Box Office Top Ten: Pre-Holiday Weekend Brings Two Joyful Sequels

The Top Ten surged this pre-holiday weekend, led by two films topping $25 million during a time period that is usually hurt by pre-Christmas shopping. “The Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug” led the way, vaulting easily ahead of #1 Friday grosser “Anchorman 2.” But both are very solid. 

Thus the weekend marked a big increase over last year ($139 million vs. $97 million). The Pre-Christmas weekend shows variable results depending on whether distributors choose to launch new films during the lower-grossing days leading up to December 25, or wait for Christmas Day. This year, four studio films opened wide (like last year) on the weekend, with five more waiting in the wings until Wednesday. Five more top 10 entries hope to sustain over the holidays, with several lower-run count entries looking to grab a piece of the holiday action- just as important new films demand more attention. Santa’s sleigh is jammed full this year–but the gifts will not be evenly divided.

Alas, the studios have learned over the years, as one studio exec recently told the NYT, that moviegoers look forward to sequels. This week’s top 10, including the top two, boasts six. Things will get more interesting on Wednesday. 

Among limited openings, Warner Bros.’ “Her” led the way with a decent $43,000 per screen average in six New York/Los Angeles theaters. More of this and other more specialized films in Arthouse Audit anon.

1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Warner Bros.) Week 2 – Last weekend #1

$31,455,000 (-57%) in 3,928 theaters (+25); PSA: $8,008; Cumulative: $127,500,000

initial “Hobbit” last year managed to win its first three weekends,
even besting the huge post-Christmas Day totals for “Django Unchained”
and “Les Miserables.” That might be a stretch this time around (last year’s post-Christmas weekend fell 13%, and it should take more than $26 million to win this year), but with stronger competition already this year, the performance domestically so far remains quite good (with international at $135 million through last Thursday even better).

The first “Hobbit” dropped 55% its second weekend, grossed $36.9 million and totaled $150 through 10 days, clearly better than the performance of the trilogy’s second entry. But unlike “The Lord of the Rings” threesome, the second installment didn’t have nearly the same level of anticipation as happened with the momentum of Peter Jackson’s previous Tolkien series. Most important, this is positioned to sustain strong numbers for the next two weeks, and has a good chance of doubling its current gross by the end of its run.

What comes next: “Smaug” still has Australia, Japan and China to open, so the strong foreign take represents less than its full potential. Even if this does fall short of the $1 billion-plus haul for the earlier film, it’s clearly a success–even with a high-end budget of $225-250 million.

2. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 61

$26,776,000 in 3,507 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $7.635 Cumulative: $40,000,000

Had this not had two days gross already in place, this might have threatened for #1 (where it placed for Friday). But the extra $13 million-plus added by the jump start was worth the effort, as writer-producer-star Will Ferrell’s sequel should top the 2004 film’s $80 million. It also smart not to wait until Christmas Day (where Paramount’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” and two other comedies, “Grudge Match” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” are set to debut).

This is far ahead of “This Is 40,” the Judd Apatow comedy’s opening weekend in 2013 ($11,579,000). That film, boosted by its holiday take, ended up at $67 million. This should easily surpass $100 million, although the steep competition and mixed audience reaction (B Cinemascore) likely means it has seen its best weekend, and by some margin.

This is director Adam McKay’s fifth film, with only his first (“Anchorman”) not passing $100 million (“Talladega Nights,” “Step Brothers” and “The Other Guys” were all hits for Sony). He returned to Dreamworks Productions (now released by Paramount) for this effort, brought in at a reasonable $50 million, with Apatow as one of the producers.

The first “Anchorman” only grossed $5 million foreign. The change in international play is apparent since that time; this has already taken in $13.4 million for its first weekend in just six countries.

What comes next: This might not play that deeply into the new year, but Paramount’s gamble of placing two wide releases at this intense period — after only a total of six previous wide films earlier this year — so far seems to be paying off.

3. Frozen (Buena Vista) Week 5 – Last weekend #2

$19,163,000 (-15%) in 3,540 theaters (-176); PSA: $5,413; Cumulative: $191,555,000

A terrific hold this weekend and a great #3 placement will work wonders ahead in the holiday period for Disney Animation. Often, Thanksgiving features get relegated to matinees for the late December period, somewhat reducing their grossing potential. At this level, full shows and holding most theaters seems in order, and will be quite lucrative for exhibitors (while ticket prices for kids are lower, theaters make this up with higher concessions).

The worldwide total is $344 million, with less than 2two-thirds of the countries open so far (Japan and China are still to come), making this just a portion of what this will ultimately haul in.

What comes next: Even with the multiple new films next week, this still could land in the top 5 and at an increased weekend gross.

4. American Hustle (Sony) Week 2 – Last weekend #15

$19,100,000 (+2,480%) in 2,507 theaters (+2,501); PSA: $7,619; Cumulative: $20,200,000

David O. Russell’s acclaimed comedy take of the 1970s Abscam caper built on its year’s-best limited openings with an encouraging widening this weekend. Playing in 1,000 fewer theaters than the top two films, and with its more review-oriented adult appeal making this less of a pre-Christmas draw than most of the top 10, it entered the market with increased audience awareness before even more competition comes along on Wednesday.

Russell is on a box office and awards crescendo after “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook.” Both films also started limited and took different routes to ultimate box office success. “The Fighter” went to 2,503 theaters in 2010 on its second weekend, with a gross of $12,135,000, more than a third less of “Hustle,” on its way to an ultimate $95 million take. “Silver Linings Playbook” took a much slower path, and didn’t hit 2,500 theaters until its tenth weekend, right after the Oscar nominations. Then it grossed $10.7 million, but had already taken in $43 million on its way to a total $132 million.

The only concern might be the reported B+ Cinemascore rating (taken on the second rather than the initial weekend to gauge more middle-American response), which is just OK. More sophisticated films like this sometimes have a mixed response when moviegoers are questioned on opening weekends. With major awards visibility and substantial support from Sony, expect this to have a lengthy run that might challenge the “Silver Linings” result.

What comes next: This could take a bit of a hit with all the competition next weekend, but “Hustle” should keep screens longer than many of the other December releases.

5. Saving Mr. Banks (Buena Vista) Week 2 – Last weekend #18

$9,321,000 (+2,155%) in 2,110 theaters (+2,095); PSA: $4,418; Cumulative: $15,447,000

With an audience appeal on the older side — 61% of this weekend’s ticket buyers were 35 or above — who usually do not show up in large numbers until Dec. 25, this is a reasonable opening for this making of “Mary Poppins” story. The audience response was strong (A Cinemascore), and with word of mouth often accelerating with holiday gatherings, this positive response should bear fruit in the weeks ahead, along with potential awards attention.

It was crucial to get ahead of “Walter Mitty” (which targets the same audience) and this seems to be doing well enough, assuming the positive response is universal, to keep this steady going forward.

What comes next: However positive this might seem overall, this isn’t a guaranteed success (its initial broad British earlier opening was disappointing), so the next two weeks are going to be crucial.

6. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate) Week 5 – Last weekend #4

$8,750,000 (-36%) in 2,949 theaters (-614); PSA: $2,967; Cumulative: $372,000,000

Remember when Lionsgate (newly merged with Summit) looked like it might suffer from the end of the “Twilight” series? Well, look again. This second “Hunger Games” film is $90 million ahead of the “Twilight” series finale at the same point of its run. And that film was near its end. “Catching Fire,” though it will lose some screens, looks like it will hang on to add a good deal more in upcoming weeks.

What comes next: This has a shot at topping the first “Hunger Games” ($408 million) and 2013 best “Iron Man 3” ($409 million).

7. Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas (Lionsgate) Week 2 – Last weekend #3

$8,500,000 (-47%) in theaters (unchanged); PSA: $3,874; Cumulative: $28,270,000

A pre-Christmas drop after this had a below-par opening for a Tyler Perry comedy suggests that even with better days ahead this will fall short of what his films usually achieve.

What comes next: Could the Madea franchise be running out of steam? It has been a major long-term success for the enterprising Perry and Lionsgate, but even with the hook of a holiday tie-in and limited competition for its audience this doesn’t seem to be catching on so far.

8. Walking With Dinosaurs (20th Century-Fox) NEW – Cinemascore:; Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 37

$7,300,000 in 3,231 theaters; PSA: $2,259; Cumulative: $7,300,000

A disappointing opening for this sole new family holiday opening this season, more so with its 3-D presentation lifting ticket prices. This might be a disaster if normal patterns prevail, but the film could stabilize or go up starting Wednesday, with weekdays being the equal of normal weekend grosses. But this will need to rebound quickly, and score well internationally, to have any chance of making up the $80 million pre-marketing expense this entailed.

The pedigree of the creative team is high – directors Barry Cook (a Disney veteran, also co-directed “Arthur Christmas”) and Neil Nightingale (with extensive wildlife and nature film credits) were brought on board to supplement Fox’s usually strong animation production slate. This was co-financed with IM Global (normally more known for genre/horror films like “Insidious” and “Bullet to the Head) and India-based Reliance Big.

What comes next: With this the only pure kids’ entry out there other than “Frozen” (“The Hobbit 2” and “Saving Mr. Banks” are playing a bit more sophisticated) this has a shot of being a default destination for a segment of holiday vacation moviegoers. But it needs a big rebound to have a chance at success, which is unlikely on the domestic side.

9. Dhoom 3 (Yash Raj) NEW

$3,305,000 in 236 theaters; PSA: $14,004; Cumulative: $3,305,000

The biggest ever Bollywood opening in the U.S., the action/adventure film shot partly in the U.S., and one of the most expensive Indian films ever, managed to crash the top 10, despite a three-hour running time and only playing in 236 theaters. It did 50% more than last summer’s previous best Bollywood domestic grosser “Chennai Express.” Very eye-opening, and coming on top of the Mexican hit “Instructions Not Included,” this is another example of the potential of foreign language mass-audience films to find success on U.S. screens.

What comes next: Most Bollywood audiences show up the initial weekend, so this will have limited legs. But this opening with the holidays ahead has a chance to achieve a much higher multiple than most previous Bollywood releases.

10. Thor: The Dark World (Buena Vista) Week 7; Last weekend #5

$1,328,000 (-53%) in 1,116 theaters (-1148); PSA: $1,190; Cumulative: $200,766,000

Considering the competition, theater loss and lateness in the run, this is an impressive showing again for this latest Marvel success, which is now up to $627 million worldwide.

What comes next: This will survive at few theaters past Wednesday, but Disney made the right bet by placing this in early November, showing once again the strength of the Marvel franchise.

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