Friday, December 21, 2012

Forecast: Eight Nationwide Releases Crowd Theaters This Christmas

Afraid of opening any of their end-of-year titles ahead of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the major studios instead decided to pack the long Christmas weekend with eight nationwide releases. In comparison, the last time Christmas fell on a Tuesday there were only five new entries.

While the abundance of new material does mean there's plenty for audiences to choose from, it also means that at least a few of these movies are going to get seriously lost in the pack. Coming off its $84.6 million opening weekend, it's a foregone conclusion that The Hobbit will once again lead the box office, though it could yield the top spot on Christmas Day to Django Unchained or Les Miserables.

It's important to remember that around the holidays, movies have very strong multiples and often end up with five to seven times as much as their opening weekend gross, and therefore lower-than-normal grosses this weekend shouldn't be seen as an immediate sign of failure. Because of the staggered release schedule (Dec. 19, Dec. 21, and Dec. 25), we're going to forgo official predictions and instead offer brief analysis in order of release date.

December 19

The first two movies, The Guilt Trip and Monsters, Inc.'s 3D re-release, are also two of the weakest offerings this season.

Monsters, Inc. (3D)
is Disney's third 3D re-release following the enormous success of The Lion King 3D last year ($94.2 million). Unfortunately, that performance seems to be specific to The Lion King's appeal, and Disney has failed to replicate it with Beauty and the Beast ($47.6 million) and Finding Nemo ($40.9 million) this year. Even with the dearth of family-oriented content in the marketplace, Monsters, Inc. 3D seems poised to continue this downward trend; the movie opened to just $778,913 on Wednesday, which is a tiny fraction of the opening day gross for those other 3D re-releases. With kids off from school and little competition, Monsters Inc. 3D will hold well through the end of the year, but its five-day opening weekend is still likely to wind up below $10 million.

Barbra Streisand/Seth Rogen mother-son road-trip comedy The Guilt Trip also opened on Wednesday and earned just over $1 million at 2,431 locations. This is the first of Paramount's three brand-new nationwide releases debuting over a three-day period, which is odd to see from a lean studio that's only releasing 14 major movies this year. Thanks to the appeal of the two leads, The Guilt Trip could have been a solid selection for older family audiences over the holiday, but it's getting such a light push that it's not going to really register. Paramount is expecting $8-10 million through its first five days, which seems reasonable given the movie's Wednesday performance.

December 21

After headlining last Christmas's biggest movie, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol ($209.4 million), Tom Cruise is giving it another try in Jack Reacher, which hits 3,352 locations on Friday. While it doesn't have the sequel advantage, Jack Reacher does come with a built-in fan base courtesy of Lee Child's best-selling book series featuring the title character. Unfortunately, Cruise's casting remains controversial among die-hards—Reacher is an imposing force at 6'5", while Cruise is 5'7" on a good day—so they probably won't be rushing out to theaters. Additionally, with its dark palette and 90s-style action the movie's marketing has been generally uninspiring. Paramount is expecting $12 to $15 million for the weekend, which would put the movie on track to possible match Valkyrie's $83.1 million total (a Christmas release starring Cruise and written by Reacher's writer/director Christopher McQuarrie).

Judd Apatow's fourth directorial effort, This Is 40, opens at 2,912 locations on Friday. The movie is the "sort-of sequel" to Apatow's Knocked Up, and follows the lives of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) five years after that movie. The Apatow brand gets tossed around a lot, and while it's been attached to a few major hits (last year's Bridesmaids most recently), it's also been tied in with major bombs Wanderlust ($17.3 million) and The Five-Year Engagement ($28.7 million) this year. Reviews for This is 40 are middling (59 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and the challenges of middle-aged married life isn't going to be remotely appealing to Apatow's younger fan base. Universal is hoping for low-teen-millions for the three-day weekend.

Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away
, Paramount's third nationwide release this weekend, will be playing at noon and 7 p.m. in around 800 locations. By pushing the specific showtimes, Paramount is trying to make it in to a movie-going event, and it is a solid option for families who have seen Monsters, Inc. enough times on DVD. With the light release and very little marketing, though, it's likely going to end up near the bottom of the Top 10.

December 25
Arguably the two most anticipated end-of-year wide releases are going head-to-head on Christmas Day, and odds are that musical Les Miserables tops Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. Billy Crystal-Bette Midler comedy Parental Guidance also opens that day, though its potential seems fairly limited.

Musicals are very hit-or-miss at the box office: for every Chicago ($170.7 million) or Dreamgirls ($103.4 million), there's a Sweeney Todd ($52.9 million) or Nine ($19.7 million). At this point, at least, Les Miserables appears poised to wind up closer to the successes: it's based on one of the most popular musicals ever, has a killer cast (Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, among many others), and is getting plenty of awards buzz (even if many critics don't dig it). Marketing has been playing up these three areas while also focusing on the movie's most unique attribute: in an effort to get the best performances possible out of the actors, director Tom Hooper had them sing live on set. These various factors have made Les Miserables the top advanced ticket-seller ever on Fandango among Christmas Day releases ahead of 2009's Sherlock Holmes, and an opening day north of $10 million is definitely within reach.

Similar to Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained is a revenge tale set during a terrible part of world history (slavery instead of WWII) filtered through the writer-director's violent/comedic lens. Basterds wound up being his highest-grossing movie ever with $120.5 million at the domestic box office, and with an even more-impressive cast (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson and more) and equally strong reviews the hope is that Django can perform similarly. Unfortunately, violent R-rated fare doesn't play great around the cheerful holiday: last year's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo started slowly around Christmas before riding strong word-of-mouth to over $100 million. As a result, it's likely that Django winds up lower than Les Miserables on opening day.

Parental Guidance is the final new nationwide release surrounding the Christmas holiday; while 20th Century Fox would prefer Cheaper by the Dozen numbers ($138.6 million and $82.6 million), it's more likely going to get Gulliver's Travels. Fox released that movie on Christmas Day in 2010, and after opening low it ultimately went on to earn a fine $42.8 million, which feels like the best-case-scenario for Parental Guidance.

Limited Releases

As if there weren't enough options in nationwide release, there are also a handful of interesting movies opening in limited release this weekend. The biggest among these movies is easily Zero Dark Thirty, which chronicles the hunt for, and ultimately the killing of, Osama Bin Laden. The movie is already ginning up strong business ($124,848 at five locations on Wednesday) thanks to incredible reviews and a healthy dose of torture-related controversy, and should continue to put up great per-theater numbers throughout its exclusive New York/Los Angeles run. It is currently set for a nationwide expansion in to at least 2,500 locations on Jan. 11, which is a day after Academy Award nominations are announced.

Other noteworthy limited debuts include The Impossible (15 theaters on Dec. 21), Michael Haneke's Amour (three theaters on Dec. 19), David Chase's Not Fade Away (three theaters on Dec. 19), and On the Road (four locations on Dec. 21).

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