The Hobbit Holds Off All-Comers in Christmas Box Office

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This Christmas, it was a battle between reality and fiction as the Top 10 movies at the domestic box office were almost evenly divided between movies based on real-life events and fantasy-based films. Four new movies opened in wide release as well as a number of limited releases, including the high-profile comedy The Interview and a few awards hopefuls that will expand nationwide in January. 

Despite the competition opening on Christmas Day which put it into third place behind two of those new movies, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (New Line/WB) still managed to win the weekend with an estimated $41 million, down 24% from its opening weekend. It has grossed $168.1 million domestically and is well on its way to joining the $200 million club this year. It brought in an additional $8 million in domestic IMAX theaters over the four-day Christmas holiday including Thursday, bringing its domestic IMAX gross to $25 million. Internationally, “The Battle of the Five Armies” has reached $405.1 million for a worldwide total of $573.6 million with $48 million of that coming from IMAX screenings.

Maybe the biggest surprise of the Christmas weekend was the tight race between two very different movies, the real-life story of Louis Zamperini in Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie and starring Jack O’Connell, and the musical adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s fairy tale mash-up Into the Woods, directed by Oscar-nominated director Rob Marshall (Chicago) and starring Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp and more. Both opened on Wednesday night for previews, Unbroken in 3,132 theaters compared to Into the Woods 2,440.  While Into the Woods did better in previews, Unbroken won Christmas Day with $15.6 million to the latter’s $15.1 million, both of them beating The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Unbroken stayed slightly ahead on Friday and ended up the weekend with an estimated $31.7 million, an average of less than $10,000, while Into the Woods grossed $31 million for third place with $12,713 per theater. Both movies ended up with more than $46 million in their first four days, really giving the box office a much-needed injection after a number of slower weeks.

The success of those two movies had an impact on Ben Stiller’s family franchise finale  Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (20th Century Fox), which opened lower than expected last weekend and only added another $20.6 million its second weekend (up 21% from opening weekend), bringing its domestic total to $55.3 million. That’s just slightly more than the previous installment, “Battle of the Smithsonian,” grossed in its first weekend four years ago, and it will be relying on international box office to make back its reported $127 million production budget. It added another $30.3 million in 40 international markets which makes it $104 million total globally.

It continued to hold up well against the other holiday musical Annie (Sony), starring Qhvenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz and Rose Byrne, which added another $16.6 million for fifth place, up 5% in its second weekend, bringing its current gross to $45.8 million. Both movies should continue to do well with no school in session in the country over the next week.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (Lionsgate) crossed the $300 million mark over the weekend, only the second movie of 2014 to do so, as it added another $10 million over Christmas weekend to take sixth place with a 27% bump from last weekend. So far, it’s grossed $306.6 million domestically, as it guns for the 2014 box office topper Guardians of the Galaxy, which has been the #1 movie of the year domestically with $333 million.

The third wide opener of the weekend was the Mark Wahlberg remake of The Gambler, co-starring John Goodman, Michael K. Williams and Brie Larson, which opened on Christmas Day in 2,478 theaters where it grossed $5 million. it dropped over the weekend to earn $9.3 million or $3,753 per theater to take seventh place.

Expanding nationwide on Thursday after a strong run in limited release, the acclaimed Oscar hopeful The Imitation Game (The Weinstein Company, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, landed in 747 theaters starting Thursday and after taking in $3.1 million on Christmas Day, it added another $7.9 million over the weekend to take 8th place with over $10,000 per theater. It has brought in $14.6 million so far.

Falling somewhere between history, fantasy and straight-up artistic license, Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings (20th Century Fox), starring Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton, dropped 17% in its third weekend to settle into ninth place with $6.8 million and $52.5 million domestically, a far cry from its $140 million production budget. It’s doing about the same as Night at the Museum internationally with $31 million in 39 territories, including Brazil where it made $6.7 million, the UK where it did $4.3 million, France with $5.3 million and Germany with $36 million  That brings its total to just under $150 million worldwide.

The Cheryl Strayed movie Wild (Fox Searchlight), starring Reese Witherspoon, held up well in its second weekend of wide release, rounding out the Top 10 with $5.4 million and $16.4 million grossed so far.

Although it fell out of the Top 10, Walt Disney Animation’s Big Hero 6 is close to crossing the $200 million mark domestically, making it the 11th movie of the year to reach that milestone. (The Hobbit should make it twelve sometime next week.)

Continuing the string of movies based on real people, Tim Burton returned with Big Eyes (The Weinstein Company) starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, but deciding to open it wide in 1,307 theaters backfired as it was overshadowed by The Imitation Game in almost half as many theaters. It opened with $1.4 million on Christmas Day and then added just under $3 million over the weekend, or $2,288 per theater for $4.4 million in its first four days.

A number of movies opened in limited release this weekend but none with a higher profile than the Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy The Interview, which got a last-minute reprieve after having its release cancelled by Sony over hacker threats. On Tuesday, the studio decided to release the movie into independent film houses nationwide, quickly signing up 331 such theaters before the studio announced that the movie would also be available on Wednesday on a number of On Demand platforms. After grossing a million on Christmas Day, the comedy added another $1.8 million over the weekend, averaging $5,471 per theater, which isn’t great but also isn’t bad considering that many of the theaters only screened the movie a few times a day.

Two more Oscar hopefuls, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper as Navy Seal sniper Chris Kyle, and Ava Duvernay’s Selma, starring David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr., both opened in select cities with American Sniper doing slightly better in just four theaters in New York and L.A. It grossed $610,000 with an impressive average of $152,000 per theater, while the Civil Rights drama took in $590,000 in 19 theaters, or $31 thousand per theater. Both movies are scheduled to expand nationwide in January with Selma going wide on January 9 and American Sniper going wide on January 16.