If for no other reason than “The Force Awakens,” movies have received even more public attention than usual this time of year. With the holiday period coming to an end today, it’s appropriate to put a record-setting year in context—and perhaps temper the most effusive reactions. There is of course one huge winner, and a couple of other standouts. But the big picture is still tenuous for a number of late-year releases, and few besides Lucasfilm’s dominant entry have actually exceeded expectations.
The Top Ten
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Buena Vista) Week 3 – Last weekend #1
$88,300,000 (41%) in 4,134 theaters (no change); PTA (per theater average): $21,359; Cumulative: $740,266,000
2. Daddy’s Home (Paramount) Week 2 – Last weekend #2
$29,000,000 (-25%) in 3,342 theaters (+71); PTA:$8,677; Cumulative: $93,684,000
3. The Hateful 8 (Weinstein) Week 2 – Last weekend #10
$16,240,000 () in 2,474 theaters (+2,374); PTA:$6,564; Cumulative: $29,578,000
4. Sisters (Universal) Week 3 – Last weekend #
$12,580,000 (-11%) in 2,978 theaters (+16); PTA:$4,224; Cumulative: $61,704,000
5. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (20th Century Fox) Week 3 – Last weekend #5
$11,800,000 (-10%) in 3,474 theaters (-231); PTA:$3,397; Cumulative: $67,377,000
6. Joy (20th Century Fox) Week 2 – Last weekend #3
$10,400,000 (-39%) in 2,924 theaters (+28); PTA:$3,397; Cumulative: $38,721,000
7. The Big Short (Paramount) Week 4 – Last weekend #6
$9,000,000 (-14%) in 1,588 theaters (+3); PTA:$; Cumulative: $32,979,000
8. Concussion (Sony) Week 2 – Last weekend #7
$8,000,000 (-24%) in 2,841 theaters (no change); PTA:$2,816; Cumulative: $25,370,000
9. Point Break (Warner Bros.) Week 2 – Last weekend #8
$6,845,000 (-30%) in 2,910 theaters (no change); PTA:$2,352; Cumulative: $22,430,000
10. Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (Lionsgate) Week 7 – Last weekend #9
$4,625,000 (-12%) in 1,485 theaters (-328); PTA:$3,114; Cumulative: $274,223,000
Good Start to the Year – With the Wealth Spread a Bit Wider Than Last Week
The top ten totaled $199 million in initial estimates, besting last year (when New Year’s Day fell on Thursday, if anything boosting the overall weekend) by $70 million. That’s a great way to start 2016. But curiously, it isn’t a record, despite the massive take again from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” The last time January 1 fell on a Friday, in 2010, the top ten came in (adjusted) at $220 million, or 10% higher. That year featured “Avatar” as the dominant film, with an adjusted third weekend figure of $77 million—not that much lower than “Force,” which has led in head-to-head comparisons throughout. (Both films opened on the same date, December 18.)
More encouraging is the fact that the share of the top grossers was spread out better this year than last. This weekend, take out “Force” and the rest of the top ten took in $118 million, compared to 2-10 last year grossing $103 million. So a rising tide is helping other films a bit more. But nearly all of that comes from “The Hateful 8” going wider this week after its spectacular 70mm run in 100 theaters, all of which continue in that format.
Combine that with the 2010 comparison, and as great as “Force” is, it doesn’t suggest a major domestic turnaround so far. It continues to be great for Disney and theaters, but whether it is a standalone event or suggests an ongoing stabilization or even improvement in upcoming domestic business remains to be seen.
“The Force Awakens” In Context
Disney’s juggernaut didn’t achieve a first time three-peat of $100 million weekends. Its 44% drop is perhaps the first time it fell a bit short of elevated expectations, though of course its higher earlier level is the main reason. That said, it dropped more precipitously than rival hits during the past the two decades did over the same weekend, also their third in theaters. “Avatar” in 2010 fell 9%, and “Titanic” only 6%, as they continued their spectacular runs.
A lot of “records” are being claimed for “Force” already. In unadjusted—often misleading and even useless—numbers, it will soon overtake “Avatar” as the biggest domestic grosser, and has already passed “Titanic.” But it takes nothing away from the huge showing of “Force” to add context to this assessment. And the drop this weekend does mean we really aren’t going to know until the post-holiday period where the film will actually end up among all-time highest-grossing films.
In the meantime, the ridiculous $740 million haul so far places it at nearly double what “Avatar” had done through Jan. 3, in adjusted figures. That film ended up at $837 million at today’s prices, with both having surcharges that raised the average ticket price. “Force” will easily best that as well as the raw numbers before too long.
“Titanic” remains in sight, though based on this weekend, “Force” is not quite as certain to overtake it. That isn’t necessarily obvious when comparing the two films’ numbers through the same third weekend—for “Titanic,” an adjusted $289 million. But “Titanic” in its initial run went on to gross more $800 million, with an adjusted $1.1 billion initial haul. It stayed in the Top Ten through the week of June 12. (It then added another $60 million in its 3D reissue in 2012). So “Force” will need to gross over $450 million to claim an actual better performance than James Cameron’s earlier film. Possible still? Certainly. But now somewhat less likely than it seemed after last weekend.
“Force” will likely reach $1 billion, which would make it (at worst) ninth all-time, itself a major achievement when overall domestic grosses have been plateauing, if not falling. If its bests “Titanic,” it would be fifth. But be very wary of all the noise about it being the best ever. It isn’t, not remotely.
Globally, “Force” is over $1.5 billion. The absence of a theatrical release in China to this point depresses that total, but still this seems to be a much better domestic share than seen in other recent massive hits. By comparison, with past foreign numbers imperfect because of exchange rates, less reliable reporting, and the huge recent upgrade in foreign exhibition, “Titanic” ultimately reached around $4 billion in adjusted global grosses, “Avatar” about $3 billion. The latter could be surpassed, the former won’t be.
The “Hateful” Story
You have to hand it to the Weinstein marketing and distribution team. They have managed to come through with an initially positive result ten days into their run. Despite being on hundreds fewer screens than any of the studio Christmas Day openers with their expansion this weekend, a running time of of more than three hours, and moving the wide release up a week, “The Hateful Eight” still ended up ahead of all the non-“Star Wars” competition except “Daddy’s Home.”
The smartest part of the decision was getting out ahead of fellow initially limited release “The Revenant,” also a visuals-driven Western-set story. Sony goes wide with that next weekend. Getting nine days of holiday playtime is also a bonus.
All that said, the domestic fate of the film will be uncertain until we see next weekend. Quentin Tarantino’s most recent film “Django Unchained” also opened on Christmas Day, wide (more than 3,000 screens). Through January 3, it had already grossed $86 million, and through the later post-New Year’s weekend had amassed $106 million. That weekend alone brought in $20 million, despite all theaters being in their second week. “Inglorious Basterds” (a later August release) through its second grossed $73 million, with $19 million that weekend. “The Hateful Eight” is clearly lower than those numbers, with the film’s best chance for catching up being the January playtime ahead and strong passion among many of its viewers—including a Saturday night Cinemascore of A-, ahead of Wednesday’s B.
A Comedy Tonight?
Moviegoing can sometimes hold up a mirror to the national zeitgeist. If that’s so, audiences (apart from the “Star Wars” juggernaut) are in a mood to laugh. The following six films in the top ten are all funny, to one degree or another, with the one most flat-out aimed for laughs—”Daddy’s Home”—the top new opener since “Force.” “Hateful” is, like many of Tarantino’s films, quite comic, adding to its appeal.
In what might be the biggest surprise of the season, the less heralded “Sisters” placed fourth, in the same position as last week despite “Hateful” knocking other films down a notch. Its drop of 11% was just shy of the best hold among already wide films (“Road Chip” dropped only 10%), and took the clear lead among female-centered films over David O. Russell’s “Joy,” despite Jennifer Lawrence as the latter film’s star. “Joy” dropped 39% and now seems in danger of struggling to break even.
“Chip” confirms once again that reliable animated characters combined with laughs always draws, even the fourth time around. But comedy also seems to be part of the secret sauce helping the unexpectedly strong “The Big Short,” already over $32 million in its second weekend wide (though still under 1,600 theaters). Similar to the adaptation of Michael B. Stewart’s “Moneyball,” taking a complicated topic but leavening it with humor and actors identified with comedy clearly made a movie about housing mortgage shenanigans more appealing.
It stands in contrast to last year, when only the “Night at the Museum” sequel was purely comic. The third “Hobbit” repeated at number one, while the serious “Unbroken” and the only occasionally funny “Into the Woods” followed. “Annie” and “Big Hero 6” also included humor, but the overall tone was much more serious among holiday releases. Other recent years have had more prominent comedy showings.
The guess here is that the knowledge that “Star Wars” would likely dominate made other studios counter program. Though the results were variable, it appears they were on to something.
Wrapping up the holiday period, a raft of other films held on, with variable results. We’ll expand our view this week, in some cases summing up the looming end of their play.
“Concussion” fell 24%, and at only $25 million thus far—for a domestic-oriented football story—it looks like a disappointment. The film will likely to struggle to get to $50 million domestic, low for Will Smith. “Point Break” at least avoided being the biggest drop (it fell 30%, but held better than “Joy.”) But this dud, despite prime Christmas placement, will fail to gross what Kathryn Bigelow’s original did in 1991 ($43 million then, double that in current numbers), so it’s no victory. “Mockingjay 2” rounds out the Top Ten. Part 1 last year was seventh and grossed $3 million more, although Part 2 fell only 12% this weekend, compared to 24% last time.
Just out of the Top Ten, but gaining from the holiday, are “The Good Dinosaur” and “Creed.” The Pixar film actually went up—6%—but still grossed less than Disney’s own “Big Hero 6” last year, despite three weeks less playtime. “Creed” passed $100 million and looks to have a better life ahead than Warners’ two later high-budget releases “Point Break” and “In the Heart of the Sea” (#19 for the weekend, and likely ending up at a pathetic $25 million).
Specialized releases “The Danish Girl,” “Brooklyn,” “Spotlight” and “Carol” took 13-16, and are covered in more detail in Arthouse Audit. Sleeper early December release “Krampus” (another comedy) edged up to $42 million, with a $15 million production cost. “Spectre,” intended by Sony to have a much bigger presence over the holidays, managed less than $1 million and might not reach $200 million domestic, less than a quarter of its total worldwide take. Rounding out the top 20 is “The Martian,” still being shown 14 weeks into its run.