Long Distance Box Office: Christmas Craziness!!!!


With Thanksgiving less than a week away, people are going to start thinking seriously about Christmas and here at the Weekend Warrior’s blog, that means we’re already starting to think about the movies opening the second to last week of the year, both on Christmas Day and leading up to it.

This year, we have five movies opening in the week leading up to Christmas Day, and then three on the 25th of December proper. Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (Sony), her follow-up to the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, was going to join them, but Sony has wisely given the movie a platform release in New York and Los Angeles with plans to open wide in January.

Christmas movies are an interesting phenomenon because how they do on their opening weekend (or day, as the case may be) often depends on when they’re released in relation to Christmas Day. It’s a time where studios regularly release family comedies, prestige and Oscar-worthy films, and even a few genre films, trying to bring in the single guys who may not have any other plans on Christmas Day. This year, we don’t seem to have a Black Christmas or an Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem–all together now… THANK GOD!

What we do have is one 3D re-release, another 3D concert film (of sorts), three comedies, a big screen musical, one gritty action-thriller and a Western from a popular and controversial filmmaker. Also, two studios have decided to release five movies between them, possibly helping to up their end of year market share. We’ll get into the logistics of these releases after we go through the rundown of movies.

The Christmas releases begin on Wednesday, December 19, when Paramount is releasing the Seth Rogen-Barbra Streisand road comedy The Guilt Trip, while on the same day, Walt Disney Pictures is offering their sixth 3D animated re-release Monsters, Inc. 3D, hoping to get audiences ready for next summer’s sequel Monster University.

Two days later, Christmas regular Tom Cruise returns with the action-thriller Jack Reacher, based on Lee Child’s popular fictional character who has appeared in 17 novels. Judd Apatow also is back with his fourth comedy This Is 40 (Universal), reuniting Paul Rudd with Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann, reprising their supporting characters from Knocked Up. James Cameron and Shrek director Andrew Adamson team for Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D (Paramount), which brings the popular alternative circus to the big screen.

Then on Christmas Day proper, which falls on a Tuesday, Quentin Tarantino’s long-awaited Western Django Unchained (The Weinstein Company), starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson, is released as is The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper’s adaptation of the musical Les Misérables (Universal), starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried and more. Lastly, Billy Crystal and Bette Midler team for the babysitting comedy Parental Guidance (20th Century Fox).

The important factor this year is that Christmas Day falls on that Tuesday, which means that most people will have at least a four-day weekend, although the lucky ones will actually take off that entire week. The movies that will be affected most by this are the five that open on the 19th and 21st, because traditionally, in the days before Christmas, many people are too busy doing some last minute shopping and/or traveling to get to the movies. We’ve seen this phenomenon hit many movies over the years where they open way softer than they might otherwise, only to have huge legs as many people will take off work for that entire week surrounding Christmas and New Year’s and schools will be out for at least that week and in many cases, two weeks.

It’s hard to tell which of the eight movies are the strongest because all of them will be taking on Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (opening Dec. 14), which will do huge business over the holidays. Each of the movies has at least one or two big name stars who have solid fanbases and specific demographics, but there’s a lot of crossover between them forcing moviegoers to make some difficult choices.

Right off the bat, we can say that the Cirque du Soleil movie has the worst prospects, just because fans of Montreal’s artsy answer to the Ringling Bros. may prefer seeing the show live in person rather than watching a 3D movie. Without seeing any tracking, we think that the anticipation for “Django” and “Les Mis,” driven by the potential awards and the filmmakers’ past work, will help both of them have a strong opening week as they wisely avoid that overcrowded pre-Christmas weekend. Tom Cruise has his fans, some of whom have been with him through thick and thin, and Jack Reacher is coming out just a year after his hugely successful holiday action hit Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and four years after Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie. The problem is that the fans of Lee Child’s book are having trouble picturing Cruise in the role of the 6’5″ former military man turned drifter, even though it’s the strongest choice for guys who want to see something in between The Hobbit and “Django.”

Cruise’s presence and being one of the few straight action movies should help Jack Reacher do better in that pre-Christmas weekend than some of the other movies and we wouldn’t be too surprised if it brings in $20 million or slightly more, although it’s probably going to be more frontloaded since it’s not a movie families might see together once Christmas hits, unlike some of the other choices. It also has to face Quentin Tarantino’s Western, which will not only attract guys of all ages, but it also has the strongest potential with African-American audiences thanks to Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington, and that’s not an audience to be ignored. Since that movie’s also going to be R-rated, Tarantino’s teen and older fans won’t be bringing their younger kids or older parents and its holiday legs may be limited by whether or not the movie has the critical acclaim and awards potential of Inglourious Basterds. We think these factors will help “Django” to dethrone The Hobbit on Christmas Day with as much as $9 or 10 million.

What’s interesting about the three comedy offerings is they all have different ratings–with Apatow’s This Is 40 being the only one going for the obvious R-rating–which may mean that those looking for laughs will have lots of options, depending on whether they’re bringing their kids or not. I’m personally fascinated by the premise of The Guilt Trip as well as the pairing of Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand, which could potentially interest two very different audiences, young men and older women. If I had the chance, I’d totally want to bring my own mother to go see that, plus it’s directed by Anne Fletcher, who helmed the hilarious Sandra Bullock-Ryan Reynolds hit comedy The Proposal. Then again, I’m a huge Judd Apatow fan and the fact he’s making a movie about becoming middle-aged, let’s just say I have a lot of personal interest invested into this one being as funny as his first movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin, starring Steve Carell. The fact that he’s basing this one around Paul Rudd, who hasn’t quite cracked the “box office star” hurdle, and Leslie Mann, is slightly worrying, although Knocked Up was a big enough hit that people remember these characters. The subject matter may mean that fewer of Apatow’s teen to 20-something male fans will be as interested and they’ll probably go see Jack Reacher or some of the other choices.

It’s been a long time since Billy Crystal and Bette Midler have appeared on screen alone, let alone pairing them together, but Parental Guidance looks like another one of those bad low-brow family comedies 20th Century Fox has specialized in. Remember Steve Martin’s Cheaper by the Dozen? Or any of the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movies? Even Night at the Museum falls into this category in some ways and that’s been very successful for them. Parental Guidance looks more like the Martin movie, and it’s going to be for older parents with younger kids, probably outside the more cultured bigger cities, and it could probably do decently among that audience, maybe not so much on Christmas Day but in the week and a half that follows follow with schools being out in most places at least until January 3 (maybe even longer in places). One should also note that Crystal’s last big movie was Disney•Pixar’s Monsters, Inc., which is being re-released into theaters, creating direct competition. Midler’s older female fans may also prefer something like Barbra Streisand in the comedy The Guilt Trip instead, but the movies may split older women depending on the age of their kids.

That just leaves the two 3D movies, one a re-release, one a concert movie. Personally, I can’t wait to see Monsters, Inc. in theaters again since that was my very first Pixar movie and it really changed my opinion about animated movies, although it’s also been on DVD and Blu-ray for many years and Finding Nemo 3D, a re-release of a far more popular and bigger movie, topped out at $40 million. We think Monsters, Inc. 3D will probably open softer and only bring in $10 million over that pre-Christmas weekend but should be able to make roughly the same amount by the time it leaves theaters. (Disney will probably release a longer trailer for Monsters University in front of it, following the teaser in front of Brave.)

Maybe it’s also my own personal feelings on “Cirque du Soleil” as a franchise that has me feeling that the 3D movie isn’t going to do well, but we’ve seen these sorts of things showing decreasing returns, as seen by the Katy Perry: Part of Me documentary released earlier this year, and with so many other options (and a struggle to keep 3D screens) we think this one will be lucky to make $20 million total. It’s also only playing two shows a day from the 21st through the 24th so that first weekend’s going to be even weaker than it may have been normally.

The other thing to keep in mind is whether the marketing and publicity departments of Paramount and Universal can handle so many movies coming out in less than a week and whether some movies might fall between the cracks while focus is put on others. That’s somewhat worrying for Paramount’s The Guilt Trip because it is going up against so many stronger movies including a far more high-profile comedy like This Is 40. Frankly, we think Paramount would be wise to move that movie to next February or March when there aren’t as many strong comedies, rather than trying to get the coveted holiday business.

Without committing to exact numbers–something we don’t like doing without knowing general theater counts–this is how we see that weekend and Christmas Day proper playing out:

Pre-Christmas Weekend

1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (New Line/WB)
2. Jack Reacher (Paramount)
3. This Is 40 (Universal)
4. Monsters, Inc. 3D (Disney)
5. The Guilt Trip (Paramount)
6. Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D (Paramount)

Christmas Day

1. Django Unchained (The Weinstein Company)
2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (New Line/WB)
3. Les Misérables (Universal)
4. This Is 40 (Universal)
5. Parental Guidance (20th Century Fox)
6. Jack Reacher (Paramount)
7. The Guilt Trip (Paramount)
8. Monsters Inc. 3D (Disney)

Total Grosses

1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (New Line/WB)
2. Les Misérables (Universal)
3. Django Unchained (The Weinstein Company)
4. Jack Reacher (Paramount)
5. This Is 40 (Universal)
6. Parental Guidance (20th Century Fox)
7. Monsters, Inc. 3D (Disney)
8. The Guilt Trip (Paramount)
9. Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D (Paramount)

That’s it for now. Next time we’re going to start looking at some of the movies coming out in 2013.