“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” (Lionsgate) has passed the $100 million mark for the weekend. It’s the fifth film of the year to do so. That’s impressive since, at most, two managed this in 2014 (“Mockingjay – Part 1” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction”). But that’s about it for the good news about this week’s Top Ten; it’s all downhill from there.
Good news ahead, though, with a likely much-improved final five weekends of the year. Thanksgiving brings Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur,” “Creed” and “Victor Frankenstein,” which should far outdo the combined total of last year’s Turkey Day offerings, “Penguin of Madagascar” and “Horrible Bosses 2.”
Using a wide array of metrics, business continues to be just plain down across the board. Early wintry weather in the Midwest didn’t help, but that was only a minor factor.
The Top Ten
For the seventh time in eight weekends, grosses fell from the same date in 2014. The 13% drop this year comes with a “Hunger Games” franchise entry dominating the scene, and its low-end performance is the biggest, but hardly sole, factor. The bleeding comes with multiple factors sharing the blame.
“Mockingjay – Part 2” had by far the lowest opening in the franchise. Yes, $101 million is terrific anytime, but not compared to the $158, 153 and $122 million initial totals of its predecessors. That’s down 17% from last year. And it flies in the face of two other recent series enders that split up their final acts: the last “Harry Potter” opened to $169 million, best of any of the films, and $44 million more than the first in the series, while “Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2” started at $141 million, just shy of series’ best, and $3 million more than “Breaking Dawn Part 1.” That’s a big change.
The “Mockingjay – Part 2” gross could be explained by a lack of enthusiasm to “Part 1,” which opened lower than the first two installments. Parallel foreign openings, however, were down only 5% in a market where international business is improving far more than domestic. Younger audiences are hemorrhaging, and decline in female viewership is now catching up to male counterparts. Certainly these grosses do nothing to allay worries that teens and early 20-somethings no longer center their social activities around moviegoing.
“Spectre” dropped 57%, bigger than expected. Now at $153 million, its drop needs to be viewed differently than the three earlier 007 entries starring Daniel Craig, all of which had post-Thanksgiving play on their second or third weeks. That will benefit “Spectre” ahead — it will likely come back with around $12 million, plus extra from the two previous days. But at this point, even with Christmas playdates among many of its best theaters, “Spectre” will likely struggle to reach two-thirds of the total haul of “Skyfall,” “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace” (each of which outgrossed its predecessor). Adjusting price increase, “Spectre” is likely to end up in the range of the first two Craig starrers. That’s a big letdown.
The disappointing performance is mostly domestic. To date, “Spectre” has done 51% of the ultimate “Skyfall” total. Abroad, it so far has nabbed 64%, with some countries topping the 2012 Bond. It’s hard to ignore the evidence that there is some fundamental weakness at play at home.
The two other new openers, “The Night Before” and “Secret in Their Eyes,” both aimed at audiences different from “Mockingjay,” might not have been expected to soar. But with their combined take of $17 million and the past draw of their stars and genres, it again is clear that ticket buyers are getting more selective, and their choices include not going to movies at all.
Opening amid a dearth of comedies, Seth Rogen’s “The Night Before” (costarring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie, neither normally a comedy draw) comes after his previous and similar R-rated effort “The Interview” lost its wide Christmas date last year following North Korean threats. But “Interview” still passed $50 million in combined domestic theatrical and VOD revenue. Did that hurt Sony this time around? Hard to prove that, but it is easy to prove that the $10 million take here is below normal. Last year, the even less sophisticated “Dumb and Dumber To” opened the weekend prior to Thanksgiving to $36 million. 12 years ago, “Bad Santa” with Billy Bob Thornton managed an adjusted $23 million for its first five days (it opened the day before Thanksgiving).
Apart from general audience selectivity, this R-rated film seems to have suffered from weak male interest (the breakdown was 50/50) and a lack of older appeal (52% under 25). The reviews weren’t bad, neither was the A- Cinemascore. Rogan’s ensemble smash “Neighbors” — which opened to $49 million before tripling that total — only got a B. The fans who showed up for “The Night Before” may have been satisfied, but there were far fewer of them. Sony will be fine. They have a holiday weekend ahead, other revenue sources and a reported $25 million production cost. But this is the kind of staple fare exhibitors count on to flesh out their revenues (with younger audiences come higher concession sales). So it is more depressing news for them.
But Rogen fared much better than longtime draw Julia Roberts, who followed up her Oscar-nominated turn in “August: Osage County” with more standard genre effort “Secret in Their Eyes,” a remake of the Argentine Foreign Language Oscar winner. It has pedigree, including costars Nicole Kidman and Chiwetel Ejifor and writer/director Billy Ray (“Breach,” “Shattered Glass” and writing credits on “Captain Phillips,” “The Hunger Games” and “Flight”). But when aiming at an adult audience, it helps to have some critical support, which this lacked. For Roberts, it’s her lowest opener since “Mary Reilly” in 1996. Its older audience has an alternative range of offerings. While there’s no way to know if it could’ve fared better with less competition, “Secret” lacked the appeal to draw at this moment.
This was the worst weekend for holdovers of the season. Apart from “Spectre”‘s 57% fall, the news elsewhere wasn’t much better. Some of the older films like “The Martian” ( down44%) and “Bridge of Spies” (dropping 54%) were hurt by losing scads of theaters. “The Peanuts Movie,” even with little competition for kids, dropped 48%, and last week’s “Love the Coopers” and “The 33” both fell over 50%. “Spotlight” added nearly ninefold to its theater count for a healthy, if not jaw-dropping, result, with a 166% gross increase.
The good news is that these results provide more space ahead for top new films, the top holdovers and a range of more limited films looking to expand and hold through the holidays and then into the weaker period in early December. But again, the weaker overall holdover performance is just another sign of disappointing business.