BOX OFFICE: Why Thanksgiving is Gonna Be a Mess!

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For the last few months, a few of us box office prognosticators have been looking at the Thanksgiving weekend and thinking, “What the frack is Hollywood thinking? Three PG family films opening in the same weekend?” We still have a couple of weeks before we have to make any predictions, but we’ve decided to examine the three releases a bit early and try to figure out if there’s any chance in hell all three of them can survive even in one of the busiest moviegoing weekends of the year.

This year’s Thanksgiving contenders are Disney’s The Muppets (Disney), Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (Paramount) and Sony Animation’s Arthur Christmas (Sony). All three are PG, all three are chasing after the family audiences that tend to be strongest over Thanksgiving weekend and at least the latter two will be in 3D theaters and trying to capitalize on those higher ticket prices.

Disney are currently the box office champion when it comes to Thanksgiving, holding seven of the Top 10 biggest openings over the holiday including the first two “Toy Story” movies, last year’s Tangled, Amy Adams’ Enchanted and others. This alone gives The Muppets a clear-cut advantage over the competition, but one also has to realize that the Muppets have been a mainstay for nearly 30 years and the combination of nostalgia factor and wanting to share one’s love of the Muppets with kids will make this a huge hit this weekend as well as the first choice for many families. Granted, the Muppets movie franchise did peter out in the late ’90s after a number of middling sequels, but every good thing deserves a comeback and the Muppets at their height were terrific. One expects that Jason Segel’s involvement as well as the all-star guests will bring in a lot of grown-ups without kids as well.

Arthur Christmas has one big thing working for it and that’s the word “Christmas” in the title, because Thanksgiving starts the holiday shopping season and shoppers out en masse on Friday and Saturday will likely see that word and give it a look, even if the draw of the Muppets will be just as strong among family audiences. The movie was a collaboration between Sony Animation Studios, whose bad luck streak ended with last year’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and England’s Aardman Studios, who haven’t had a major hit in the States since Chicken Run. This time, they’re teaming with Sony, whose marketing geniuses have figured out a way to focus on the aspect of the movie everyone will relate to i.e. how Santa Claus delivers all those presents, and opening on Thanksgiving proper should allow it to fare better out of the gate than Fred Claus or the “Santa Clause” movies which opened earlier in November. The success Disney had with the long-delayed Gnomeo & Juliet earlier this year makes one think that American family audiences are a little more open to movies with lots of British accents, but this is an easy sell due to the subject and even if has to settle for third place over the weekend, it should have significant holiday legs.

Unfortunately, that means the weak link is Scorsese’s movie Hugo, a shame because he’s coming off two huge hits with The Departed and Shutter Island, and it would be nice to think that grownup into his movies might be interested in seeing what the Oscar-winning filmmaker does with an adaptation of Brian Selznick’s popular young adult book like “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” and they’ll want to share that experience with their older kids. This also stands the best chance with 20 to 30 something single males due to Scorsese’s rep, but otherwise, it’s hard to think teen males will have much of interest this weekend (especially with Piranha 3DD moving) unless the presence of R-rated movie star Jason Segel in The Muppets sways them.

We also have to take into account that George Miller’s Happy Feet Two will still be playing in theaters as will The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1, and even with a hefty second week drop-off, the latter might still win the three-day Thanksgiving weekend. There’s also a ton of adult-oriented prestige films opening in select cities over the weekend, which will also cut into the business by taking away older moviegoers.

But otherwise, we can see the three new movies bringing in roughly $70 million over the three-day part of the weekend with The Muppets taking the biggest chunk.

So as the title suggests, Thanksgiving is gonna be a mess, and here’s hoping that the amount of (presumably) quality entertainment will win out and we’ll have one of the busiest Thanksgivings ever, rather than having to bemoan the bombing of one or more of the releases due to a crowded market.

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