Box Office Guru Wrapup: Hobbit Rules Slow Pre-Christmas Frame

by Gitesh Pandya | Sunday, Dec. 23 2012

With holiday shopping and traveling slowing down multiplex traffic, new releases attracted low-to-moderate debuts allowing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to remain atop the chart in its second session. Four new films entered the top ten hoping not so much to score big openings, but to establish themselves in the marketplace as entertaining options once moviegoers become more available on Tuesday onwards for the Christmas holiday.

The Hobbit fell by an understandable 57% in its second weekend to an estimated $36.7M giving Warner Bros. a sturdy $149.9M after ten days of release. Movies with huge openings and built-in audiences tend to fall by more than half on the second weekend so the performance of the Bilbo Baggins tale was very respectable. Sophomore declines for this year's other juggernauts with $80M+ debuts include 50% for The Avengers, 54% for Skyfall, 61% for The Dark Knight Rises, 62% for The Hunger Games, and 69% for Twilight.

The drop for Hobbit was also identical to the declines suffered by two past mid-December openers from the sci-fi or fantasy genres - 2007's I Am Legend and 2010's TRON: Legacy. At its current trajectory, the Peter Jackson film should be able to reach at least $280M at the domestic box office but also has a shot at $300M if it can broaden its appeal beyond the core fan base over the coming holidays when the marketplace will expand.

Overseas, Hobbit amassed a massive $91M haul this weekend from 59 markets led by a stellar opening in Russia with $16.8M over five days. The international cume is now $284M boosting the global tally to $433.9M. Key markets like Germany and the U.K. held up very well with sophomore drops of 17% and 41%, respectively. Overall, holdover markets slipped only 42%. With good holds and holidays coming up, there is plenty of more fuel in the tank for Hobbit globally. Australia opens on Boxing Day this Wednesday while a China release is still to be determined.

Tom Cruise, who ruled this weekend last year with his latest Mission: Impossible pic, was back with another pre-holiday action offering with Jack Reacher which bowed in second place with an estimated $15.6M. The PG-13 Paramount release averaged a decent $4,654 from 3,352 playdates and played more to an audience of adult men. Studio research showed that 60% of the crowd was male while 76% was over 25.

It wasn't one of the Hollywood star's bigger openings, however films in December opening right before Christmas tend to debut more moderately and then pick up steam starting on December 25 when moviegoers become more available. The weekend right before the yuletide holiday offers many distractions like last-minute shopping and traveling which prompts many ticket buyers to wait until a little later to see films that they don't need to see urgently right away. The last time Christmas fell on a Tuesday in 2007, movies opening on the December 21-23 weekend displayed high multiples from Walk Hard's 4.4 to P.S. I Love You's 8.3. The following year, all films opening wide on the same pre-Christmas session finished with roughly five times their opening weekend takes.

Reviews were generally positive and audiences liked Reacher with the $60M production earning a solid A- grade from CinemaScore. With the aging Skyfall being the only other modern-day action film this holiday season, the lack of direct competition coupled with good buzz may lead to sustained business over the weeks ahead. Paramount rolls the film out into 25 international markets this coming Christmas week. Cruise's popularity has taken less of a hit overseas so the studio expects some sturdy numbers.

Judd Apatow's latest directorial effort This is 40 opened in third place with an estimated $12M from 2,913 locations for a mild $4,130 average. The R-rated film starring Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann skewed towards an adult female audience with 57% of the crowd being women. This demographic tends to be the most distracted in the final days before Christmas so Universal is hoping that sales pick up from December 25 onwards. But that will be no easy task as the lackluster B- CinemaScore indicates that word-of-mouth will not be too rosy plus the studio is opening Les Miserables on Tuesday which is tracking extremely well. Musicals typically perform best with women so the direct competition will be a factor going forward for 40 which cost a relatively low $35M to produce. Critics had mixed reviews for the spinoff to the 2007 blockbuster Knocked Up.

Despite another animated release entering the marketplace, Rise of the Guardians remained the top toon in the land even though it was in its fifth weekend with an estimated $5.9M, off just 17%. Still, the $79.7M cume is among the lowest that any major 3D animated film has grossed after one full month of play. The DreamWorks toon added $13.7M overseas raising the international sum to $142.9M and the global gross to $222.6M. Holding up well again, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln collected an estimated $5.6M in its seventh round, off only 20%, for a $116.8M cume for Disney.

Barbra Streisand got off to a slow start with her road comedy The Guilt Trip which bowed in seventh place to a weak estimate of $5.4M. Co-starring Seth Rogen, the PG-13 film averaged a poor $2,217 from 2,431 locations and is hoping to connect with its audience of older women later. But a lackluster B- CinemaScore shows that audiences are not liking the Paramount release very much and with not-so-great reviews, the road ahead will be tough even with the marketplace expanding during Christmas week. A final gross of $35M will be tough to reach for this $40M production. Studio research showed that the audience for Guilt was 60% female and 82% 25 and older.

Disney struck out with its latest 3D re-release as the upgraded version of 2001's Monsters, Inc. opened to just $5M, according to estimates. The Pixar title averaged a puny $1,925 from 2,618 sites and saw a 5-day debut of just $6.5M since its Wednesday launch. 3D re-releases used to be exciting events, but as with most hot trends in Hollywood an overabundance has eliminated audience excitement. Past blockbusters like Beauty & the Beast, Star Wars Episode I, Titanic, and Finding Nemo were all recycled this year but diminishing returns are settling in. Still, part of Disney's strategy in re-issuing Monsters was to reinvigorate the brand ahead of next summer's prequel Monsters University.

In its seventh weekend of play, Skyfall fell 28% to an estimated $4.7M pushing the incredible domestic cume to $280M. Another $9M from outside North America helped to push the mammoth overseas total to $694.3M and the worldwide tally to $974.3M. James Bond will join fellow heroes Batman and the Iron Man squad as the only members of 2012's billion dollar club.

Dropping 30% to an estimated $3.8M was the lost-at-sea 3D adventure Life of Pi which has given Fox $76.2M to date. A $23.2M overseas weekend sent the international take up to $160.6M and the global figure to $236.8M. Teen soap The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 dropped 49% to an estimated $2.6M and has amassed $281.6M so far for Summit and Lionsgate.

Fans didn't exactly flock to the 3D entry Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away which opened in eleventh place with an estimated $2.1M from 840 theaters for a weak $2,542 average. Offering just two showtimes daily in paid previews, the 91-minute PG-rated film was marketed as being from executive producer James Cameron. Paramount hopes to see sales pick up as word-of-mouth spreads and the A- CinemaScore indicates that buzz could be good. The production budget was just under $20M.

There was no lack of activity in the specialty release world as films wanting to qualify for the Academy Awards rushed into theaters in Los Angeles - and New York too. Sony's high-profile awards contender Zero Dark Thirty enjoyed a spectacular debut in five locations with an estimated $410,000 for a scorching average of $82,000 per theater. The total for the Osama bin Laden manhunt pic since its Wednesday launch is $639,000. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow - the only woman to win a Best Director Oscar - Thirty opens nationwide on January 11, the day after Academy Award nominations will be announced. The R-rated film has already been named the best picture of the year from critics groups in New York, Boston, and Washington D.C and is hoping that rivals Argo and Lincoln will see their momentum fade away by the time Oscar voting begins.

The French-language film Amour has been a juggernaut this awards season dominating the foreign language category of almost every major organization's list of top honors for 2012. Sony Classics debuted the acclaimed picture in three theaters on Wednesday and grossed an estimated $71,000 for a sizzling $23,554 average. Since its opening, the Paris-set film which the New York Times calls a "masterpiece" has grossed $100,000 in five days. Its next expansion will be in January.

Tsunami drama The Impossible enjoyed a moderate debut in limited release with an estimated $139,000 from 15 theaters in eight markets for a decent $9,267 average. The well-reviewed pic starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts was released by Summit and will expand on January 4. The Paramount Vantage pic Not Fade Away had a soft platform debut in three locations in New York and Los Angeles grossing an estimated $19,000 for a disappointing $6,333 average. Produced for $20M, the R-rated pic about three New Jersey friends who form a rock band in the 1960s widens to 16 theaters on Friday and will then expand to over 500 playdates on January 4 which may be too aggressive given the opening weekend average.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $97.4M which was down 12% from last year when Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol rose to number one with $29.6M; and down 22% from 2010 when Little Fockers debuted in the top spot with $30.8M.

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