Box Office Guru Wrapup: Ralph & Flight Make B.O. Soar

by |

The holiday box office season started with a bang thanks to the one-two punch of two new releases that pulled in sold-out audiences - the animated video game comedy Wreck-It Ralph and the Denzel Washington drama Flight. The pair led the top ten to a healthy 19% jump over the same frame last year. And with tens of millions affected last week by the deadly hurricane Sandy, it was questionable what impact theaters would see but compelling product brought people out of their homes and into the multiplexes putting the film industry in a good position going into the final weeks of the year.

Disney topped the box office with its video game-inspired 3D toon Wreck-It Ralph which opened at number one with a muscular $49.1M, according to estimates. The PG-rated film about a bad guy from a game who wants to become a hero scored a fantastic result thanks in part to its appeal outside of just kids and parents. The studio launched the pic in 3,752 locations and averaged a potent $13,086 per theater.

Studio research showed that 54% of the audience was male and that families made up only 68% of the crowd indicating good business from teens and young adults, many of whom were drawn in by the concept and humor. 38% of the gross came from 3D screens. Reviews were good further encouraging moviegoers to give this one a try and the solid A grade from CinemaScore suggests that word-of-mouth will be strong moving forward. With holidays coming up and no competing family films hitting theaters until Thanksgiving, Ralph should hold up well and could reach the neighborhood of $175M or more from its domestic release alone.

Generating the third biggest opening in history for an R-rated film bowing in under 2,000 theaters was Denzel Washington's pilot drama Flight with an estimated $25M from only 1,884 locations for a spectacular $13,275 average. The Paramount release capitalized on the bankability of its leading man and also benefitted from glowing reviews from major critics as well as Oscar buzz. Also assisting was director Robert Zemeckis who returned to live-action filmmaking after a decade of work in the motion-capture field. The only R-rated films to ever open higher while launching wide in fewer than 2,000 locations were 1999's The Blair Witch Project ($29.2M) and 2006's Borat ($26.5M).

Washington has proven to be one of the most durable stars in the business who brings out his fan base each and every time and 2012 has been a landmark year for the 57-year-old double Oscar winner. His CIA thriller Safe House opened powerfully with $40.2M last February on its way to $126.2M. Both figures are second best in his career trailing just American Gangster's $43.6M and $130.2M from 2007 which, like Flight, launched on November 2. Washington has proven repeatedly that he can draw in millions of fans when playing an anti-hero role.

Budgeted at just $31M, Flight carried broad appeal across genders as the split saw just a tiny edge towards males with 51%. Older adults made up the bulk of the crowd as a whopping 89% was over 25. The CinemaScore was an encouraging A- and with holidays ahead, the film stands an excellent chance of reaching the $100M mark. Despite the reduced theater count (Safe House bowed in 3,119 sites), Paramount has no plans to expand next weekend. Competition for adults will get tough soon with Friday's launch of Skyfall which is expected to follow sensational results in international markets and also open huge. Then Steven Spielberg's Lincoln debuts wide the following week on November 16.

Despite Denzel distracting adults coast to coast, Ben Affleck's hostage crisis hit Argo still showed exceptional strength dipping a mere 15% to an estimated $10.2M bumping up the total to date to an impressive $75.9M. Warner Bros. should easily cross $100M from North America alone on this one.

The martial arts actioner The Man with the Iron Fists made a soft debut in fourth place with an estimated $8.2M from 1,868 locations for a mild $4,400 average. The R-rated action pic from hip hop veteran RZA who makes his feature directorial debut co-stars Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu and skewed towards young urban males. Budgeted at $15M, the Universal release attracted an audience that was 64% male and 53% under 30. Reviews were not too great and audiences were not especially pleased with their investment of time and money as the CinemaScore grade was a dull C+.

In its fifth frame, Liam Neeson's action sequel Taken 2 showed the kind of stamina that its predecessor enjoyed by slipping just 22% to an estimated $6M. Fox has banked an impressive $125.7M to date driven by older adults. The sci-fi epic Cloud Atlas fell by a reasonable 45% in its second weekend to an estimated $5.3M giving Warner Bros. a dismal $18.3M in ten days. A $30M domestic final seems likely for the $100M+ budgeted project.

The fall's top-grossing film Hotel Transylvania took a direct punch from Ralph and fell 52% to an estimated $4.5M boosting the cume to $137.6M for Sony. Until now, its drops had always been in the range of 25-36%. The horror fourquel Paranormal Activity 4 grossed an estimated $4.3M, down 50%, and has scared up $49.6M to date.

Holding up well in its fourth round was the Kevin James comedy Here Comes the Boom which declined by 31% to an estimated $3.6M and a $35.6M total. Rounding out the top ten was the fright flick Silent Hill: Revelation which tumbled 59% during the post-Halloween frame to an estimated $3.3M giving Open Road $13.9M after ten days.

Overseas action was once again dominated by James Bond as Skyfall, the 23rd film in the lucrative series, invaded most of the rest of the world in its second weekend grossing a jaw-dropping $156M propelling the international cume to a towering $287M in just ten days. Germany led the new markets with a $23.9M opening which was an impressive 77% bigger than Quantum of Solace, the last in the 007 franchise. The United Kingdom dipped just 25% in its second round to a stunning $25.7M for an amazing ten-day score of $85.8M. Skyfall drops into North America on Friday and will help the Sony release on its way to a global tally of $800M or much more.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $119.5M which was up 19% from last year when Puss in Boots remained at number one with $33.1M; but down 13% from 2010 when Megamind opened on top with $46M.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following on Twitter.