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Box Office: ‘Hidden Figures’ and ‘La La Land’ Ride Oscar Wave on Soft Holiday Weekend

Six new films go wide on a weak box office weekend, led by STX horror entry "The Bye Bye Man"; "Monster Trucks" could be 2017's biggest flop.

“Hidden Figures”

As far as the box office is concerned, the Martin Luther King holiday weekend might better be dubbed Memorial Day, as six new wide releases are weak or dying. Despite a wide array of product which should have boosted totals, this weekend looks to be down 19 per cent from last year.

On the other hand, Oscar contenders “Hidden Figures” (20th Century Fox) and “La La Land”(Lionsgate) continued to surf cresting audience enthusiasm to place first and second for the three day weekend.

School vacation Monday results may boost Universal’s “Sing” and possibly Disney’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” to higher positions. Animated musical “Sing” is holding well, with a 33 per cent drop. “Rogue One,” though now the top-grossing 2016 domestic release, is falling far faster than juggernaut “Force Awakens” a year ago.

The Top Ten

1. Hidden Figures (20th Century Fox) Week 4 – Last weekend #1

$20,450,000 (-10%) in 3,286 theaters (+815); PTA (per theater average): $6,223; Cumulative: $54,833,000

2. La La Land (Lionsgate) Week 6 – Last weekend #5

$14,500,000 (+43%) in 1,848 theaters (+333); PTA: $6,494; Cumulative: $74,082,000

3. Sing (Universal) Week 4 – Last weekend #3

$13,810,000 (-33%) in 3,693 theaters (-262); PTA: $3,740; Cumulative: $230,030,000

4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Disney) Week 5 – Last weekend #2

$13,800,000 (-38%) in 3,162 theaters (-995); PTA: $4,364; Cumulative: $498,900,000

5. The Bye Bye Man (STX) NEW – Cinemascore: C; Metacritic: 35; Est. budget: $7 million

$13,378,000 in 2,200 theaters; PTA: $6,081; Cumulative: $13,378,000

6. Patriots Day (Lionsgate) Week 4 – Last weekend #30

$12,000,000 (+11,350%) in 3,120 theaters (+3,113); PTA: $3,846; Cumulative: $12,924,000

7. Monster Trucks  (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 41; Est. budget: $125 million

$10,500,000 in 3,119 theaters; PTA: $3,366; Cumulative: $10,300,000

8. Sleepless (Open Road)  NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 32; Est. budget: $30 million

$8,469,000 in 1,803 theaters; PTA: $4,697; Cumulative: $8,469,000

9. Underworld: Blood Wars  Week 2 – Last weekend #4

$5,815,000 (-57%) in 3,070 theaters (no change); PTA: $1,894; Cumulative: $23,915,000

10. Passengers (Sony) Week 4 – Last weekend #6

$5,625,000 (-36%) in 2,447 theaters (-953); PTA: $2,299; Cumulative: $90,005,000

“The Bye Bye Man”

The Takeaways

Crowded Schedule No Excuse

The Martin Luther King Birthday weekend is a lesser holiday in terms of box office impact, with its less-than-universal off-day Monday and high-end NFL playoffs tempering results. Distributors tend to focus on black cast and horror films as top-choice new releases (although “American Sniper” went wide on the date two years ago to massive response).  The calendar also makes it attractive to expand Christmas (usually awards-oriented) platform films, a process that plays out as the Oscar nominations approach on January 24 (actually later than usual this year).

This led to three brand-new wide releases — horror film “The Bye Bye Man,” African-American “Sleepless,” and actioner “Monster Trucks” — hoping to get kids on their day off, plus the initial expansion of three one-time awards hopefuls (“Patriots Day,” “Live By Night” and “Silence”). That’s five titles with over 1,000 wide runs coming into the market, along with already established films fighting for attention. (“Silence” was below that total, but still nationwide.)

The 19 per cent drop from the same weekend last year — the lowest for the date since 2013 — is even more severe because of the range and number of films. It’s a Catch-22: the default excuse for so many films grossing lower than expected (that includes all the new entries, fresh and wider) is that too many pictures are saturating a crowded market.

That’s nonsense. The greater number of films should have led on its own to an increase in the total, with several million added to each of them in a typical weekend. Instead, we have an overall shortfall.

The problem starts at the top. All hail “Hidden Figures” and “La La Land” for their terrific (and ongoing) results. But last year saw three titles grossing over $26 million for the three day weekend, while “Hidden” scored just over $20 million to top this year’s results. “Ride Along 2” debuted at $36 million, “The Revenant” continued strong at nearly $32 million, while “Star Wars” The Force Awakens” lingered with $26 million — nearly double “Rogue One” this year.

The net result: 15 days in, 2017 is 23 per cent below the same initial results for 2016. That’s not encouraging for theaters.

Nor for distributors of the new wider releases. The production budgets of the six (pre-significant marketing expense) total an estimated $325 million. That investment generated a combined $51 million domestic initial box office, likely more than a third of their eventual take (of which studios will get back a little more than half). That’s not economically sound, even if one or two end up eking out a profit.

Lots of time for a rebound. But other than bigger than expected older audience hits like “Hidden” and “La La,” the business could use some indication that the middle of 18-35 year olds and a broader demographic beyond aren’t continuing to show signs of disinterest in moviegoing other than for special events.

“Hidden Figures” and “La La Land” Headed to Sky High Results

While it’s unlikely that feel-good aspirational true story “Hidden Figures” will prove a serious threat to “La La Land” and its expected awards juggernaut, it’s certainly building momentum in the Oscar race. Its box office surge (nominations voting closed Friday) is propelling it forward.

The top two three-day performances between two Oscar rivals conjures up memories of 2002, when “A Beautiful Mind” and the first “Lord of the Rings” duked it out for awards glory.

“Hidden Figures”‘ second wide weekend, boosted by an uptick in theaters,  fell only ten per cent from last week. Though it opened slightly below similar films like “The Help” and “The Butler,” it is holding better so far. Those films opened much earlier in the year and managed to reach over $100 million ($169 million for “The Help”). Particularly with an awards boost “Hidden” has a shot at equaling that.

“La La” also added theaters once again and though still not close to a typical 3,000-plus theater run reached by most films at the upper end of the Top Ten, its success continues. The $14.5 million total is its best week yet, boosted by its record seven-win Golden Globe domination. But this is more than an awards-propelled success. “Silver Linings Playbook,” with the strategic Weinstein Company carefully calibrating its run, got to $132 million.

Here’s how impressive “La La Land” continues to be. Weinstein tripled the number of “Silver Linings” theaters to over 2,500 the weekend after the Oscar nominations (also MLK Birthday), and grossed a little under $11 million. “La La Land” has a PTA this weekend nearly double “Silver.” And it’s a favorite to win Best Picture and likely much more. If that happens, Lionsgate could be looking at a $200 million domestic gross (international meantime is showing major strength; after South Korea’s early success, it went number one in the U.K. and Spain this weekend.

Lucas Till and Creech in Monster Trucks

“Monster Trucks”

STX Scores, While “Monster Trucks” is the Biggest Flop of the Year

Indie director Stacey Title’s “The Bye Bye Man” would have been seen as hitting its mark even if it hadn’t topped the other five wide openers. It came in with the reported lowest budget ($7.4 million), which means with a likely minimum $32 million total domestic take plus foreign and other returns it should be headed to profit. Score another one for savvy STX, who managed to do this despite immediately following another horror release last week, Anna Foerster’s “Underworld: Blood Wars.” Originality, ace directing and smart marketing paid off.

“Monster Trucks” leaves a legacy. Paramount lavished $125 million on the franchise hopeful, which like “John Carter” is another example of an animated star not making a successful move to live action (Chris Wedge of “Ice Age” and “Robots”). The studio has already jettisoned vice-chairman Rob Moore and taken a $115 million write down. “Monster trucks” will go down as one of the biggest flops of the year.

“Sleepless” director Barab bo Odar comes out of German commercial filmmaking; the film’s European action sensibility is similar to Luc Besson’s genre series “Taken.” Independently financed with foreign money, this remake of a French thriller  marks Jamie Foxx’ first action film since the higher-profile “White House Down” in 2013. Like so many other foreign-targeted derivative unoriginal formula flicks, it didn’t click with American audiences.

Risky Awards Positioning Hurt “Patriots Game,” “Silence,” “Live By Night”

Studios took huge risks opening a far higher than usual total of six mass market studio films opened around Christmas in limited theaters. Their hope — beyond playing nice with A-list directors and stars – -was that delaying wider release would increase awards chances and then spark better box office in January and beyond. This strategy only works if you have the goods.

The risk did pay off for Paramount’s “Fences” (though it has dropped out of the Top Ten) and Fox’s “Hidden Figures.” But none of the rest won’t see any awards or box office bounty, and “Patriots Day” is still in the running for any popular success.

“Patriots” opened under “13 Days” last year on this weekend, another contemporary, straight-off-the-headlines retelling of a recent terrorist event, but with no awards hopes. Its budget was nearly double the $45 million CBS Films and Lionsgate spent for Peter Berg’s Boston Marathon bombing story.

Some pre-opening estimates for the film suggested a chance at #1 this weekend. Instead it opened at #6, with its gross about a third under expectations. That marks the second straight Berg/Mark Wahlberg collaboration (after “Deepwater Horizon”) about a group of men joining forces to deal with a crisis, both dramatizations of true stories. And both have fallen short.

The reason? Perhaps familiarity. While “American Sniper” found huge success in promoting perceived heartland heroes and values (as did Clint Eastwood again with “Sully”), it’s hard to reach the male blue-collar audience these films are meant to reach.

"Live By Night"

“Live By Night”

Ben Affleck’s period gangster story “Live By Night” (Warner Bros.) fell just short of the Top Ten at $5.4 million in a major career embarrassment. Whatever possessed the studio to position this unlikely candidate as an awards contender and then release it broad in January stands as a blunder, but there is no guarantee it would have worked better elsewhere.

See more Arthouse Audit: Audiences Skip Martin Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ 

Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” lagged even further behind (in 747 theaters, not likely to rise much higher). Even if the spiritual drama lands some Oscar recognition, it’s doubtful that it would have much impact at the box office.

These failures join “A Monster Calls” (Focus), which collapsed to barely $500,000 on its second wide weekend, as movies that might have fared better without the increased scrutiny that awards bring.

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