December 26, 2015

EARLY CHRISTMAS BOX OFFICE: “Force Awakens” Towers Over, But Doesn’t Crush, New Competition


For Hollywood, Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year, because it doesn’t come but once:  with the exception of a New Year’s Eve dip, every day between December 25 and January 2 will perform like a Friday.  That’s great for the box office, but it makes any analysis of “comps” and “multiples” that aren’t themselves for holiday weekends rather silly–take it as a given that all the non-holiday comps will fade by comparison, and all non-holiday multiples will be lower.

This year, of course, is unlike any other Christmas in history because of STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (Lucasfilm/Disney).  According to preliminary numbers at Deadline, Force continued to rewrite the record books with no less than $45M on Friday.  That decimated the old Christmas Day record by at least 83% (Sherlock Holmes‘ $24.6M), and also destroyed the record for a 2d Friday by 42% (Catching Fire‘s $31.6M).  Force was up to about $435M in the US with Friday included (34% ahead of Jurassic World‘s $325M record), and its total by Sunday should be at least $525M.  At this point, its only realistic competition is Avatar, and here’s how that breaks down:  if Force‘s Friday was $45M, that would represent a 63% increase over Thursday’s $27.6M, which is somewhat less than Avatar‘s Christmas increase of 107%.  However, the Force numbers are massively bigger than those for Avatar, which earned “only” $23.1M on Christmas Day.  By Sunday, if Force reaches $525M, it will have an incredible $312M cushion over where Avatar was at the same point in its run, so even if Force runs out of steam more quickly–which seems inevitable–Avatar‘s $749.8M US record looks like a goner.

Although Force is gigantically bigger than anything else out there, it’s now been seen by enough people that there was room for some moderate new openings.  They were led by DADDY’S HOME (Red Granite/Paramount), which is helped by a (misleading) marketing campaign that suggests it’s a comedy for the whole family.  The fact that it’s mostly terrible hasn’t hurt Will Ferrell’s movies in the past, and it’s not damaging this one, either, with a $15M opening day that could give it $40M+ by Sunday.  That would at least equal the 5-day opening (on a Wednesday in the week before Christmas) for Anchorman 2, which reached $125M by the end of its run.

JOY (Annapurna/20th) is starting better than expected with $7M on Friday, which could give it a solid $22M weekend.  Joy is an odd, uneven film that may not end up with great word of mouth, but it does have a tour de force performance at its center from Jennifer Lawrence, arguably the single biggest star around, and even though the film is unlikely to have the Oscar success that Lawrence and director David O. Russell did with Silver Lining Playbook and American Hustle, it might reach the same $100M+ box office territory.

The news was less good for CONCUSSION (Columbia/Sony), which had an OK $4.5M opening day and may hit $13M by Sunday.  That wouldn’t even match the $14.9M opening for Will Smith’s last piece of Oscar bait Seven Pounds (which opened the week before Christmas in 2008), and only reached $70M despite playing through the holidays.  Concussion didn’t get the reviews it needed to be a player in Oscar season, and it could fade fast.

The wide expansion for THE BIG SHORT (Paramount) was better than it looks, because even after the expansion, Short is still playing at about 45% fewer theatres than the other wide releases.  With that in mind, its $4M Friday is very solid, and it could have a $15M+ weekend.  The plan is for a further expansion after the holidays, which could keep Short performing at that level for several weeks, keeping it firmly in the view of Oscar and Guild voters.

The one bomb of the holiday was the utterly worthless POINT BREAK (Alcon/Warners), which is fitttingly ending Warners’ awful year.  (Reportedly, Warners is just distributing this one for a fee, with Alcon taking the financial hit, but it’s still not good news for the studio.)  Opening day was $4M, and it’s heading for a $11M weekend, in almost twice as many theatres as Big Short.  Although much is being made of the preferential scheduling it got in China due to being a Chinese co-production, its $43M there isn’t all that impressive either.

Christmas is kind to holdovers, too.  SISTERS (Universal) was steady with last week’s opening day at $5M, and it should have another $15M weekend.  ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS: THE ROAD CHIP (20th) was down about 20% from last Friday to $3M, but a Saturday bump could bring it up to last weekend’s $14M total.

The exclusive 70mm presentation of the “roadshow” version of THE HATEFUL EIGHT (Weinstein) holds back the number of screens within a given multiplex that can play it (as an example, the ArcLight Hollywood counts as a single venue for both Hateful and The Revenant, but the latter is on 4 screens there compared to 1 for Hateful), and given that fact, Quentin Tarantino’s gargantuan ode to his own cinematic obsessions is doing tremendous business, with a $18K per-screen average on Friday at its 100 theatres, which should mean a $50K average for the weekend.

As noted, THE REVENANT (New Regency/20th) is on multiple screens at its 4 NY/LA locations, and is making the most of them:  it averaged $40K on Friday, and could triple that by Sunday, nudging Steve Jobs’ $130K average for the year’s best.  Of course, we all know what happened to Steve Jobs when it went into wide release, and Revenant, with its 2 1/2 hour running time and concentration on filth and extreme violence (at quadruple Steve Jobs‘ budget) could prove challenged as well.

While Spotlight, Brooklyn, and Trumbo cut their theatre counts for the holidays (with re-expansion planned once January awards season gets underway), several other awards contenders expanded.  THE DANISH GIRL (Focus/Universal), now in 440 theatres, should average an OK $4K for the weekend.  CAROL (Weinstein), widened to 180, could average a solid $6500.  YOUTH (Fox Searchlight), at 149, will be quieter at a $3K average.



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."