We’re getting ever closer to Christmas and while moviegoers may still be reticent about spending too much time or money in movie theaters rather than using the time to buy their friends and families holiday gifts, we have a few bigger movies this weekend that have proven themselves over Christmases past. Mind you, the box office will normally be lighter in the weekend before Christmas for that very reason, but considering how light things have been in the weeks since Thanksgiving, we’re due for another big weekend and this one should provide.
The strongest contender of the weekend is Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (New Line/WB), the finale to Jackson’s second trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien works, although one that hasn’t quite matched the success of “The Lord of the Rings” movies ten years earlier. Returning as the Hobbit is Martin Freeman (who just hosted Saturday Night Live this past weekend) as well as other returning favorites like Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee. (Sorry, kids, no Gollum in this one.) Because these are all actors who have appeared in previous Jackson-Tolkien films, we already know that they have their built-in fanbases that shouldn’t have changed much since last year.
The previous installment “The Desolation of Smaug” was better received than the first movie in The Hobbit series, at least among critics, but it still failed to find the box office success of the first movie. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opened with $84.6 million on December 14, 2012 on its way to $303 million domestic and a billion worldwide. That was followed last year by “Desolation of Smaug” with a softer $73.6 million opening and $258 million grossed domestically and slightly less worldwide. Obviously those who didn’t like the first movie didn’t come back for the second, which was opposite to how each successive “Lord of the Rings” movie performed compared to its predecessor. In fact, all three “Lord of the Rings” movies grossed more money than any of “The Hobbit” movies, at least domestically, and that’s without taking inflation into account or the higher price of 3D and IMAX tickets. One has to wonder if these diminishing returns will continue into the finale or whether The Battle of the Five Armies will instead get the bump that the conclusion to a franchise normally receives.
Reviews have generally been mixed at best (but still better than the other two new movies) with much of the criticism being on the fact that Jackson extended Tolkien’s fairly short novel into three movies and that the finale is just one big CG-enhanced battle, which let’s face it, is what we loved so much about “The Lord of the Rings” movies. We’ll see if the reviews (currently 70% on Rotten Tomatoes) play a factor in convincing the series’ fans into skipping it this weekend, although you’d think by now that these movies have as strong a fanbase as “The Twilight Saga” or “The Hunger Games.” For argument’s sake, there is a chance that Jackson’s fantasy epic may feel like old hat compared to the latest wave of Marvel movies and other blockbusters that have come out over the summer, but it’s still one of the stronger choices in terms of holiday movies.
One big difference between the final installment of “The Hobbit” and the previous two chapters is that this one is opening on Wednesday, much like the “Lord of the Rings” movies, but also, it’s opening later in December and closer to Christmas, both things that could lessen how much money it makes over the weekend. It’s hard to determine how much it can make on Wednesday and Thursday, but the previous “Hobbit” movie made $31 million its opening Friday.
The Battle of the Five Armies is likely to open softer on Wednesday, probably around $25 million including Tuesday previews, and will then drop on Thursday to around $10 to 12 million. That means it will be going into the weekend with around $35 to 37 million and should end up with somewhere in the mid-$60 millions for the weekend and around $100 million in five days. That’s not a bad start to the holidays where it should wind up with around $260 to 270 million domestic, more than the last movie but not as much as the first one.
Back in 2006, when director Shawn Levy teamed with comedian Ben Stiller for the original Night at the Museum, few people realized what a huge blockbuster it would be and how much effect it would have on kids… as well as attendance at New York’s Museum of Natural History. After the first movie grossed $250.9 million domestic and $323.6 million overseas, its sequel was released in the summer of 2009, but that didn’t fare as well overall despite opening with $24 million more but grossing less both here and overseas.
Now that brings us to Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (20th Century Fox), the third and final installment in the family franchise that brings back Stiller’s character as well as those played by Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, and including the last on-screen appearance by the late Robin Williams. (It’s also the last appearance by the late Mickey Rooney, who brings back his aging security guard from the first movie.)
This has proven to be a popular series, going by the $30 million of the opening in the same pre-Christmas weekend and the $54 million opening of the sequel over Memorial Day weekend a few years later. The fact that the latter didn’t gross as much in total could be the typical thing about family sequels not always doing as well as the first installation as seen by so many movies from Sony’s The Smurfs and Stuart Little to others. It’s probably a smarter move for Fox to move the third and final movie to the weekend before Christmas because families will be looking for movies to see together and this has elements that will appeal both to kids and adults. It also has the type of humor that can appeal to audiences in suburban and rural areas that tend to be underserved and not get the type of simple comedy that Night at the Museum offers.
Reviews won’t make that big a difference since none of the previous movies were critical darlings, but opening this Friday, it is getting some real competition by opening up against the finale of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” and maybe even just as much from Sony’s musical Annie (see below), which will be a stronger draw for girls and younger women. The action and dinosaurs and such in Night at the Museum will probably be more of interest to younger boys and at a certain age, they are more likely to want to see a movie like The Hobbit.
With that in mind, it’s likely that this will open slightly under $30 million but shouldn’t drop off very much next weekend (if at all) and will probably end up with $130 million or more in its domestic theatrical run.
Video Interviews (Coming Soon)
While I have a certain appreciation for what Shawn Levy and Ben Stiller have done with this family comedy franchise, particularly the amount of tourism and families they’ve driven to the Natural History Museum, it’s hard to tolerate the laziness that goes into these movies, starting with the main plot about the Egyptian tablet that brings the museum displays to life starting to corrode.
Basically, this series knows on which side of the bread it’s buttered and what its audience wants, and it never tries too hard to give them anything more or less. At times, it still feels as if Stiller and Levy are in it for the paycheck so that they can return to more personal films and not continue on this path of dumb family comedies. Hoping to try to add some level of humor to Stiller’s usual schtick, they have him playing a caveman character so that we have lots of scenes where Stiller is playing off himself, but it’s something that offers far more limited laughs than you may think.
Maybe the best thing in the movie is Dan Stevens, who is genuinely funny as Lancelot, a pompous knight who is out of touch with modern day things. He is clearly having fun in this role, especially when it comes to poking fun at Stiller’s character. On the other hand, the other new addition, Rebel Wilson, shows up briefly, does a bit of her schtick, disappears and then returns for more, proving her to be a far less talented Melissa McCarthy with an Australian accent.
It’s not all bad as we do get to see the last screen appearances of both Robin Williams, who clearly loves playing the Teddy Roosevelt character, and Mickey Rooney, plus there’s a nice callback for Dick Van Dyke as well. There’s also a great cameo in the movie that almost makes it worth it the price of admission for anyone who’s forced into taking their kids to see the movie.
Some jokes just out-and-out bomb (who watching this movie will have seen “The Cove”?) and don’t work, but for the most part, they always go for the lowest hanging fruit in terms of laughs, particularly when it comes to Dexter the monkey and him urinating on everything and anything, including Owen Wilson’s Jebediah and Steve Coogan’s Octavius.
And that’s the thing. The fact that the movie often has to resort to the adorable actions of a monkey to win the audience back from the ensemble cast of actors who are mostly phoning it in just shows that this franchise ran its course before they even started to make this movie.
Offering some potential holiday competition although likelier to open lighter than the other two movies is the musical Annie (Sony), an update of the classic Broadway musical based on the cartoon strip “Little Orphan Annie.” The musical debuted on Broadway in 1977 and was then brought to the big screen by director John Huston for a movie starring Carol Burnett and Albert Finney. Then in 1999, Chicago director Rob Marshall helmed a TV movie based on the musical. The latest incarnation, updated for the 21st Century, stars Oscar nominee Qhvenzhane Wallis in the title role, joined by Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale, and it has the likes of Jay-Z (who used “Hard Knock Life” as the base for one of his raps) and Will Smith’s production company behind it.
You have to bear in mind how much women love this musical going back to when they were little girls when any woman who wanted to be a singer or actress started out with a desire to be Annie on Broadway. In fact, the role was so coveted that every time there’s a new production either on stage or movies, there’s a huge casting call for the role. Wallis had a bit of an advantage in this one, having already received acclaim for her first role in Beasts of a Southern Wild and you may have missed her in last year’s Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave if you blinked. She took over the role when Smith’s daughter Willow decided not to do it. Wallis is joined by Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx, who has been in a series of high profile movies, some that have done better than others. He plays a Daddy Warbucks-type character in this one and maybe he’ll be a draw for older African-American women who may not have a connection to the musical previously. Similarly, Cameron Diaz is here playing Miss Hannigan to help bring in some of the women who liked her in movies like The Other Woman, but like Foxx, she’s had her share of bombs like the summer comedy Sex Tape. The last factor in terms of casting is Rose Byrne, who is coming off her summer comedy hit Neighbors and has also been gaining popularity from her role in Insidious and its sequel. All these actors could help the movie get attention from the adults who will have to decide between this and Ben Stiller’s new Night at the Museum, plus being a musical will also make it a bigger draw for women.
Some might wonder whether the film’s success might be hurt by the recent hacking of Sony’s computer system, since this was one of the movies that leaked, but the audience for the movie is young girls who normally won’t be watching a movie via download. On the other hand, reviews so far are fairly abysmal and having so many illegal downloads likely trashing the movie as well won’t help matters, especially for parents deciding whether to take their kids to see it this weekend.
On top of that, Annie is going up against Night at the Museum, which will be a bigger draw for families, but also next week’s Into the Woods, which is hoping to attract the same female audience that might be into seeing a musical. The week after Christmas will probably have a lot more room for two musicals and a number of family movies because everyone is off from work although some schools may also already be on holiday break starting Monday which could help this have a bigger weekend.
Some of the things might hurt Annie’s opening and keep it under $20 million this weekend, although with the extended holiday break coming up, it probably could end up with four to five times its opening or around $70 million by the time it leaves theaters next year.
Maybe if I was a 10-year-old girl who has spent her childhood wanting to sing “Tomorrow” in front of any audience that would listen, I’d be a lot more amenable about this grueling new version of the musical. This Annie has been all modernized and urbanized trying to attract a younger audience.
The songs themselves aren’t bad, given a bit more of a beat and a slight remix, although if you’re not already a fan of the musical, you might find it difficult to enjoy. The best scenes are the ones between Qhvenzhane Wallis and Jamie Foxx as the “Daddy Warbucks” substitute, Will Sparks, a billionaire cell phone mogul running for mayor of New York, as their relationship is quite touching and special.
Unfortunately the rest of the cast isn’t as good with Cameron Diaz being so awful as this movie’s Miss Hannigan that you may start wondering if she is deliberately vying for a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Razzies. Even Bobby Cannavale, usually of my favorite character actors isn’t used very well as he hams it up and chews the scenery as Sparks’ campaign manager. Rose Byrne is good but we’ve seen better from her, too. It’s painful enough watching “Oz” vets Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje and David Zayas dumbing themselves down to make themselves more kiddie-friendly in supporting roles.
Generally, the movie tries to rise above the weaker musical with an equally weak twist and the results basically make the movie as bad as it looks.
This weekend last year saw a plethora of new movies taking on the second weekend of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, but that remained at the top with $31.5 million, down 57% as it reached $127.5 million. It was followed in second place with Will Ferrell’s return as newsman Ron Burgundy in Anchorman: The Legend Continues (Paramount), which opened on Wednesday and grossed $13 million in its first couple days and another $27 million over the weekend. Frozen remained strong in third place with $19.6 million, coming out just ahead of David O. Russell’s American Hustle (Sony), starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, which expanded into 2,507 theaters with $19.1 million. Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson starred in the Mary Poppins behind-the-scenes drama Saving Mr. Banks (Disney), which opened weaker with $9.3 million in 2,110 theaters but still fared better than Walking with Dinosaurs (20th Century Fox) with $7.1 million in 3,123 theaters or $2,195 per site. Its lack of success may have been due to the continued success of Frozen but also cause it just didn’t look very good. The Bollywood action-thriller Dhoom 3 (Yash Raj Films) broke into the Top 10 with $3.1 million in 236 theaters, having the highest per-theater average in the Top 10 with $13.3 million per site.
This Week’s Predictions –
Here’s a text version of this week’s predictions:
1. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (New Line/WB) – $62.2 million N/A (down 1.8 million)
With Christmas Day on Thursday, tons of movies are opening both in wide, moderate and limited release, but the main releases are the Sondheim musical Into the Woods (Disney), starring Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick and Johnny Depp. Seth Rogen and James Franco’s North Korean comedy The Interview (Sony) also opens, while Angelina Jolie directs the historic war drama Unbroken (Universal) about the life of Louis Zamperini, as played by Jack O’Connell. Mark Wahlberg takes on the role originally played by James Caan in the remake of The Gambler (Paramount), while director Tim Burton returns with Big Eyes (The Weinstein Company), starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz.
This Week’s Must-Sees
Mr. Turner (Sony Pictures Classics)
Goodbye to All That (IFC Films)
Writer/Director: Angus McLaghlan
Feature Interviews (Coming Soon!)
Song of the Sea (GKIDS)
Director: Tomm Moore
Tales of the Grim Sleeper (HBO Documentary Films)
Other Limited Releases of Note:
A Small Section of the World (Filmbuff)
The Kill Team (Oscilloscope)
Inside the Mind of Leonardo 3D (Submarine Deluxe)
If You Don’t, I Will (Film Movement)
You can post any comments or questions below, or you can get in touch with the Weekend Warrior on Twitter.
Copyright 2014 Edward Douglas