It’s Thanksgiving weekend, for many people the happiest time of the year, especially movie theater owners and studios who see a huge spike in moviegoing during the four-to-five day extended weekend that many people take. It’s also the time in which the Weekend Warrior loses the most hair (not a problem this year, thankfully) since no matter how much time I spend poring over my special Thanksgiving charts studying the numbers, I almost never can figure out what moviegoers will flock to.
Thanksgiving has seen a number of huge hits from beloved family films to movies that went on to receive Oscar gold, but it’s a tricky time since the amount of movies released causes fierce competition where the known properties normally come out ahead. The clear key to having a successful hit over Thanksgiving weekend is that you want a movie that can play well throughout the entire week, especially into the weekend where the influx of holiday shoppers and people off work who generally don’t go to movies causes a lot more theater traffic than normal. With that in mind, we have four very different movies opening on Wednesday, some which will fare better than others, but none which I think will take down The Hunger Games: Catching Fire in its second weekend.
Movies with holiday themes and family themes tend to do better in this regard although sometimes there are surprises. More often than not, we’ve seen movies like Rent do a ton of business on Wednesday and then tail off over the weekend.
This shouldn’t be a problem for the latest animated movie from Walt Disney Animation Studios, Frozen, the most family-friendly movie in theaters this weekend, a musical adventure featuring the voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad. Disney has had some of the greatest success over Thanksgiving weekend than any other studio, including Toy Story 2, their last animated musical Tangled, the live action Enchanted starring Amy Adams (which also had music) and 101 Dalmations. In fact, Disney holds ten of the Top 15 spots for biggest Thanksgiving openings even though they were often were competing against the second weekend of strong tentpole movies like the “Harry Potters,” a couple of “James Bonds” and three “Twilight” movies.
The material couldn’t be better suited to becoming another massive hit for the Mouse House since it’s a fairy tale set during the wintertime with a musical element that appeals to a large audience of people who love Disney’s musical animated films such as The Lion King, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Essentially, that will make it the weekend’s first choice for families as well as women and younger girls who have already seen the second chapter of “The Hunger Games,” and we could see it doing fairly decently over its first five days, likely falling somewhere between Tangled and Enchanted in terms of Thanksgiving box office. We also wouldn’t be too surprised if it has strong legs over the holidays with little other family fare.
Taking advantage of the fact that moviegoers will instantly be in a holiday spirit and ready for Christmas once they’ve finished eating their Thanksgiving turkey, Kasi Lemmons’ film adaptation of the musical Black Nativity (Fox Searchlight), starring Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett and musical ringers Jennifer Hudson and Mary J. Blige, brings Langston Hughes’ 1961 off-Broadway musical to the screen. A popular play performed during the holiday season, the gospel music from it led to a best-selling gospel album in 2004, plus it has a highly-respected cast with which audiences are familiar.
The problem is that the movie has some serious competition for the family audiences and those looking for a musical in Frozen. One also has to imagine that The Best Man Holiday will get a nice spike from shoppers who haven’t had a chance to see it yet. Its moderate release into roughly 1,500 theaters might also limit its audience somewhat and we think that it will top out around $15 million for the five days, but probably end up short of that amount.
Now, most studios already know that if you release an action movie over Thanksgiving weekend, there’s a good chance they won’t do that well, because, as we said, it’s more about family-friendly fare than anything else. Unfortunately, no one mentioned this to two of the newer distributors on the scene and we’re getting two new action movies this weekend anyway.
The new Jason Statham action-thriller Homefront (Open Road), written no less than by his “Expendables” pal Sylvester Stallone, pits the British action hero against James Franco as a meth dealer who wants to get revenge for a family feud. It also stars Winona Ryder and Kate Bosworth as typical Southern white trash junkies, just in case their careers couldn’t fall any lower. This is the latest release from Open Road, which has not had a very good track record with their highest-grossing movie being Joe Carnahan’s The Grey, which made $51 million early last year, and then they’ve had three $40 million grossers since then including last Thanksgiving’s Red Dawn remake (see below). In fact, Open Road’s very first movie starred Jason Statham and that was the period action-thriller Killer Elite in September 2011, which grossed $25 million after a $9.3 million opening.
Statham himself has had the most success recently with the Stallone-led “Expendables” movies, both which grossed close to $100 million, but otherwise, most of his movies end up grossing in the $25 to 30 million range. I personally haven’t seen any ads for Homefront and knew nothing about it before I saw it, but reviews probably won’t be good, and that might keep away all but the most diehard action fans, mostly single guys who will go after work/school on Wednesday or on Thanksgiving if they’re not going home. With that in mind, we’re probably looking around $13 to 14 million for its first five days with less than $10 on the weekend as it goes neck and neck with Black Nativity despite opening in 1,000 more theaters.
Homefront probably would do better this weekend if it wasn’t facing Spike Lee’s remake of the Park Chan-wook revenge thriller Oldboy (FilmDistrict), starring Josh Brolin, which is opening moderately in roughly 500 theaters, an odd decision by its distributor and one that doesn’t show a lot of confidence in the violent movie’s playability outside big cities. One imagines this will be similar to the original film where some of the twists are just a little too freaky for mainstream audiences, and if that’s the case, it probably won’t be for all audiences. Enough guys who are fans of the original and curious about the remake should help it do decently on Wednesday and Thursday even as it tails off by the weekend in favor of more family-friendly fare. We expect it to end up close to the bottom of the Top 10 if not just outside.
It looks like 20th Century Fox is planning to expand their WWII drama The Book Thief, based on the popular novel by Markus Zusak, into roughly 1,000 theaters after its limited run, but it’s doubtful that it will have much of an impact over a busy Thanksgiving weekend and will likely end up outside the Top 10 with less than $3 million in five days. Stephen (The Queen) Frear’s new movie Philomena (The Weinstein Company), starring Oscar contender Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, is expanding to about 700 theaters on Wednesday, hopefully to offer older moviegoers something they may enjoy over the holiday weekend. Like The Book Thief, getting into the Top 10 might be tough and we expect it to end up with no more than $3 million over the five days either.
On top of all that, it will be interesting to see how the returning movies fare, particularly The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which could take a huge plunge ala the “Twilight” movies or could hold up a bit better with strong word-of-mouth. Either way, it’s likely going to be aiming for a new 5-Day Thanksgiving record. Other movies to keep an eye on are The Best Man Holiday, as mentioned above, which offers the holiday themes that go over well on the weekend after Thanksgiving, and Free Birds, which involves Thanksgiving turkeys, so it’ll be interesting to see how it fares against Frozen.
Last Thanksgiving saw the release of three new movies though the Top 3 remained the same with the final chapter of “The Twilight Saga” scoring $64 million over the five days, followed by James Bond in Skyfall with $50.5 million, taking it over the $200 million mark, and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln with $34.8 million. Everyone (including myself) probably thought that DreamWorks Animation’s Rise of the Guardians (Paramount) would fare better, being that it was a family movie featuring holiday characters including a version of Santa Clause, but it opened in fourth place with a weak $32.3 million over five days, and $23.8 million over the weekend proper. Ang Lee’s Life of Pi (20th Century Fox) opened slowly on Wednesday but by the weekend, it started to bring in as much business as “Guardians” ending up with $22.4 million for the three-day weekend and $30.6 million in its first five days. Thanks to awards and Oscar buzz, Life of Pi would go onto beat “Guardians” in domestic box office. Last and kind of least, the long-delayed and ill-conceived remake of Red Dawn (MGM/Open Road), starring Chris Hemsworth, debuted flatly in seventh place with $14.3 million over the weekend and $21.7 million over the five days. Action films of the weekend take note: it did more business on Wednesday and Thursday then over the weekend. The Top 10 grossed $279 million over the five-day holiday week, but we think this year’s offerings will have a hard time matching that amount with most of the going to “Catching Fire” and Frozen.
This Week’s Updated Predictions –
UPDATE: A couple minor changes but the biggest one is that at the point, we have no idea what might come in at #10 and it could be any of the limited releases going wider including Philomena and The Book Thief.
1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate) – $60 million -62% (5-day: $85 million) (up 1.5 million)
2. Frozen (Walt Disney) – $44.2 million N/A (5-day: $63 million) (up 3.6 million)
3. Black Nativity (Fox Searchlight) – $10 million N/A (5-day: $13.8 million)
4. Thor: The Dark World (Disney/Marvel) – $9 million -37% (5-day: 13 million)
5. The Best Man Holiday (Universal Pictures) – $8.8 million -30% (5-day: $12.3 million)
6. Homefront (Open Road) – $8.5 million N/A (5-day: $12.5 million)
7. Delivery Man (DreamWorks) – $6.4 million N/A (5-day: $9 million)
8. Last Vegas (CBS Films) – $3.8 million -13% (5-day: $5.5 million)
9. Free Birds (Relativity Media) – $3.2 million -38% (5-day: $4.4 million)
— Oldboy (FilmDistrict) – $2.3 million N/A (5-day: $3.7 million) (down .1 million)
— Philomena (The Weinstein Company) – $2.4 million (5-day: $3.5 million) (up .2 million)
— The Book Thief (20th Century Fox) – $2.2 million (5-day: $3.1 million) (up .4 million)
Idris Elba stars as Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (The Weinstein Company), the adaptation of Mandela’s memoir by director Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl), co-starring Naomie Harris as Winnie. Based on Mandela’s own memoir of the same name, it focuses on his younger years as a freedom fighter and revolutionary before being put into jail for 18 years. It opens in select cities on Friday.
Sini Anderson’s doc The Punk Singer (IFC Films) takes a look at Bikini Kill and Le Tigre frontwoman Kathleen Hanna, who rose to prominence as the voice of the “riot grrl” movement to become a feminist icon. After playing a number of festivals this year, it opens in New York an L.A. on Friday.
China’s Chen Kaige, whose 1994 film Farewell My Concubine received two Oscar nods, returns with Caught in the Web (levelFILM), a contemporary film about a young woman with a terminal illness who is caught on video mistreating an elderly bus passenger which goes viral, causing chaos in her life. Yes, very different from his historical epics indeed. It opens in New York on Wednesday before expanding into other cities on December 6.
Journey to the South Pacific (MacGillivray Freeman Films, IMAX) is an IMAX 3D movie that travels through the tropical islands of West Papua along with a young boy named Jawi, mainly focusing on the sea life of the region.
Dominque Benicheti’s 1973 documentary Cousin Jules (Cinema Guild) follows the life of a couple living in rural France, him a blacksmith and his wife a gardener, over the course of five years, shot using CinemaScope. Not to be outdone, director Wendy Lee shot her new documentary Pad Yatra: A Green Odyssey using a Himalayan monk operating a solar-powered camera as it follows 700 people travelling across the Himalayas to save a glacial region devastated by global warming. Narrated by Daryl Hannah, the latter opens at New York’s Quad Cinemas on Friday, while the former opens at the Film Forum also in New York, on Wednesday.
Next week, the month of December kicks off with the new movie from Scott (Crazy Heart) Cooper, Out of the Furnace (Relativity), starring Christian Bale, Casey Affeck, Zoe Saldana, Willem Dafoe, Woody Harrelson and more.
You can read stuff like this and regular box office, awards and festival coverage on the Weekend Warrior Blog and to keep up with the latest articles and posts, you can follow us on Twitter.
Copyright 2013 Edward Douglas