The second weekend of December has become similar to the weekends before Memorial Day and Thanksgiving where big holiday blockbusters, or at least those with huge potential, are released in hopes they’ll open big and carry through Christmas and New Year’s Day to bring in even bigger business. No one knows the benefits of this sort of pre-Christmas release more than director Peter Jackson, who had the three installments of his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy released in this slot between 2001 to 2003. This week, we see the release of the second installment of his second J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Warner Bros./New Line), and it faces some uncharacteristic and unprecedented counter-programming to boot in the form of Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas (Lionsgate).
Considering the nearly 3 billion worldwide amassed by Jackson’s original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy globally, it was only a matter of time before New Line and MGM would work out the rights issues for The Hobbit and things finally came together a number of years back with Jackson developing the planned two-part adaptation along with then-director Guillermo del Toro. When Del Toro dropped out and moved on, Jackson stepped up to direct himself and apparently he was having so much fun and writing so much new material that the planned two parts for the adaptation turned it into a trilogy.
That bring us to the middle chapter, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which could be seen as a transitional linking film in some ways since one would have to have seen the original movie to appreciate it. That shouldn’t be a problem since this weekend last year, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Warner Bros./New Line) opened to the tune of $84.6 million with a nice boost from IMAX and 3D, as it went on to gross $300 million domestic–less than all the previous “LOTR” moviesand a cool billion worldwide.
As we saw with the “Lord of the Rings” movies, each movie opened significantly higher than the previous one as the audience for the movies grew, but there are far more factors in play for the second installment of “The Hobbit.” The most prominent one is that not everyone liked the first installment as much as the “Lord of the Rings” movies and one has to imagine some of those people might fall off for the sequel or at least not rush out to see it opening weekend. Also, it’s important to note that many sequels in the past few months have been underperforming compared to expectations and early projections. “Catching Fire” opened huge with $161 million, but it was thought it could do closer to $170 million or more; Thor: The Dark World suffered a similar fate while still opening with an impressive $85.7 million.
The 2 hour 40 minute runtime for “The Desolation of Smaug” is somewhat disconcerting since it means fewer showings per screen but that shouldn’t be a problem since so many movies in theaters right now are played out – theaters will just put it on more screens and one can expect dozens of shows in some multiplexes.
I think that those who loved the “LOTR” movies and the first “Hobbit” will be out in force on Thursday and Friday, helping “The Desolation of Smaug” to match or surpass the $37.1 million opening day of “An Unexpected Journey,” and it should fare well over the weekend as people try to see the movie before the holidays, probably coming close to the $90 million mark.
I’ve literally been writing about Tyler Perry’s movies almost as long as I’ve been writing about movies, and it probably shouldn’t be that big a surprise that I wasn’t going to get through 2013 without having to write about another one. It makes some amount of sense that Perry is finally tackling a holiday movie with Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas (Lionsgate), which co-stars one of his oddest (and whitest) casts yet aside from Tika Sumpter, the up n’ coming star of BET’s “The Game” and Perry’s “The Haves and the Have Nots.” First we have Kathy Najimy, who you may remember from Hocus Pocus, plus there’s Chad Michael Murray from “One Tree Hill,” Lisa Whelchel from “The Facts of Life,” as well as the one and only Larry the Cable Guy. (Yes, movie fans, this movie brings together the stars of Madea’s Witness Protection and Witless Protection, both Lionsgate releases.)
If you’ve read this column for a while, you already know that it rarely matters who else Perry casts in the movie around his popular character Madea except that movies starring Madea and those that feature “her” name in the title tend to do bigger business. Like many of those movies, this one is loosely based on another recent play of his, one from 2011, which also brings a familiarity to the material that can give it a boost. The phenomenon of this trend could be seen as far back as Madea’s Family Reunion, which opened with a huge $30 million in 2006, followed three years later by Madea Goes to Jail, which scored Perry’s biggest opening with $41 million.
The last two Madea movies opened with about $25 million each in April and June releases, but this is the first time Tyler Perry has broke into the holiday movie season with a movie, which changes things a bit because it is opening at a time when its audience are either saving money or spending all their money on holiday gifts.
Although there’s probably a little bit of a crossover audience with fans of Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” movies, one has to expect that Perry’s older African-American female fanbase would probably check this one out first that is, if they feel like spending more money after Christmas shopping. Due to the pre-Christmas lull that always happens, we think this one will end up once again in the $25 million range although it could have better legs than some of Perry’s other movies as it does decent business right through the 25th.
This weekend last year saw the release of, you guessed it, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Warner Bros./New Line), which we discussed extensively above and the Top 10 grossed $127 million, which should be easily beatable this weekend with the addition of Tyler Perry’s movie and the legs for Disney’s Frozen.
This Week’s Predictions –
1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (New Line/WB) – $87.5 million N/A
2. Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas (Lionsgate) – $25.4 million N/A
3. Frozen (Walt Disney) – $17.4 million -45%
4. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate) – $11.5 million -56%
5. Out of the Furnace (Relativity Media) – $2.5 million -52%
6. Thor: The Dark World (Disney/Marvel) – $2.3 million -53%
7. Delivery Man (DreamWorks) – $2.1 million -44%
8. The Book Thief (20th Century Fox) – $1.7 million -35%
9. Homefront (Open Road) – $1.6 million
10. Philomena (The Weinstein Company) – $1.5 million -32%
This week’s “CHOSEN ONE” is John Lee Hancock’s Saving Mr. Banks (Walt Disney), a look at the making of one of Walt Disney’s greatest live action movies, Mary Poppins. It stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney himself, who has spent two decades trying to get the movie rights to P.L. Travers’ book “Mary Poppins.” Convinced that no one could say “no” once they visit the “happiest place on earth,” he flies Travers (Emma Thompson) to Hollywood to allow her to give her input into the screenplay writing process, even though she is completely opposed to everything Disney wants to do, from making Mary Poppins a musical to having animated characters in it.
At the same time, we learn about Travers’ childhood in the Outback of Australia with an alcoholic father (played by Colin Farrell) who stirred her imagination but also caused great heartbreak. At first, the constant flashback cuts to the past may be jarring and off-putting for those who just want to see and hear the early origins of the “Mary Poppins” movie, but by the midpoint, it’s the real heart of the story and getting to know what makes Travers tick.
Hancock does a great job with the material, putting together a great ensemble cast that includes Paul Giamatti as Travers’ driver and BJ Novak and Jason Schwartzman as the musical Sherman Brothers who wrote the film’s musical numbers. Even so, it’s the scenes between Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson that really drive the film because they’re like oil and water, although their relationship is far more complex than the normal “meet cute” rom-coms.
As a fan of the original Mary Poppins, having loved it as a kid, especially the music, this really is a terrific look inside the makings of the movie, a movie that’s funny and moving and a really great example of why we love movies. It’s a definite must-see for long-time Disney fans. (Stick around through the end credits as you get to hear an actual recording of the writing sessions with Travers giving her “notes.”)
Saving Mr. Banks opens in select cities on Friday before its nationwide release on Friday, December 20.
Also of note and almost just as good is David O. Russell’s American Hustle (Sony), starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner, a comedic look at the FBI’s attempt to take down a number of high-powered officials during the mid-’70s, which gets a limited release before also expanding nationwide on December 20. Christian Bale plays conman Irving Rosenfeld, whose dealings with the beautiful Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) leads to them being busted by the feds. One resourceful FBI agent decides to use Irving and Sydney’s cunning to try to take down a number of politicians including Jeremy Renner’s New Jersey mayor, Carmine Polito. Jennifer Lawrence plays Irving’s wife who refuses to get a divorce despite his cheating ways, and as might be expected from a movie written by the guy behind Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter and Three Kings, it’s a wild and crazy and very funny movie.
Two movies that premiered at the SXSW Film Festival are getting theatrical releases this weekend including Paul Walker’s Hours (Pantelion Films), written and directed by Eric Heisserer (Final Destination 5), which follows his character Nolan Hayes after arriving at a New Orleans hospital with his pregnant wife Abigail (Genesis Rodriguez) in late August 2005 just as Hurricane Katrina ravages the hospital as Nolan tries to save his new baby as the flood waters start to rise. It opens in select cities Friday.
Another SXSW premiere, Lucy Walker’s documentary The Crash Reel (Phase 4 Films) takes a look at extreme snowboarder Kevin Pearce’s devastating accident as he trained for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics that left him fighting for his life with a brain injury that might keep him from ever competing again. On the surface, Walker’s film seems to be setting up to show a rivalry between Pearce with the veteran, Shaun White, but once Kevin has his accident, it becomes a very different movie as we spend time with Kevin during his recovery and see how his family begs for him not to try to return to his dangerous snowboarding tricks that could do even more damage or even kill him. The award-winning festival favorite opens in select cities on Friday.
Atsushi Funahashi’s documentary Nuclear Nation (First Run Features), which opens at the Film Forum in New York City on Wednesday, looks at the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011, releasing radiation from the Daiichi nuclear power plant with 500 evacuees still unable to return to their homes a year later.
Garcia Bogliano’s creepy Here Comes the Devil (Magnet Releasing) involves a young boy and girl who disappear into the mountainside while on vacation with their family only to reappear just as inexplicably the next day, but noticeably changed forcing their parents to try to find out what came out of the mountains with them. A big hit at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, Fantastic Fest and other festivals, the film opens in New York and L.A. on Friday as well as playing On Demand. Oddly, it also opens in the Weekend Warrior’s current home of Columbus, Ohio on December 24.
Playwright and filmmaker Neil LaBute returns with the adaptation of his play Some Velvet Morning (Tribeca Film), a two-handed drama starring Stanley Tucci and Alice Eve as a middle-aged man and his mistress who are reunited when he finally decides to leave his wife.
Hackers director Iain Softley’s British crime thriller Trap for Cinderella (IFC Midnight) is about a London party girl named Micky who reconnects with a childhood friend named Do, a meek bank clerk who has little social life. When the two of them return to the French villa where they spent summers in their youth, a devastating fire hits the building greatly affecting both of them.
Next week, it’s the last movie weekend before Christmas and opening on Wednesday is the return of Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy in the sequel Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Paramount), co-starring Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and Kristin Wiig, the Oscar contenders Saving Mr. Banks (Walt Disney) and American Hustle (Sony) will expand nationwide while kids will be invited to go Walking With Dinosaurs (20th Century Fox).
Copyright 2013 Edward Douglas