Brothers,” were expected to open, play a couple weeks, then clear out for bigger holiday entries. “New Year’s Eve” actually managed to hold on to two thirds of its theaters, and ended up (atypically for a horror film) to quadruple its initial three days ($54 million after a $13 million start).
Everyone is expecting an unprecedented logjam of screen demand by Christmas Day. The default mindset is to open as close to December 25th as possible. But a presold title can work: the first “Chronicle of Narnia” film in 2005 opened to what at today’s prices would have been $85 million, almost as much as the whole Top Ten this weekend (which in 2005 came in at an adjusted $145 million). That’s a lot of money to leave on the table, particularly when in three weeks films start cannibalizing each other and when, with theaters at their highest capacity over a ten day period and some viable films losing holdovers.
Had Disney dared to open juggernaut “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” this or next weekend with the highest seat count of all time, they might have equaled what they likely will do to on Dec. 18 —and added up to two weeks of playing time. (The record for a pre-Christmas weekend opening is “Avatar,” in 2015 prices the equivalent of $84 million today.) “Star Wars” could easily approach the $200 million mark that weekend with everyone else avoiding the date. But that weekend in fraught with issues: people traveling, avoiding crowds at malls, partying and shopping. Call me a contrarian, but I suspect the film could have approached that number this weekend with far fewer competing films and events.
Meantime, Universal finds itself with a minor but good problem. “Krampus” is one of two openings over three weeks. The female comedy “Sisters” faces “Star Wars” and other openings. Though it might follow normal patterns for its genre, with its higher than expected gross, a 10% jump on Saturday (positive sign) and the potential bounty of enhanced holiday returns, the studio now likely fights to keep it in play and possibly getting it to an unexpected $40-50 million. Maybe by next year someone will step up and take advantage of a date waiting to be ready to respond well to top product.
Krampus Defies the Odds
Universal has thrived this year, with an unprecedented 24% market share still at this point, and certain to top 20% for 2015, the highest ever for a single studio. Most of their entries have surprised people by their stronger than expected results (both production and marketing deserve credit, along with mostly smart distribution oversight choices), including “Krampus,” which appeared to be a run of the mill youth-market film.
This was not a throwaway: Michael Dougherty is a veteran franchise writer (“X-Men,” “Superman”) who directed this after two low-budget horror films, more experience than many directors of such genre releases. A PG-13 rating can be tricky for older audiences but with his young hero and holiday theme (Krampus is a German Christmas demon) it made sense to broaden the appeal.
So Universal marketing and and a strong cast (Adam Scott and Toni Collette are credible actors known for off-beat work) overcame mixed reviews (even the mixed ones gave the movie credit for originality). But apart from an open playing field, it’s biggest asset is being a comedy. As “The Night Before” has tripled its initial mediocre $10 million opening, comedies seem to be in demand. People are in a dark mood with current events, so a comedy that confronts an evil force might be exactly the right film for the moment.
What Holdovers Mean for Longer Runs
The main reason that the top three holdovers did all told better than last year is that two of three started from a much stronger point. The overall Top Ten decline is actually a bit higher than last year (52% from 50% in 2014). But within the industry the raw numbers aren’t the only relevant detail to consider in analyzing them. With the Christmas roadblock ahead, there is only so much room for the better ones to go forward.
As “Spotlight” and “Brooklyn” will have to retrench a bit as their top theaters play through, as happened with “Birdman” and “The Theory of Everything” last year, on the broad scale, four of this year’s November films are in the running to add to their bounty with Christmas/New Years’ week grosses (usually plateauing or even increasing).
Last year boasted eight wide releases opening within three weeks of Christmas (although the ill-fated “The Interview” was supposed to be the ninth). This year has nine, with the juggernaut that “Star Wars” is expected to be demanding/deserving far more screens than normally any one film gets this time of year. (Multiple screens are actually rarest this time of year, between demand for space at a premium, and the strength of the weekdays, where every day is the equal of a typical Saturday, meaning more times to see top films.)
“Mockingjay – Part 1” had little difficulty keep most of its screens, and added $40 million to its total post-Christmas Day. But again it had not a lot of top competition, and started from a higher position (its third weekend gross was 15% higher than Part 2). Also from November wide releases, “Big Hero 6,” “Penguins of Madagascar” and “Interstellar” all managed respectable (1,200 – 2000 screen) totals, though many of these accepted partial schedules (family films lend themselves to this).
But this year, with three of these films taking in over $15 million, and “Spectre” trying to maintain a presence, the situation is much more complicated. Thus, their performances this weekend loom large.
Clearly the standout is “Creed,” down only 48% (again, last weekend was artificially elevated), which impressively leapfrogged position over “The Good Dinosaur” to maintain third place. But Warners has a problem; they have two other films hoping for 3,000-plus dates coming up soon. Ron Howard’s “In the Heart of the Sea” this week (following a soft UK opening) and “Point Break” Christmas Day. Assuming “Creed” continues with a good hold next weekend, and with the chance that it becomes a sleeper awards contender, they are going to be loathe to sacrifice it, and theaters will likely prioritize it among the choices to stay on.
“Mockingjay 2” is still strong— $18,600,000 is impressive —but not only does the film continue to lag behind last year’s model, but its drop of 64% is worse than 61% last year. So along with the tighter real estate available, don’t expect it to reach quite the numbers (including additional gross) as last year.
However, it might manage to sustain some runs if it shares screenings with “The Good Dinosaur.” Disney is dealing from strength. They can tell exhibitors that they can’t play additional “Star Wars” screens without taking care of their equally important Pixar partner. and weakness—this is a disappointing performance for an expensive film. 60% down is lame, and in uncharted territory for Pixar films (yes, the date is a factor, but even with that, this is weak). It has two more weekends to go before crunch time (with the new “Alvin” movie going head to head on Dec. 18). Disney apart from wanting to take care of Pixar also knows that the Christmas grosses could go a long way to guaranteeing a profit on this (reported to have cost upwards of $200 million pre-marketing). Expect it to be, at least for matinees, a priority.
That might leave “Spectre” out in the cold. No wide film at its gross ($5.4 million) had any sort of presence over Christmas. Yet recent Bonds, led by “Skyfall,” kept over 1,600 screens through Christmas Day, and added over $20 million to its total. Sony has one new film this Christmas, “Concussion.” But they are dealing from weakness with all the other competitors. They might even in the largest complexes have to concede second screens or seats for their Will Smith starrer in order to keep much going.