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Top 10 Takeaways: ‘Moana’ and ‘Fantastic Beasts’ Lead Robust Holiday Box Office

Disney's princess movie "Moana" and Warner Bros. "Fantastic Beasts" are blockbusters. But old-school directors Bob Zemeckis and Warren Beatty join Ang Lee in the box office doghouse.



Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The five-day holiday weekend results show that 2016 is on track to better last year’s record grosses, even without a box-office juggernaut like “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Thanksgiving weekend gross estimates are slightly up from last year. As expected, Disney’s latest in-house animation blockbuster “Moana” is the lead performer, which combined with Warner Bros.’ J.K. Rowling holdover “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” yielded $100-million of the $171 million Top Ten total.

The other three wide openers — “Allied” (Paramount), “Bad Santa 2” (Broad Green) and “Rules Don’t Apply” (20th Century Fox) — barely grossed $20 million at different levels of disappointment. But “Doctor Strange” (Disney), “Arrival” (Paramount), “Almost Christmas” (Universal) and “Hacksaw Ridge” (Lionsgate) all benefited from the elevated holiday box office.

The Top Ten 

1. Moana (Disney) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 81; Est. budget: $150 million

$55,523,000 in 3,875 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $14,239; Cumulative: $81,108,000

2. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Warner Bros.) Week 2

$45,100,000 (-39%) in 4,144 theaters (no change); PTA: $10,883; Cumulative: $156,228,000

3. Doctor Strange (Disney) Week 4

$13,369,000 (-25%) in 3,008 theaters (-686); PTA: $4,444; Cumulative: $205,093,000

4. Allied (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 60; Est. budget: $85 million

$13,000,000 in 3,160 theaters; PTA: $4,114; Cumulative: $18,022,000

5. Arrival (Paramount) Week 2

$11,250,000 (-7%) in 2,442 theaters (+107); PTA: $4,607; Cumulative: $62,387,000

6. Trolls (20th Century Fox) Week 4

$10,340,000 (-41%) in 3,378 theaters (-567); PTA: $3,113; Cumulative: $135,137,000

7. Almost Christmas (Universal)  Week 3

$7,610,000 (+5%) in 1,868 theaters (-511); PTA: $4,302; Cumulative: $36,689,000

8. Bad Santa 2 (Broad Green) NEW – Cinemascore: C+; Metacritic: 40; Est. budget: $26 million

$6,107,000 in 2,900 theaters; PTA: $2,091; Cumulative: $9,031,000

9. Hacksaw Ridge (Lionsgate) Week 4

$5,450,000 (-18%) in 2,418heaters (-465); PTA: $2,332; Cumulative: $52,248,000

10. The Edge of Seventeen (STX)  Week 2

$2,960,000 (-38%) in 1,945 theaters (no change); PTA: $1,522; Cumulative: $10,274,000

Other wide opener:

12. Rules Don’t Apply (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Metacritic: 60; Est. budget: $25 million

$1,5755,000 in 2,382 theaters; PTA: $661; Cumulative: $2,175,000

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Thanksgiving 2016 Is No Turkey

The equation for a successful holiday was different from last year. “Fantastic Beasts” opened $28 million lower than last year’s “Hunger Games” finale. “Moana” exceeded by $16 million “The Good Dinosaur,” Disney’s animated release last year. The three day Top Ten total looks about $3 million ahead of 2015 ($171 million this year), with the full five day number improved by $5 million ($244 million).

That leaves year-to-date grosses $440 million ahead of last year. And with that, with about five weeks left, even with this year’s “Star Wars” entry “Rogue One” likely to fall short of “The Force Awakens,” 2016 stands a chance of exceeding the unadjusted record total from last year.

The record Thanksgiving remains 2013, which saw both an earlier “Hunger Games” in its second weekend beat out “Frozen” (which went on to have several #1 weekends on the way to $400 million). The holiday bounty was hardly shared across the board, with three new releases falling far short.



“Moana” Almost Hits “Frozen” Levels 

Late November has become the go-to date for top-end animated features from Disney and Fox/DreamWorks. “Moana” comes second only to “Frozen” among those in recent years (we’re comparing its second weekend after an initial single theater five- day run).

In adjusted numbers, “Moana” is the fifth-best Thanksgiving animated gross, behind four other Disney releases: “Frozen,” two “Toy Story” films and “A Bug’s Life.” All of these were big hits.

Statistically, “Moana” is the first pre-Thanksgiving Wednesday opener to take the #1 spot since “Four Christmases” in 2008, and the first animated film to take the Thanksgiving weekend top spot since “Happy Feet” in 2006. That’s because the past six years saw a high profile entry (“Harry Potter,” “Twilight” and “Hunger Games” franchises) open the week before and then return to the top. All these films drew massive (often $100 million-plus) opening weekends and then benefited from the following holiday bonanza.

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Going up against mighty “Fantastic Beasts,” well-reviewed Disney princess original “Moana” did better than 85 per cent as well as “Frozen” — that’s a strong start. Even better, its first Saturday was down just three per cent from Friday, compared to “Frozen” and its six per cent drop.

“Frozen” thrived by staying strong for weeks thereafter, including a rare return to the #1 spot after Christmas. “Moana” looks set to stay on screens and accumulate some $300 million domestic to combine with much more worldwide.

Its initial international footprint is minor (no other country has a late November holiday similar to the U.S.) with openings aimed toward Christmas holiday release.

fantastic beasts

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

Warner Bros.

“Fantastic Beasts” vs. “Harry Potter”

By any standards other than the massive grosses for the entire “Harry Potter” series, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” had a strong opening for a launch of a new series of J.K. Rowling stories inhabiting the same wizard universe. Warners has announced four more to follow, but with a $180 million budget and more costly sequels, it was hard to measure the success of last weekend’s $75 million total.

Now we know a lot more. With the overseas totals already at $317 million (with no holiday boost in foreign territories), the franchise looks more valid as an investment.

For starters, the movie is playing well. The second weekend drop was only 39 per cent (helped by the holiday). How does that compare to the four “Potter” films that opened on similar Fridays the week ahead of Thanksgiving? Only the initial Potter films held up better. Later entries dropped between 47 and 61 per cent. Similarly, the franchise sequels that have dominated this date tended to drop around 50 per cent (with the greater front-end pre-sold appeal).

This confirms what Warners had hoped to achieve with the same creative team behind “Harry Potter.” Even with less kids’ appeal and not replicating the familiar characters, this wizard world variation captures enough of the feel and appeal of the originals to establish a viable series.



Old-Fashioned “Allied” and “Rules Don’t Apply” Fall Short

Veteran directors Robert Zemeckis and Warren Beatty join Ang Lee (whose “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” averaged around ten ticket buyers total per location in its second wide week) as Oscar-winners struggling to reach previous success. (Fellow winner Mel Gibson is doing well with satisfying war picture “Hacksaw Ridge,” while Martin Scorsese is back up at year’s end with “Silence.”)

$85-million World War II romance “Allied,” starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, looked to have more appeal. Its $13 million ($18 million for five days) gross is subpar for the domestic part of the ultimate total. Its old-school spy story could work overseas, but its adult appeal at home required better than lukewarm response.

The film marks a jump for Zemeckis after “The Walk,” but this return to conventional large-scale narrative was not as well-received as “Flight.” But with multiple films, both wide release and more limited at this point, aimed at similar audiences, this needed more critical support to break out. Figure this to be gone in most locations by Christmas.

And Warren Beatty’s equally old-fashioned evocation of ’50s Hollywood will vanish after one more week. It failed to even make the Top Ten (similar to “Billy Lynn” last weekend, with similar grosses, though “Rules” played in more theaters). The PTA suggests it drew on average 20 ticket buyers a day. That’s a sad coda to a great career for Beatty as an acclaimed director and actor as well as proven draw, more so since his Howard Hughes character here is something he has wanted to present for three decades.

Independently produced, 20th Century Fox handled this as a service deal with little exposure for the $40 million initial budget. But it puts Fox in a position, just like Sony with Ang Lee, of dealing with a high-profile top director’s film presented on a prime date as exhibitors scratch their heads.

Bad Santa 2

“Bad Santa 2”

Jan Thijs / Broad Green Pictures / Miramax

“Bad Santa 2” Vs. Past Holiday Comedies

Headlined by original star Billy Bob Thornton and plus addition Kathy Bates, “Bad Santa 2” has the feel of a carryover from the last century. The original was released in 2003 (on the same date) to vastly better results. This $6.1 million total is about $10 million less than the adjusted total of the first go round. And more evidence of disinterest is that the other seasonal comedy, Universal’s “Almost Christmas” grossed $1.5 million more in its second week than the first.

Broad Green’s decision to release this Miramax (new owner, same library) project at this time had some logic. Warner Bros. unleashed “Horrible Bosses 2” at Thanksgiving two years ago with a $15-million initial weekend, a 3.5 multiple and no seasonal tie-in. So an R-rated, male-oriented comedy made sense on paper.

That its two talented stars are years away from lead roles in wide release movies combined with a long gap from the original (and lacking the Weinstein’s marketing expertise), this disappointing showing isn’t at all surprising.


Several standouts showed strength over and above what is expected from the holiday boost. “Almost Christmas” actually rose five per cent!

But the big surprise was “Arrival.” This mid-budget science fiction film looked like it could be headed for an average result through two weeks. Instead it only dropped seven per cent, and now looks like it will sustain several more weeks and end up with a better than three times multiple. Paramount could use the good news after the disappointing”Allied.”

“Hacksaw Ridge” continued Mel Gibson’s run of strong word of mouth films with an 18 per cent fall in week four. “Doctor Strange” held up well in the same week with only a 25 per drop. Only “Trolls,” with “Moana” gutting it, struggled, but even it managed to keep the drop to 40 per cent.

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