December 31, 2011



As detailed in Mitch Metcalf’s Boxoffice Report, Friday’s numbers were solid but lacking any breakout excitement.  First, let’s take a quick look at the limited-run Oscar hopefuls:
THE IRON LADY (Weinstein):  Meryl-Streep-as-Margaret-Thatcher came roaring into the awards mix with a terrific $19K average in 4 theatres that should lead it to a $75-80K average over the 4 day holiday weekend.  The film’s appeal outside big-city art houses is questionable, though, so here’s one of several cases where Harvey Weinstein will have to play the expansion game very carefully.

A SEPARATION (Sony Classics):  This excellent Iranian import, a front-runner for the Foreign-Language Film Oscar, started with a very good $6K average in 3 theatres that should get it to around $25K per-theatre over the holiday weekend.
PARIAH (Focus):  Bounced back a bit from Thursday’s slump, but its $3500 average in 4 theatres isn’t a great start, and it may struggle to reach a $15K average for the weekend.
THE ARTIST (Weinstein):  Continues to be mediocre, with a $2400 average in 167 theatres that won’t hit $10K by Jan 2.
TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (Focus):  Continues to hold very well, with a $6K average on Friday in 55 theatres that should reach $25K over the holiday weekend.
SHAME (Fox Searchlight):  Not doing better than OK, with a $1500 average on Friday in 55 theatres that might reach $6K for the weekend.  
IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY (FilmDistrict)  The same numbers as Shame ($1500 average Friday for a $6K weekend), but much worse because it’s only at 2 theatres.
MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (Weinstein):  Harvey is 0-for-3 in the breakout hit category, with a dismal $500 average in 630 theatres that won’t get past $2K for the weekend.
THE DESCENDANTS (Fox Searchlight):  The Oscar front-runner no one seems to care about.  It only had a $1500 average in 758 theatres on Friday, and won’t get higher than a $6K average for the weekend.  That will put it at $40M, in serious danger of dropping screens by the time the Oscar nominations are announced in late January.  At that point, it’s going to be difficult to spark widespread excitement over a picture that’s already been playing as a presumptive nominee for 2 full months.
And at the major studios:
PARAMOUNT:  MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL is the one smash hit of the season, even though it won’t be the highest-grossing of the series.  With even bigger numbers pouring in overseas ($200M already, with plenty more to come), announcement of a 5th chapter in the series should be coming any time.  However, THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (which Sony distributes overseas) is a major disappointment that will barely recoup its enormous US marketing cost, placing the planned franchise in jeopardy.  The very expensive HUGO, despite its critical adoration, is mostly done with $50M total gross–even an expected Oscar nomination probably won’t get it much farther.  And YOUNG ADULT has found no traction at all–the reviews were weaker than expected, and with only $12.5M in the bank by the end of the holidays and an anticipated holiday average under $3K in only 987 theatres, even Charlize Theron’s possible Best Actress nomination won’t convince more theatres to play it.
WARNERS:  SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS will underperform its predecessor, but a $170-180M gross isn’t bad (it might be more accurate to say the first picture overperformed, all things considered).  It’s only played in a handful of foreign territories so far, and the results there will determine whether the expensive franchise is worth continuing.  NEW YEAR’S EVE is a flop, although not a very expensive one.  The big disappointment thus far is EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE, which hit a perfect storm of bitterly mixed reviews, some bad scheduling choices and a faltering awards campaign.  This weekend it’s headed for a $25K average in 6 theatres, which is OK but not at all the event that the studio needed to propel the film into wide release later in January.
FOXALVIN THE CHIPMUNKS:  CHIPWRECKED will be the highest-grossing kids’ movie of the season, turn a profit and very possibly justify another installment–but its almost 50% drop from the other films in the series is fairly disastrous, and turns what had been a cash cow into a risk.  WE BOUGHT A ZOO will need help from uncertain foreign revenues if it’s to avoid red ink.
SONY:  THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO isn’t the flop of the season, but it may be the biggest disappointment.  Was it the favorable-but-not-enthusiastic reviews?  The dour tone of the marketing?  An overdose of the franchise, after the successful Swedish films and months of publicity?  In any case, it’s going to be hard to justify spending $100M on the sequel–and Fincher, who’s perpetually in demand, may well decide to bow out.  ARTHUR CHRISTMAS, though–that’s an (undeserved) flop.
DISNEY:  WAR HORSE is sparking very little interest, and at this point seems unlikely to reach $100M despite very aggressive marketing, even with the anticipated Oscar nominations.  It’s ironic that since DreamWorks joined Disney, their one smash hit has been the completely unexpected The Help.  This also leads to what could be a very ticklish internal political issue:  does The Help now have a better chance at winning the Oscar than War Horse?  And will Spielberg allow his pet project to fall to second place in the campaigning strategy?  Meanwhile THE MUPPETS was a nice-sized hit due to its relatively modest budget, but it’s far from clear that there’s a franchise there.  The combined grosses of Disney’s 2 holiday pictures won’t reach the boxoffice for 2010’s Tangled alone–combined with the disappointing US responses to Cars 2 and Pirates 4, it’s been an off-year for the studio.
UNIVERSAL:  Sat out the holiday season entirely.  They’ve been spending a lot of money marketing the Mark Wahlberg action picture CONTRABAND all month, though, giving it the kind of weeks-long push that normally goes to much bigger pictures.  We’ll find out in a couple of weeks if the strategy made sense.

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."