Something weird happened on the way to writing this year’s Christmas column, and it was kind of a game changer, because while I was pulling my hair out over the past couple of weeks trying to figure out how the Christmas Day release of Seth Rogen and James Franco’s The Interview might be affected by the negative attention it was receiving due to the Sony hacking, the release was systematically pulled from theaters by Sony. Or rather, many of the country’s biggest theater chains refused to release it in fears for the safety of their customers following threats made by the Sony hackers. So in some ways, I guess I can be thankful that there’s one less movie to write about, but sadly it was also one of my favorite movies coming out this week and now it’s gone.
Update: So just a few hours after this went live, Sony announced that they would be releasing The Interview into select theaters and make it available on VOD. You can read that news right here. 2nd Update: With The Interview opening in more than 300 theaters with may sold out screenings, we think that will be enough to get it into the lower half of the Top 10 with between $5 and 6 million (maybe more) with a solid $2 to 3 million opening day.
(Speaking of favorites, don’t forget to check out the Weekend Warrior’s Top 25 Movies of 2014!)
Christmas is always fun to predict—yes, I’m being sarcastic—because the day Christmas falls on during the week has a great effect on the weekend and how well movies will do. As with Thanksgiving, family films tend to do particularly well, but it’s also a time to catch up on movies that have been missed including awards fare still in theaters that appear on critic’s year-end lists. (Like the one above! Did you check it out yet?) Then there are the movies geared specifically towards single guys, the ones who may not go home for the holidays and don’t have family around. Those movies tend to do great Christmas Day but then not so much after that.
With that in mind, let’s get to the movies coming out on Christmas Day, which falls on Thursday this year. That includes the second musical in two weeks and three dramas, one of which is expanding nationwide after a limited run. There’s also a bunch of new movies in limited release that could take away some of the business for the wide releases, especially in bigger cities.
The weekend movie with the strongest chances at doing well, although it’s unlikely to dethrone Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the latest movie based on a Stephen Sondheim musical, Into the Woods (Disney), directed by Oscar-nominated Chicago director Rob Marshall and starring Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Chris Pine and Johnny Depp.
The last Sondheim movie musical released was Tim Burton’s adaptation of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, also starring Johnny Depp, which opened the weekend before Christmas in 2007 with $9.3 million in just 1,250 theaters, then generally held up over the following weeks to gross $52.8 million. That came out a time when Depp was at the high point of his career and those days are pretty much gone thanks to back-to-back bombs The Lone Ranger and this year’s Transcendence. He certainly needs to get a hit, which may or may not happen by returning to play Captain Jack Sparrow, since the last “Pirates of the Caribbean”didn’t do as well domestically as it did overseas.
Fortunately, Depp has a fairly small role in this movie and for once, Disney is not marketing the movie solely on his name, mainly because they probably know that he’s gradually been turning into box office poison. They have a perfectly fine cast that will appeal to the film’s mostly female demographic including three strong actresses in Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick, two of them who already have musical connections. Streep certainly appeals more to older audiences, but her last musical was 2008’s Mamma Mia!, which grossed $144 million domestically after a $27.7 million opening. Kendrick had a pretty decent-sized musical hit with 2012’s Pitch Perfect, which led to a chart-topping single to boot. Next year’s sequel should solidify Kendrick’s status among young women as should the indie musical The Next Five Years. Emily Blunt doesn’t have the musical chops, but she did star in the popular comedy The Devil Wears Prada opposite Streep and Anne Hathaway, the latter who went on to become an even bigger star and winning an Oscar for the 2012 musical Les Miserables.
The last piece of the equation is British comic James Corden, a Broadway star who will take over for Craig Ferguson on “The Late, Late Show” next year, but whose recent musical biopic One Chance about British singer Paul Potts barely made a dent when released a few months back. (That movie was directed by David Frankel, who also directed Streep and Blunt in The Devil Wears Prada. See how it all ties together nicely?)
Now, movie musicals can be hit or miss when it comes to box office. For every Chicago or Les MIserables or Mamma Mia!–all which grossed over $140 million–there are plenty of bombs like 2005’s The Producers or Rob Marshall’s last movie musical, 2009’s Nine, both which grossed less than $20 million despite having similar all-star casts and being released over Christmas weekend.
Into the Woods is a special case, because apparently it’s one of the most performed musicals in schools, so a wide variety of women of different ages will know it either from seeing it on Broadway in the late ‘80s or from performing it in school. This gives it a similar must-see quality as Les Mis or 2005’s Rent, although it could also be one of those movies that opens big and then quickly tails off. Since it’s based on classic fairy tales like Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Rapunzel, it should go a long way in attracting female fans of those stories even if they’re not familiar with Sondheim’s musical.
It’s certainly a much darker movie than last week’s Annie, which might make it a tougher sell for families with smaller kids that might be interested in a fairy tale musical, and that should allow Annie to continue to offer some competition for younger girls mainly since it’s far more appropriate. Even so, Sondheim’s musical has definitely been softened up and watered down to get a PG-rating which might not bode well with critics and those who know the original musical, although so far, reviews are significantly better than Annie. (The movie has also received a number of early awards nominations including Golden Globes, another good selling point.)
The other thing to consider is Disney’s decision to give the movie a more moderate release into under 2,500 theaters which goes against the normal idea of oversaturating a movie into over 3,000 theaters in hopes that a movie will do better by being on more screens. Regardless, the latest movie musical should have a decent opening day of between $7 and 8 million but then will drop slightly on Friday and probably end up with somewhere around $19 to 20 million over the weekend. It should be good for $75 to 80 million total thanks to the holiday break and the amount of business that goes into theaters
Interview with Tracey Ullman (Coming Soon!)
The movie with less obvious comparisons in terms of historical releases is Angelina Jolie’s second movie as a director, Unbroken (Universal), telling the true story of Louie Zamperini as played by British actor Jack O’Connell, whose plane crash-landed in the Pacific Ocean during World War II, leaving him and two others stranded at sea before being found, captured, imprisoned and tortured by the Japanese for years.
The best immediate comparison I could come up with was Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, which opened on Christmas Day in 2,376 theaters and grossed $7.5 million that day (a Sunday) and then a little over twice that in its second full weekend in slightly more theaters. It basically made $40.5 million in its first week during the holidays.
That movie starred Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston, both whom are much bigger stars now than they were then thanks to larger franchise movies, but Unbroken doesn’t have that benefit with a lot of lesser-known actors who may do bigger things in the future. Granted, O’Connell did appear in 300: Rise of an Empire earlier this year, his co-star Garrett Hedlund did star in Disney’s TRON: Legacy, and Domnhall Gleeson appeared in the “Harry Potter” movies, but you still might have a hard time finding a regular person familiar with their work. (That may change when Gleeson appears in next year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, though.)
Even though she doesn’t appear in a single frame, the real star of the movie is director Angelina Jolie, because she’s a Hollywood superstar coming off her huge blockbuster hit Maleficent, and she’ll generally be of most interest to anyone seeing the movie. Jolie hasn’t done a ton of press but she has been making the rounds and doing a number of television specials to promote the film, and there should be more interest in this movie than her previous one, In the Land of Blood and Honey. (Jolie has finished shooting her third film By the Sea, which puts her back on-screen with her real life husband Brad Pitt for the first time since Mr. & Mrs. Smith—we expect that one to be released sometime next awards season.)
The problem is that Unbroken hasn’t been getting the early awards support that many expected without a single SAG or Golden Globe nomination, which is not a good sign for its Oscar chances, which is often important for a movie like this. Of course, it was released on the later side with the first screenings at the beginning of the month and opening over Christmas, gives Academy members a chance to see it, which means it still has a chance at getting a late nomination or two. Unfortunately, reviews haven’t been so great so far (even though we generally liked it) and one wonders if critics are biased because it’s Jolie behind the camera as a director.
It’s good to bear in mind that Unbroken is opening in more theaters than the other new movies, over 3,000, although that’s because Universal seems to be taking the approach that having it on more screens can help bolster its opening weekend box office. That certainly may be the case with this one which should be good for $6 million or so its opening day and another $16 to 18 million over its first weekend. It probably will end up in the $50 to 60 million range total, depending on whether it gets Oscar nominations in January.
The last new wide release of the weekend is the remake of the ‘70s drama The Gambler (Paramount), starring Mark Wahlberg, and co-starring John Goodman, Michael K. Williams, Brie Larson and Jessica Lange, and it’s basically the underdog of the weekend, maybe because it just doesn’t have as strong an identity as the other movies.
But it does have a lot of things going for it, including being that it’s set in the world of gambling, something that proved profitable for the 2008 movie 21, plus it also has the edginess that one might expect from a Mark Wahlberg movie written by Oscar-winning screenwriter William Monaghan (The Departed).
With The Interview gone, it’s also the only real guys’ movie left in the weekend, and as mentioned earlier, those are the kinds of movies that will do decent business on Christmas Day but then slowly tail off over the weekend. Previous movies in this category include everything from last year’s 47 Ronin and Grudge Match to real dogs like Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, which grossed nearly $10 million its opening day but never made half that amount on any other day. In other words, it’s the type of movie that could do big business on Christmas but may not be able to sustain that business (although it’s a much better movie than those mentioned).
This film is in the same vein as David O. Russell’s The Fighter, which opened in limited release in December 2010, then expanded nationwide the week before Christmas, earning $12.1 million. That movie had a lot more awards buzz by the time it opened which is why it eventually grossed $93.6 million. Wahlberg’s latest movie is somewhat similar in terms of there being more focus on some of the supporting cast like Goodman and Brie Larson, but it just doesn’t have the same buzz and reviews are mixed at best. It’s likely to do more business in its first few days and not really stick around for too long after that.
It’s opening in roughly 2,800 theaters, more than Into the Woods, but it should be frontloaded to Christmas Day when guys will be looking for something to see and then quickly tail off after that. Let’s figure that it can make $4 to 5 million opening day but probably will end up below $10 million for the weekend and it probably will end up with around $40 million total at best. (UPDATE: Paramount is releasing The Gambler into less than 2,500 theaters and with The Interview getting a release and getting a lot of attention, that’s definitely going to hurt this movie more than others. Probably going to be closer to $9 million opening weekend.)
Opening moderately this weekend, and possibly not even in enough theaters to get into the Top 10 is Tim Burton’s Big Eyes (The Weinstein Company), which reunites him with the writers of Ed Wood, to tell the story of Walter and Margaret Keane, played by Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams. During the ‘60s, Margaret painted big-eyed waifs, which became a popular art trend but her husband Walter took credit for painting them and for years was thought to be the artist.
This is definitely a smaller movie for Burton as he tries to create his palate after the disappointing showings for Dark Shadows and Frankenweenie, although the former did at least gross $79 million, twice as much as the latter. I guess people expected more after his blockbuster take on Alice in Wonderland grossed $334 million, but his career has generally been up and down and putting Johnny Depp (him again!) in so many back-to-back movies certainly didn’t do much to help salvage his career from going over a cliff.
Ed Wood is one of Burton’s lowest grossing films ever, although that was before Johnny Depp really became a huge box office star… and yet, Big Eyes doesn’t even have Depp and is relying on the popularity of Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, who should at least find an appropriate-aged audience of Burton fans. Adams is coming off her starring role in David O. Russell’s 2013 movie American Hustle, for which she received her fifth Oscar nomination. Her other movies have also received awards recognition although her biggest hits are not ones with much crossover audience with this one, like last year’s blockbuster Man of Steel, in which she plays Lois Lane, and Disney family hits like Enchanted and The Muppets. Waltz himself has won two Oscars for his performances in Quentin Tarantino’s last two movies and has appeared in a bunch of studio movies since then including Horrible Bosses 2, but hasn’t proven himself to be a draw unto himself.
Certainly, Big Eyes is an easy sell more based on the prestige of those involved than the actual premise, but without a definitive theater count—we’re assuming it’s going to be under 500 theaters—it’s hard to determine where it might end up this weekend although we think it won’t be in the Top 10 with between $2 and 3 million (again, depending on the theater count).
UPDATE: It looks like Tim Burton’s Big Eyes will be opening in over 1,200 theaters which should be enough for it to gross $4.5 million or more over the weekend and another $2 million on Christmas Day.
Another movie expanding nationwide on Christmas Day is The Imitation Game (The Weinstein Company), which has already received a number of awards nominations for stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. Like with Big Eyes, we don’t have a screen count for this one yet, but it’s already grossed over $3 million without being in more than 34 theaters, so this could be a good chance for it to capitalize on the buzz that’s been building since the Telluride and Toronto International Film Festivals. Again, when we know how many theaters, we can give a better idea how much it might make, although $3 to 4 million seems likely.
Still, it feels like this weekend will mostly be about the returning movies, particularly The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb although Into the Woods could give the latter a run for second place and Annie fighting it out for third place, and that’s basically the way this year is going to end… basically on a low.
Last year, Christmas Day fell on a Wednesday, which meant that many of the new movies could do big business that opening day and then tail off over the weekend and that’s pretty much what happened. The big opener was Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount), starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which came very close to besting The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug on Christmas Day with $9.1 million. By the weekend, it had started to tail off, ending up with $18.5 million in 2,530 theaters, falling to fifth place behind Frozen, Anchorman 2 and American Hustle. Ben Stiller directed and starred in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (20th Century Fox), which opened in seventh place with$12.8 million after grossing roughly the same amount on Wednesday and Thursday. Finally getting a release after years of delays, the Keanu Reeves action flick 47 Ronin (Universal)fumbled into theaters with $10.7 million in its first two days and $9.9 million over the weekend for ninth place. It fared better than the De Niro vs. Stallone boxing comedy Grudge Match (Warner Bros.), which grossed $6.1 million in its first couple days and didn’t even get into the Top 10 for the weekend with just $7 million in 2,838 theaters i.e. more than two of the other new wide releases. The Top 10 grossed $169.3 million, which doesn’t seem beatable even with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies only being in its second weekend since the other movies aren’t particularly strong.
This Week’s Predictions:
Here’s a text version of this week’s predictions: (Updated for actual theater counts 12.24.14!)
1. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (New Line/WB) – $34.5 million -37%
The New Year kicks off with The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (Relativity Media), the sequel to the 2012 horror hit starring Daniel Radcliffe, but since Daniel opted out of the sequel, we’re going to take next week off and enjoy a nice Christmas break, then we’ll be back for 2015 as will Liam Neeson’s high-skilled ex-covert operative Bryan Mills in Taken 3 (20th Century Fox)
This Week (and Next Week’s) Must-Sees:
American Sniper (Warner Bros.)
Then opening next week on Wednesday, December 31…
A Most Violent Year (A24)
Other Limited Releases of Note:
Two Seriously Overrated Foreign Language Films
Two Days, One Night (Sundance Selects)
Leviathan (Sony Pictures Classics)
The Search for General Tso (Sundance Selects)
You can post any comments or questions below, or you can get in touch with the Weekend Warrior on Twitter.
Copyright 2014 Edward Douglas