“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (Disney) came through at huge, if not record, totals. But it stands as the second best December opening ever, and by a big margin. That’s a significant accomplishment and great opening for the film that could end up as the biggest release not only of this Christmas, but for the whole year.
The warning sign came from Will Smith’s “Collateral Beauty” (Warner Bros.), which could only muster $7 million, a career low for the actor, and a pathetic fourth-place showing. Christmas can be a forgiving season, and the film might recover a bit ahead. But with the upcoming holiday lineup looking rocky, it suggests not much will immediately challenge the latest saga from a galaxy far, far away.
The Top Ten
1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Disney) – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 65; Est. budget: $200 million
$155,000,000 in 4,157 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $37,287; Cumulative: $155,000,000
2. Moana (Disney) – Week 4; Last weekend #1
$11,664,000 (-37%) in 3,587 theaters (-288); PTA: $3,252; Cumulative: $161,859,000
3. Office Christmas Party (Paramount) – Week 2; Last weekend #2
$8,450,000 (-50%) in 3,210 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,632; Cumulative: $31,518,000
4. Collateral Beauty (Warner Bros.) – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic:; Est. budget: $40 million
$7,000,000 in 3,028 theaters; PTA: $2,312; Cumulative: $7,000,000
5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Warner Bros.) – Week 5; Last weekend #3
$5,030,000 (-52%) in 3,036 theaters (-590); PTA: $1,657; Cumulative: $207,681,000
6. Manchester by the Sea – Week 5; Last weekend #7
$4,156,000 (+31%) in 1,208 (+842) theaters; PTA: $3,441; Cumulative: $14,017,000
7. La La Land (Lionsgate) – Week 2; Last weekend #15
$4,020,000 (+356%) in 200 (+195) theaters; PTA: $20,100; Cumulative: $5,260,000
8. Arrival (Paramount) – Week 6; Last weekend #4
$2,775,000 (-50%) in 2,157 (-958 theaters); PTA: $1,287; Cumulative: $86,468,000
9. Doctor Strange (Disney) – Week 7; Last weekend #5
$2,036,000 (-55%) in 1,930 (-833) theaters; PTA: $1,055; Cumulative: $226,086,000
10. Nocturnal Animals (Focus) – Week 5; Last weekend #8
$1,391,000 (-56%) in 1,246 (-16) theaters; PTA: $1,117; Cumulative: $8,813,000
Here’s how statistics can sometimes distort box office analysis. This was a very strong weekend. But it also saw a dropoff of around $100 million from the pre-Christmas weekend last year (down about one third).
However, much of the upper midsection of the country experienced the kind of bitter cold and snow that’s more associated with January. That kind of damage isn’t easily quantified, but it’s real. Fortunately, the best days of December lie ahead.
Though down from last year, this weekend’s total is substantially above any previous pre-Christmas weekend besides last year with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” That includes debuts of films like any of the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” titles, “Avatar” and “Titanic,” even adjusting their grosses.
What the totals do verify is that 2016 will exceed 2015’s great $11.1 billion total. The current lead gives enough margin to overcome the greater totals that “Force Awakens” amassed through the holidays, and even a weaker Christmas 2016 lineup overall.
“Rogue” Vs. “Force,” In Context
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” an offshoot from the overall franchise, opened 37 percent under what “Force Awakens” amassed last year. As a comparison, the second “Avengers” film (which opened three years after the first) dropped only about 8 percent.
And in a year when “Rogue” fits squarely within the year’s key formula — be familiar, but not too familiar — that drop might seem out of the ordinary. But apart from the weather issue, some other factors more than explain the differential.
First, the hunger and interest for the reboot of the “Star Wars” empire is impossible to recreate. That’s a once-a-decade set of circumstances. Second, this was a risky venture not directly following the core series, but rather a riff on the plots and characters.
But third and most important is that even this lower figure is $50 million ahead of inflation-adjusted numbers for the next best December opening ever (“Return of the King”) and $100 million better than “Titanic.” Yes, it did far more of its total business its first weekend. But $155 million is a great number.
Did the weather keep it from coming in as the top opening weekend for 2016? (“Captain America: Civil War” earned $179 million.) Probably not. But early May is an easier date to draw audiences into theaters, as the lesser results for openings this time of year show.
A great sign for “Rogue” is its Saturday number, down 35 percent from the combined Thursday preview and Friday number, held better than the 42 percent drop “Force” had from its higher initial take.
And what appears likely is that with the huge multiple inherent with the Christmas and New Years weekend playtime, “Rogue” is poised to become the top 2016 domestic release (including 2017 grosses.) To do that, it needs to better the current leader, “Finding Dory” and its $486 million total. And when that happens, Disney, with “Captain America” and “Jungle Book,” and possibly “Moana,” will have four of the five biggest-grossing domestic films of the year. Unprecedented and staggering.
Last year, two studio releases (“The Chipmunks: The Road Chip” and “Sisters”) braved “Force Awakens” to gross around $14 million each, and went on to decent overall runs of over $80 million. This year, only “Collateral Beauty” tried this, to a horrendous $7 million and a very uncertain future.
Terrible reviews damaged the Will Smith movie, among the most scathing and contemptuous ever seen for a top star vehicle. The weather, along with far fewer presold tickets and a lack of intense interest, also factored in. At least the relative expense (a reported $40 million production budget) make the damage less severe.
Here’s the silver lining. While Cinemascore is not always a reliable barometer, its A- rating is quite decent. That compares to B for “Sisters” last year and B- for “This Is 40” in 2012. Both films, and quite a few other pre-Christmas weekend openers, have gone on to holiday-related multiples of six times or better.
The problem is even that level of business would leave the film shy of $50 million domestic. Figure that with perhaps a $40 million marketing cost and only a bit more than half of that returned to Warners in film rentals, and they are sitting with a $60 million or more loss before foreign (uncertain, although most of Will Smith’s films do perform somewhat close to the range of domestic returns). If all elements perform at optimal levels, it won’t be a major loss. Still, that’s small comfort for what was supposed to be the studio’s holiday release. (They still have Ben Affleck’s “Live By Night” limited ahead of its wide break early next year).
Holdovers and Awards Films Did Their Part
Prime holdovers and awards-oriented films held well. “Moana” came in second at $11 million, down 37 percent from last weekend. And “Office Christmas Party” (Paramount), though dropping 50 percent, still held well for the date. Last year, “In the Heart of the Sea” dropped 68 percent versus “Force Awakens.” And “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (Warner Bros.), though down 51 percent, joins the other two films as guaranteed to play through the lucrative Christmas and New Years period. That will add big numbers to their totals.
We covered “Manchester by the Sea” (Roadside Attractions) and “La La Land” (Lionsgate) along with other specialized films, many going for awards gold, in Arthouse Audit. But the performance of the first two, particularly in a weekend often shunned by their potential core audiences, is extremely impressive. “La La,” which was in only 200 theaters in its second weekend, grossed almost as much as 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook” when it expanded to nearly twice as many theaters.
Will “La La” equal “Silver” and its $132 million total? Way too early to predict, but it’s a possibility. And “Manchester,” though not likely to have as wide an appeal, should easily best all other specialized entries for 2016 before it’s through. That’s a terrific achievement for newcomer Amazon Studios, especially for a downbeat family drama that in many ways is the opposite of what is making “La La” work.