December 14, 2013



Well, bah humbug.

OPENINGS:  Start the spin machine:  THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (Warners/MGM) has opened with $31.1M, $6M below the start for last year’s An Unexpected Journey.  That’s more than a 15% drop, and if it continued throughout the weekend, Smaug could end up with a total around $70M.  However, the bulk of the gap ($4.2M) came from the movie’s midnight screenings, suggesting that things stabilized during the rest of the day; in addition, the fact that for once the studio isn’t blowing 3D HFR smoke when it says that Smaug is the better movie should help.  Still, this is hardly the way anyone concerned wanted its $400M production (including worldwide marketing) to start.  The next question will be Smaug‘s foreign box office (Journey made 70% of its $1B total overseas), and while the release pattern of Smaug is a bit different, we’ll know more about that tomorrow.

There was more coal in the stocking of A MADEA CHRISTMAS (Lionsgate), which was not only the lowest-opening Madea movie at $5.7M, but the third-lowest opening of Tyler Perry’s non-Madea career as well, ahead of only last year’s Good Deeds and 2007’s Daddy’s Little Girls.  Perry’s movies are notoriously front-loaded, so Madea Christmas will probably have only a $15M weekend and perhaps a $40M total (another problem this picture has is that it’s so Christmas-centric that it may not sell many tickets after Dec. 25).  Perry keeps his budgets low, so with ancillaries, it will probably still be profitable (although Perry’s movies have negligible foreign value), but the big question is:  Have Madea (and Perry) peaked?

HOLDOVERS:  FROZEN (Disney) held the way, down a mere 24% from last Friday to $5.1M (it should take over 2d place from Madea over the course of the weekend) and in cruise control heading toward the holidays.  THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (Lionsgate) is falling faster, down 47% from last Friday to $4.1M.  It’s now $26M ahead of the first Hunger Games at the same time in its run, but the margin is dwindling each day, and the question will be how much will be left in its tank when the holiday bonanza begins at the multiplex.

Last week’s opening, OUT OF THE FURNACE (Relativity), plunged 60% from last Friday to $750K, and while that may moderate over the course of the weekend, it’s likely to still end up down 55% and headed for the exits.  Luckily for Christian Bale, he has some better news below.

The strongest awards contender in wide release is PHILOMENA (Weinstein), down just 10% from last weekend without adding any theatres, which suggests excellent word of mouth.  It’s not doing huge numbers (its weekend per-theatre average will probably be around $2500), but clearly it has substantial potential upside through the holidays.  THE BOOK THIEF (20th) got no love from SAG or the Golden Globes last week, and it’s down 30% week-to-week, with a weekend average around $1500.  DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (Focus/Universal) is doing better, down 22% from last week even though it also lost that many theatres, with a likely $2K average over the weekend.  12 YEARS A SLAVE (Fox Searchlight) dropped back down to semi-wide release, losing more than half its theatres (it’s at 497) and naturally down a fairly heavy 34% week-to-week.  Concentrating on core big-city theatres will raise its per-theatre average, but only to around $1500 for the weekend, as it enters the holding pattern it’s likely to stay in for several weeks.  An awards season expansion of BLUE JASMINE (Sony Pictures Classics) may have gotten some attention from voters, but it did nothing at the box-office, and may not even reach a $500 per theatre weekend average.

LIMITED RELEASE:  Per-theatre averages for openings at just a few NY/LA houses can be misleading (we’ll get to Inside Llewyn Davis in a minute), but still, the start for AMERICAN HUSTLE (Sony) is nothing short of sensational, likely to be the highest conventional opening of the year (excluding Frozen, which had a stage show and inflated ticket prices) with an average that may go as high as $125K at 6 theatres.  That may make it the 3d-highest conventional opening average ever, behind only The Master ($147K) and Moonrise Kingdom ($131K).

SAVING MR. BANKS (Disney) had a flat-out lousy week.  First it got much less recognition from SAG and the Golden Globes than had been generally expected, and now it’s looking at a very soft opening, with perhaps a $30K average at 15 theatres.  This is a populist movie that may not have benefited from the big-city platform start (especially going head-to-head with American Hustle).

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (CBS) stumbled with its first expansion to 15 theatres in a few additional major cities, its per-theatre average falling from over $100K last week to not much more than $20K this time around.  It doesn’t bode well for next week’s wider expansion.  Also hitting a surprising pothole was MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (Weinstein), which stayed at 4 theatres and dropped almost 50% from last Friday, with a weekend average of perhaps $10K ahead–it suggests an awfully short attention span for those drawn by Mandela’s real-life passing.  NEBRASKA (Paramount) roughly doubled its run to 250 theatres, and also doubled its Friday box office, its per-theatre average holding steady at $4K, a number that looks better as its run expands.

NEXT WEEK:  The long-awaited ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES (Paramount) opens shop on Wednesday, after months of Dodge ads and other meta hype.  WALKING WITH DINOSAURS (20th) will attempt to do battle with Frozen on Friday, and also on Friday American Hustle and Saving Mr. Banks will expand nationwide.  Spike Jonze’s HER (Warners) and the fine foreign drama THE PAST (Sony Pictures Classics) arrive in limited release.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."