This has just been a crap year for movies at the box office, with year-to-year box office expected to be down 5%. That’s what makes it so refreshing that the collective box office kind of kicked butt this Christmas, turning into the highest-grossing weekend of the entire year. We had not one but two films (Unbroken, Into the Woods) post some of the best Christmas Day debuts in history, The Hobbit managed to conquer all and at least temporarily return the franchise to its prior highs, two films which had been written off (Night at the Museum 3, Annie) enjoyed surprising growth, and Hunger Games: Mockingjay became just the second film of the year to cross $300 million domestic. Let’s do the numbers:
Top 10 Estimated Domestic Totals (12/25-12/28)
1. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
- Christmas Day=$13.1 million
- Weekend Gross=$41.4 million (-24% from last weekend)
- Christmas Day-Sunday Gross=$54.5 million
- Total Gross to Date=$168.5 million
- Budget=They’re not telling
Foreign: $89.2m from 62 markets this weekend for a new international/worldwide split of $405.m/$573.6m, keeping in mind that it has been out a week longer overseas than it has here at home. Make of this what you will: At $56.1m in local box office gross, Five Armies is now Germany’s biggest film of 2014.
Honestly, comparing Five Armies to the prior Hobbit movies is kind of pointless because there’s a big difference between Unexpected Journey and Desolation of Smaug having two full weekends of release before Christmas and Five Armies having Christmas come quite literally the day before its second weekend. So, it sounds impressive to say that Five Armies‘ 12-day domestic total is now practically identical to what Unexpected Journey did ($168.1m) when it was still riding high on Lord of the Rings nostalgia two years ago, and well ahead of Desolation of Smaug‘s 12-day $140.6m last year when it was suffering from franchise fatigue. However, it’s just not really a fair comparison, and even comparing it to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, all three of which featured an identical release pattern to Five Armies, is forever hampered by the box office bugaboo of “Yeah, but what happens after you adjust for ticket price inflation?” Both Two Towers and Return of the King were a little over $200m at this point in their release cycle, but at current ticket prices Two Towers would be at $280m and Return of the King at $299m.
This is all playing out much like the Star Wars prequels which had an unsatisfying inaugural entry (Phantom Menace) which still made boatloads of cash ($474m domestic) because of the immense nostalgia for the original trilogy, a darker, superior sequel (Attack of the Clones) that underperformed ($310m domestic) due to the burden of being a sequel to a film people hated, and a final, death-filled installment (Revenge of the Sith) that enjoyed a clear box office boost ($380m domestic) from being “the last Star Wars film ever!” but still couldn’t match franchise highs. The Hobbit trilogy is doing the same thing, although its third installment (Five Armies) will come far, far closer to its first installment (Unexpected Journey) than the Star Wars prequels ever did.
2. Unbroken (Opening Weekend)
- Christmas Day=$15.6 million
- Weekend Gross=$31.7 million
- Christmas Day-Sunday Gross=$47.3 million
- Budget=They’re not telling
Foreign: $2.7m from Spain and the UK this weekend for a worldwide debut of $50m. It will continue hitting foreign markets for the next couple of months.
Angelina mother f’n Jolie. With only her second directorial effort, that woman just turned an inspirational, based-on-a-true story film starring nobody anyone’s ever heard of into the third biggest Christmas Day debut of all time, and then watched as it pretty much doubled that single-day gross over the weekend. This is the best type of revenge after The Golden Globes surprisingly completely passed over Unbroken, and other awards bodies have regarded it as a “nice, but not awards caliber” film. This can’t all be attributed to Angeline Jolie, though. If her star power really was so irresistible that anything she makes hits big even if she only directs it then her directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, would have grossed more than $303,877. That being said, the ability to slap her name all over the marketing in the same year that she produced and starred in Maleficent, one of the real surprise big hits of the summer, had to have helped a ton. Plus, the marketing rather effectively presented this as the type of inspirational film which would play well with family audiences over the holidays.
3. Into the Woods (Opening Weekend)
- Christmas Day=$15.1 million
- Weekend Gross=$31 million
- Christmas Day-Sunday Gross=$46.1 million
- Budget=$50-60 million
Foreign: $2.7m from Russia, Korea and a couple of smaller markets this weekend for a worldwide debut of $48.8m. Into the Woods is staggering its international roll out, hitting the UK, Spain, France, and Brazil next month, Mexico and Germany in February, Japan in March, and Italy in April.
After it had the second biggest Christmas Day debut ever ($18m) as a precursor to a domestic/worldwide haul of $148m/$441m, Les Miserables was supposed to kick off a run of new movie musicals, but these things take time. We’ve actually only had three mainstream musicals since then (Jersey Boys, Annie, and Into the Woods) with an indie (The Last 5 Years) on the way this Valentine’s Day. Jersey Boys was a box office dud ($67m worldwide against a $40m production budget) meaning the real future of the genre is being determined right now by Annie and Into the Woods. Luckily, Into the Woods is off to a Les Miserables-sized start, posting the fourth biggest Christmas Day debut of all time, a 4-day total pretty much on par with Les Mis ($48.7m), and the third biggest opening weekend of all time for a musical (not accounting for inflation). That’s the good news. The bad news is that Into the Woods is simply not as well known around the world as Les Miserables meaning its international prospects aren’t as strong. Moreover, opening night audiences graded it a “B” on CinemaScore (Les Miserables earned the ultra-rare A+). Maybe some people aren’t fond of Disney’s tried and true marketing ethos of “fool people into seeing a musical by not telling them it’s a musical,” and maybe others don’t like the unexpectedly dark turn the film takes in its second half. After all, the target audience of Disney’s marketing campaign has been families, and many of them may only know Into the Woods as that cute little musical the local grade school puts on every other year. Yeah, the grade schools only do the fun, happy first act of the show; the movie adapts the entire Broadway show, and it has not been overly Disneyified. Most of the characters who die in the show die in the film too. Plus, while the hook of the story is “Come see familiar fairy tale characters running into each other” (a premise which seemed more unique back in the 80s when the show premiered decades before ABC’s Once Upon a Time was a thing) the versions of the characters are not always the familiar Disney ones but instead closer to the Grimm’s originals.
Those are all the reasons Into the Woods could suffer some sharp declines, but I may not be giving audiences enough credit. For however much this type of thing matters, the sold-out audience I saw it with on Christmas Day appeared to like it a lot.
4. Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
- Christmas Day=$7.2 million
- Weekend Gross=$20.6 million (+21% from last weekend)
- Christmas Day-Sunday Gross=$27.8 million
- Total Gross to Date=$55.3 million
- Budget=$127 million
Foreign: $30.3m from 40 markets this weekend for a new international/worldwide split of $48.6m/$103.1m.
Night at the Museum just rebounded nicely from its ho-hum opening weekend, but even so it has still taken 10 days to make what the last Night at the Museum made in its opening weekend.
- Christmas Day=$4.6 million
- Weekend Gross=$16.6 million (+5% from last weekend)
- Christmas Day-Sunday Gross=$21.2 million
- Total Gross to Date=$45.8 million
- Budget=$65 million
Foreign: $5.9m from 21 markets this weekend for a new international/worldwide split of $8.2m/$54m.
Annie overcame truly dreadful reviews to score a surprisingly decent opening weekend and now an even better second weekend meaning that it has almost already made more than Jersey Boys ($47m). That’s even more impressive considering that a DVD-quality copy of the film has been available on pirating websites for several weeks, courtesy of Guardians of Peace.
6. The Gambler (Opening Weekend)
- Christmas Day=$5 million
- Weekend Gross=$9.3 million
- Christmas Day-Sunday Gross=$14.3 million
- Budget=$25 million
Foreign: $10.7m from 28 markets this weekend, most notably the UK and Germany, for a worldwide debut of $28m.
The original Gambler was a semi-autobiographical account of screenwriter James Toback’s experience of struggling with gambling addiction while working as an Englisher lecturer at a New York college. In the transition to the screen, James Caan played the lead, and while the resulting film was well-liked it did not exactly achieve the reputation of being a classic. The only reason it popped back up as a remake was because back in 2011 Martin Scorsese was going to make it with Leonardo DiCaprio (who else?) in the lead role. By 2013, that morphed into Rupert Wyatt directing Mark Wahlberg, and the result is most certainly not a classic. At just 48% approval on RottenTomatoes, it may not even rise to the level of “merely good.” It’s opening is roughly similar to Mark Wahlberg’s Broken City, which debuted to $8.2m in January 2013 and ended with $19m total. The Gambler is clearly going to beat that, but after this lackluster debut it’s not expected to do much in the coming weeks.
- Christmas Day=$2.6 million
- Weekend Gross=$10 million (+27% from last weekend)
- Christmas Day-Sunday Gross=$12.6 million
- Total Gross to Date=$306.6 million
- Budget=They’re not telling
Foreign: $7.9m from pretty much everywhere possible in the world this weekend except for China and Japan, upping Mockingjay‘s international/worldwide split to $363m/$669.6m. The UK ($47.3m) and Germany ($37.2m) remain the leading overseas markets for Katniss’ penultimate adventure.
Mockingjay‘s under-performance means that Hunger Games will not be the first franchise with three straight installments to gross more than $400m at the domestic market, but let’s not greedy here. Mockingjay just passed $300m domestic, and still has an outside shot of equaling Catching Fire‘s international gross ($440m). This is not a matter of Lionsgate not making money; it’s simply them not making quite as much as we all expected.
8. The Imitation Game
- Christmas Day=$3 million
- Weekend Gross=$7.9 million (+823% from last weekend)
- Christmas Day-Sunday Gross=$10.9 million
- Total Gross to Date=$14.6 million
- Budget=They’re not telling
Foreign: Less than $1m in the UK this weekend for an updated international/worldwide split of $21.1m/$35.7m.
This was The Imitation Game‘s first weekend of wide release (747 theaters), and it had one of the better per-theater averages of any film in the top 10. The last awards contender to follow a similar pattern as The Imitation Game was probably The King’s Speech, also from The Weinstein Company, which made $4.4m the first weekend it went wide (also over Christmas). Imitation Game nearly doubled that. Of course, King’s Speech ultimately grossed $135m domestic, and that just doesn’t seem very likely for Imitation Game.
9. Exodus: Gods and Kings
- Christmas Day=$3 million
- Weekend Gross=$6.7 million (-16.7% from last weekend)
- Christmas Day-Sunday Gross=$9.7 million
- Total Gross to Date=$52.5 million
- Budget=$140 million
Foreign: $31m from nearly 40 markets this weekend for a new international/worldwide split of $96.3m/$148.8m.
Exodus is pretty much a lost cause domestically, so much so that the international market probably won’t be able to save it.
- Christmas Day=$1.6 million
- Weekend Gross=$5.4 million (+31% from last weekend)
- Christmas Day-Sunday Gross=$7 million
- Total Gross to Date=$16.3 million
- Budget=They’re not telling
Foreign: No foreign box office yet
If you don’t think there are enough good roles for women why not go make one for yourself. That’s the basic gist of why Reese Witherspoon chose to adapt Cheryl Strayed’s autobiography as the inaugural film for her new production company, Pacific Standard. As such, there’s much more to Wild than just a glamorous Hollywood actress going very anti-glam and getting automatic “Isn’t she so courageous?” awards consideration. It is the opening salvo in Witherspoon’s stated goal of making films, regardless of whether or not she stars in them, which provide a more varied depiction of the many facets of being a woman.
What Dropped Out of the Top 10?:
Big Hero 6 (#7 to #11), Top Five (#8 to #12), The Penguins of Madagascar (#10 to #13), and P.K. (#9 to #17). Big Hero 6 is now less than $100,000 below the $200m mark domestically, meaning it is basically tied with Tangled as the second biggest Disney Animation release of all time.
What About Big Eyes?:
When the major theater chains dropped The Interview, The Weinstein Company expanded the number of theaters it was going to put Big Eyes into, but you wouldn’t know that from the film’s box office performance. It posted a disappointing $1.4m Christmas Day debut and $2.9m weekend gross for a 4-day total of $4.4m, setting it up to turn into Tim Burton’s worst domestic performer since, well, his last movie, Frankenweenie, which ended with just $35m. However, Burton’s smaller films typically struggle to make much of an impact at the box office. His best film is arguably Ed Wood, which grossed less than $6m domestic back in 1994, and although Big Fish made $66m in 2003 it also cost $70m to make. On that end, Big Eyes is in better shape; it reportedly only cost $10m to make.
What About The Interview?:Those who wanted to make a political stand by seeing The Interview in theaters mostly did so on Christmas Day, when it grossed $1m before making just $1.8m over the weekend for a 4-day debut of $2.8m. That’s very not good, especially for a movie that cost upwards of $40m to produce not to mention the untold millions the related hacking scandal has and will continue to cost Sony Pictures. There’s nothing about this release which suggests it is simply a byproduct of playing in 331 theaters, and that once it expands it will do much better. No, this is basically the same type of business Veronica Mars put together when it debuted as a date-and-date VOD/theater release back in March, making $1.9m from 291 theaters in March. We typically take a long time to find out how well a film does on VOD, if we ever do at all. So, it’s tough to say how much of an impact The Interview also being available to rent on YouTube, Google Play, XBox, etc. had on its box office, but it would be naive to say that it didn’t at least have some effect.
What’s Up Next?:
Next Stop: January, aka, the dead zone for new movies. So, get ready for gradual expansions for awards contenders like Selma and American Sniper and random new movies like Woman in Black 2 (1/2), Blackhat and Paddington (both 1/16), and Mortdecai (1/23) as well as Liam Neeson’s Taken 3 (1/9).