After the slightly-less-than spectacular opening for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 over the weekend–at least domestically–we’re into Thanksgiving weekend, historically one of the busiest moviegoing weekends of the year. This year offers another showdown between an animated movie and an R-rated comedy sequel, mirroring the mid-June weekend earlier this year when 22 Jump Street took on How to Train Your Dragon 2. The former won that face-off by about $7.5 million, but both movies opened with over $49 million, and this weekend should be just as bustling with the sequel to a hit comedy and a spin-off of one of DreamWorks Animation’s successful franchises taking on the second weekend of “Mockingjay.”
We’ll start with the latter, The Penguins of Madagascar (DreamWorks Animation/Fox), mainly because Thanksgiving is one of the better weekends to release a family-friendly animated movie with five of the top ten openers being animated movies. As one can guess from the title, this is a movie that features the four adventure-seeking penguins from DreamWorks Animation’s three “Madagascar” movies, all of them voiced by members of the DWA animation team, including directors Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon and Chris Miller and editor Christopher Knights.
The very idea of this movie goes against the usual sensibilities of how DWA has made movies over the years, usually casting big name stars in most of the roles, although in this case, the characters have proven popular from their appearances in three of the company’s biggest movies and even been spun off into an animated television series. Obviously, it was time to try them out on their own, but not without adding a few new characters voiced by better-known actors like Benedict Cumberbatch, John Malkovich, Ken Jeong and Peter Stormare.
Clearly, they’re not selling this one based on star power, which has never been a huge issue for Pixar Animation, mind you… check out the voice cast for the likes of The Incredibles, Finding Nemo and Ratatouille… and there’s practically no voice cast for WALL•E! Instead, they’re selling it based on the popularity of the characters and the humor and comic timing of having a family comedy that combines jokes that will appeal both to adults and kids.
DreamWorks Animation didn’t have too much luck with their last animated franchise spin-off Puss in Boots, featuring Antonio Banderas and his popular character from the “Shrek” movies. It opened in late October 2011 with $34 million, likely hurt by being Halloween weekend, and ended up grossing $149 million total, about half what the “Shrek” movies made. DreamWorks Animation’s last attempt at a Thanksgiving release was 2012’s Rise of the Guardians, which grossed $32.3 million in its first five days, which is less than most of DWA’s animated movie three-day opening weekends. It was an even stranger semi-flop because it revolved around holiday-related characters like Santa Claus, which should have made a lot more money considering how well Christmas movies do over Thanksgiving with most Americans ready to start gearing up with Christmas shopping on Black Friday.
The movie’s biggest competition is Disney’s Big Hero 6 in its fourth weekend, but that’s generally been doing well based on word-of-mouth and Thanksgiving is the perfect time for the whole family to see it together.
People traveling on Wednesday and the actual Thanksgiving festivities on Thursday might give Penguins a slower start, but it should still be able to pull in $13 to 15 million from families with small kids looking for something to see before the weekend. As far as the weekend, that’s going to be the real decider, but with so many strong options in theaters, I can see it ending up with less than $40 million despite a solid Black Friday as families go see it after their mall shopping. It should still fare well with no other family films until Night at the Museum on December 19, but it probably will fall just short of $150 million domestically. It should make at least twice that amount internationally allowing it to recoup its cost and set up an inevitable sequel.
Also opening on Wednesday is the R-rated comedy sequel Horrible Bosses 2 (New Line/WB), the follow-up to the 2011 summer hit that brought together Jasons Sudeikis and Bateman with Charlie Day as a trio of friends being plagued by the title bosses, played by Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Aniston. It was a late summer hit that grossed $117.5 million domestic and another $92 million internationally after opening with a solid $28 million.
Jason Bateman was already being groomed as a potential box office comedy star following the cult success that was Fox’s “Arrested Development” and he appeared in hits like Couples Retreat and Identity Thief, opposite the likes of Vince Vaughn and Melissa McCarthy. Although the original Horrible Bosses was another hit, he’s appeared in more than a few movies that barely got much notice, including his earlier pairing with Jennifer Aniston in The Switch and with Ryan Reynolds for The Change-Up (which actually was about a switch.) His starring role in Mike Judge’s Extract back in 2009, which grossed just $10 million, also didn’t show him to be that big a draw, nor did his directorial debut Bad Words, which opened earlier this year and grossed even less.
Last year, Sudeikis and Aniston teamed for New Line’s comedy We’re The Millers, which was another huge late summer hit, while Day starred in Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim and voiced a character in Disney•Pixar’s Monsters University, raising his presence from FXX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” One can probably assume that none of the three actors were able to sell these movies on their own, not without a stronger box office draw like Aniston, who was very much out of her element in both those hit comedies, which made it even more appealing.
The original movie also starred Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey, who return as their characters in slightly smaller roles, as the focus shifts to Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine as father and son billionaire moguls who screw the trio over and force their hand into a kidnapping plot. Really, it’s the sum of the three guys together with the premise that made the first movie so much fun, and comedy sequels can be tricky if fans feel it’s just more of the same. While sequels to the Farrellys Dumb and Dumber and Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s Anchorman fared well in recent years, released long after their original movies, Horrible Bosses 2 comes out just three years after the original which will keep it firmly in the memory of that movie’s fans, similar to 22 Jump Street, one of the year’s biggest comedy sequel hits.
So far, the reviews for the movie have been abysmal, 20% at Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this writing with less than twenty reviews. Normally, that wouldn’t mean much because people who like the jokes in the trailer will go see it anyway, but that’s compared to the 69% Fresh of the previous movie and even We’re the Millers was 47% Fresh.
Comedy is fairly subjective for sure, and it’s also only been a few weeks since the release of Dumb and Dumber To (which has the benefit of a PG-13 rating), so Horrible Bosses 2 has to contend with that as another alternate over the Thanksgiving weekend for those who haven’t seen it yet. It shouldn’t offer too much competition considering the huge drop-off it had in its second weekend.
Because of that, Horrible Bosses 2 should do just fine on Wednesday and Thanksgiving itself, since single guys and 20-somethings not going home for the holiday will go see this over other choices. It should be good for $10 to 12 million in its first couple days but will probably tail off by the weekend since it’s not the type of family-friendly fare that thrives on Black Friday and the weekend and I can see it ending up with less than $25 million over the three day weekend for a five-day opening around $35 million.
Although there are two new movies, we can probably expect The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 to win the weekend despite a big drop-off of 50% or more (for the three-day weekend) and this is also going to be a good weekend to catch up on awards buzzworthy movies people have missed, which should allow Gone Girl and smaller movies like The Theory of Everything (which expands nationwide on Wednesday) and Birdman to do well. (In fact, I recommend you try to catch some of those smaller movies you haven’t seen yet… like Whiplash!)
This weekend last year saw the second weekend at #1 for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which dropped 53% in its second weekend but still grossed $110 million over the five-day holiday weekend with $74.2 million over the weekend. That still didn’t do much to hold back the powerhouse juggernaut that was the animated musical Frozen (Walt Disney Animation), which took a solid second place with $93.6 million in its first five days in 3,742 theaters, $67.4 million over the three-day portion of the weekend. That made it the top opening movie ever for the Thanksgiving weekend, defeating Disney•Pixar’s long-time reigning champ Toy Story 2. It would go onto become the third highest-grossing movie of 2013 with $400 million behind Catching Fire and Iron Man 3.
Things didn’t go as well for the Jason Statham-James Franco crime-thriller Homefront (Open Road), which made less than $10 million in 2,572 theaters to take fifth place for the holiday weekend. After a few weeks in limited release, the adaptation of the bestselling The Book Thief (20th Century Fox) expanded nationwide into 1,234 theaters where it grossed $6.4 million for the five days and $4.9 million on the weekend proper. The screen adaptation of Black Nativity (Fox Searchlight)–another movie that should have done better over Thanksgiving–tanked with less than $5 million 1,516 theaters for eighth place. The acclaimed Philomena (The Weinstein Company), reteaming Dame Judi Dench with director Stephen Frears, expanded nationwide into 835 theaters where it took in $4.5 million, basically doing as well as Black Nativity in half the number of theaters. The Top 10 grossed $270 million over the five-day weekend but it’s hard to imagine this week’s offerings will top that, since it doesn’t seem like anything will come close to grossing $100 million in five days, let alone two movies.
This Week’s Predictions
Note: We’re waiting for final theater counts on The Theory of Everything’s expansion, which may be more than what we projected. Whether Birdman remains in the Top 10 rather than Fury or Beyond the Lights will also rely on the theater counts.
And for those of you who have requested a text version of the predictions, here ya go!
#1 The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 1 $53.5 (3-day) -56% $78.0 (5-day)
#2 The Penguins of Madagascar $38.5 (3-day) N/A $53.4 (5-day)
#3 Horrible Bosses 2 $23.7 (3-day) N/A $35.0 (5-day)
#4 Big Hero 6 $17.5 (3-day) -11% $23.5 (5-day)
#5 Interstellar $11.7 (3-day) -24% $17.0 (5-day)
#6 Dumb and Dumber To $7.5 (3-day) -47% $11.0 (5-day)
#7 The Theory of Everything $3.2 (3-day) +104% $4.5 (5-day)
#8 Gone Girl $2.4 (3-day) -15% $3.5 (5-day)
#9 Birdman $2.0 (3-day) 7% $2.8 (5-day)
#10 St. Vincent $1.8 (3-day) -20% $2.6 (5-day)
From the Hollywood studio system that brought you horror in the French Catacombs, terrorized you in The Ruins, and turned the Lincoln Memorial into a tribute to vampire hunters comes… The Pyramid (20th Century Fox). Oh, boy. (Or maybe I’ll just take the week off. We’ll see.)
This Week’s Must-Sees:
Only four limited releases but they all are noteworthy:
The Imitation Game (The Weinstein Company)
The Babadook (IFC Midnight)
Before I Disappear (IFC Films)
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (GKIDS)
You can post any comments or questions below, or you can get in touch with the Weekend Warrior on Twitter.
Copyright 2014 Edward Douglas