Last weekend was the lowest-grossing pre-Thanksgiving Top Ten since 2007, and exhibitors are again looking to Disney to lead a rebound. “Moana,” its latest in-house animated feature, will easily top three other new wide releases. If it lives up to its potential, it might do well enough to push box office to last year’s totals.
Warner Bros.’ “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” though hitting low-end expectations with a $74 million initial weekend, didn’t rise to the level of past new films from the “Hunger Games,” “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” franchises, all released on the same date. That led to a Top Ten total of $147 million over the weekend, 10 percent below 2015.
“Moana” and the other films debuting Wednesday (“Allied”/Paramount, “Bad Santa 2″/Broad Green, “Rules Don’t Apply”/20th Century Fox) will have to defy history to equal or exceed last year’s three-day total of $168 million — especially because the Friday-Sunday after Thanksgiving usually falls from the one preceding. If that happens this year, the results would be disastrous.
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To prevent that, “Moana” will need to score “Frozen”-level initial results. In 2013, that film took in $93 million over the five-day period ($67 million for the weekend). Though that might seem to be a tall order (“Frozen” grossed $400 million overall), “Moana” comes with high-end anticipation. It actually has better reviews than “Frozen” as well as heavyweight voice actor Dwayne Johnson. Look for $50 million-$65 million over the weekend and $75 million-$90 million across the five days.
Whatever “Moana” brings in, it could be double anything managed by the other three openers. Some years have only one major new release on this date, and never more than two (last year was “The Good Dinosaur” and “Creed”). Distributors favor early November because Wednesday openings are tricky and grosses often go into freefall thereafter. That makes the presence of two adult-oriented, more sophisticated releases this week unusual.
Two of them are from past Oscar Best Director winners – Robert Zemeckis with “Allied,” and Warren Beatty with “Rules Don’t Apply.” This comes immediately after the implosion of fellow Oscar winner Ang Lee’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.” (Lee’s “The Life of Pi” and Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” also both opened the day before Thanksgiving).
The $80 million “Allied,” which stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, is the most expensive of the three. It also looks to have the most international appeal, which will be crucial to its success. With late-arriving reviews settling in as mildly favorable, the domestic audience for the World War II-set romance among spies will be limited. This feels closer to “The Monuments Men” than “Inglourious Basterds.”
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Still, it appears to have more appeal than “Rules Don’t Apply,” Warren Beatty’s return to directing (after 18 years) and acting (15 years). After decades of developing a Howard Hughes biopic, he’s realized his dream with a scaled-down 1950s-set oddball romance between two younger people in Hughes’ orbit. It’s an unlikely wide-release project, although at $25 million budget it has an economical price point. What it needs to work is strong reviews, but what it’s getting are mixed-to-favorable.
That leaves projections for the three- and five-day periods under $10 million. Again, foreign interest could salvage this, but it looks like more of a niche item at home with limited interest.
“Bad Santa 2” looks to fall between those two in its gross; with luck, it could make a little over $10 million for three days and $15 million for five. It’s been 13 years (also at Thanksgiving) since Miramax released the original R-rated comedy, with Billy Bob Thornton reprising his role as a foul-mouthed St. Nick. The film’s raunchy attitude has become more conventional in the interim, but the time frame has seen similar titles find interest: In 2014, “Horrible Bosses 2” took in $23 million for its first five days.
More than the new films not named “Moana,” success for the period will be determined by the strength of several films in release. “Fantastic Beasts” should drop below “Moana,” to half or more from its $74 million start. “Doctor Strange” and “Trolls” could vie with “Allied” for the third spot, particularly for the three-day accounting.
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Two platform releases with long-shot awards chances open on Friday. Weinstein has “Lion” with Dev Patel trying to find his Calcutta family years after his adoption. This film follows the pattern of past TWC awards’ releases like “The Imitation Game,” “Philomena,” and “My Week With Marilyn.”
Europa has “Miss Sloane” with Jessica Chastain garnering praise for her performance as a D.C. lobbyist. It is directed by a one-time Weinstein (then Miramax) star director, John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”).
However, neither film is receiving more than consensus mildly favorable reviews, so initial numbers may not rise to levels of recent standouts “Moonlight” and “Manchester by the Sea.” Those two, along with “Loving” and “Nocturnal Animals,” will be expanding in hopes of cashing in on increased moviegoing.