Box Office Preview: All We Want for Christmas is One Week Off


Welcome to the very last Box Office Preview column for the year, a double-sized column where we’re mainly going to focus on the weekend of the 21st, but we’ll also talk about the three movies opening on Tuesday, December 25 aka Christmas Day as well.

This is always an interesting weekend when movies rarely do as well as expected but they’re being released this weekend so that moviegoers have lots of choices in the week between Christmas and New Year’s when they’re off work and school. What we’re likely to see is people finishing up work earlier on Friday to take a long weekend right through Tuesday, and while many of them will likely travel on Friday and Saturday or do some last minute Christmas shopping, potentially limiting the openings, Sunday should pick up as people arrive at their destinations. Monday will probably take the typical drop that comes with Christmas Eve and then things will pick up on Tuesday and then REALLY pick up the rest of next week. How the eight (!!!) movies opening over the coming week will be affected will generally depend on the target demographics for the movies, because younger single guys won’t allow the holidays and what goes along with them to affect their moviegoing habits much. Older women and families are more likely to wait until the time after Christmas Day to go see movies.

The last time Christmas Day fell on a Tuesday was 2007 and a similar amount of new movies were released with only one of them, the action sequel National Treasure: Book of Secrets opening over $10 million. Needless to say, opening a movie in the couple of days before Christmas is never good but at least they’re guaranteed to have legs, grossing between 5 and 8 times this weekend, so don’t assume a lower opening means a movie has bombed. On the other hand, this weekend’s offerings have much stronger movies opening on Christmas Day (see below) then the 2007 offerings, another thing to bear in mind.

Two of this week’s movies open on Wednesday, while the other two open on Friday. Since we think the latter two will probably lead the weekend, we’ll start with those two first.
Tom Cruise returns for his second movie of the year following the musical bomb Rock of Ages with something more in his wheelhouse, the action thriller Jack Reacher (Paramount) based on the military nomad from the novels by Lee Child and directed by screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), his 2nd movie as director and first since 2000’s The Way of the Gun. While some might feel that the movie is being marketed as a direct follow-up to last year’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, it’s more of a thriller with action than a straight action movie. There are two things hanging heavily over the movie, the first being the general public reaction to Tom Cruise following some of the tabloid rumors and revelations following his divorce from Katie Holmes after five years of marriage. The second and probably more worrying element that might affect the film’s prospects is that the storyline revolves around a random public shooting, something that is very much in the public consciousness right now due to the latest school shooting in Newtown, CT. One certainly might wonder whether that connection might detract from the escapist fun normally expected from a movie like Jack Reacher and the filmmakers have already cancelled the film’s Pittsburgh premiere and other promotional events in deference to the victims. Doing this has also saved Cruise from having to talk on the red carpet, which would likely lead to embarrassing personal questions about his divorce. Either way, there may be enough guys who are either fans of the books or Cruise or just want to see some manly action that will give it a shot this weekend and then we’ll see how word-of-mouth helps it over Christmas when it has to face stronger fare like Django Unchained. It should be able to bring in between $17 to 19 million its opening weekend, but it will be one of the movies that has a lower second weekend with a 15-20% drop and probably will leave theaters with roughly $75 million or so. Regardless of how it does over the long term though, when the movie opens with less than $20 million, the big story will be about how Tom Cruise has lost his starpower, which doesn’t seem fair since very few movies do well in the weekend before Christmas.

Video Interview with Director Christopher McQuarrie

7/10 Review

The other movie that’s likely to get interest this weekend probably from some of the same audience as Jack Reacher, is the fourth R-rated comedy from director Judd Apatow, This Is 40 (Universal), starring Paul Rudd and Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann, reprising their roles from his blockbuster hit Knocked Up. Apatow has built a strong fanbase of 20-to-30 somethings both male and female with his previous movies, but one wonders whether a movie about turning 40 will interest them or be something that only older married couples will want to see. There’s also the question of whether Rudd is a big enough star to carry a movie like this, having already had a number of disappointing showings with the comedies Wanderlust, Our Idiot Brother and most notably 2010’s How Do You Know?, a romantic comedy that teamed him with Reese Witherspoon and Owen Wilson that only grossed $30 million. We already saw with Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up how an unlikely leading man can carry a movie as those made stars out of Steve Carell and Seth Rogen. Even so, reviews for This Is 40 haven’t been great which may detract moviegoers from seeing this over the other options available. We expect this one to open soft in the $14 to 16 million range but as with the other movies, business should pick up over the holidays to allow it to make roughly $65 million total, which is better than Apatow’s previous film Funny People.

Opening on Wednesday is Disney’s latest attempt to make a little extra money by converting one of their old movies into 3D with Monsters, Inc. 3D (Walt Disney), following Finding Nemo 3D a few months back. 2001’s Monsters, Inc. was the first post-Toy Story 2 hit for Disney•Pixar, opening with more than $60 million, and one big difference between this and the Finding Nemo re-release is that Disney•Pixar are releasing a prequel to Monsters, Inc. next summer, so there’s plenty of reasons for families to want to take their kids to see the original movie. Then again, the original movie has been on DVD for many years so one wonders why they’d want to spend premium prices to see it in 3D rather than just watching at home. Finding Nemo was a much bigger hit than Monsters, Inc. and yet the 3D rerelease opened with $16.7 million and only grossed $40 million during the fall though that should probably be the low point for Monsters, Inc. 3D with the advantages of school being out and the only other animated competition being DreamWorks Animation’s Rise of the Guardians. (That movie could do well in the last weekend before Christmas, but might tail off once the holiday has passed.) We think the 3D rerelease will do negligible business on Wednesday and Thursday and around $10 and 11 million over the weekend with a nice bump on Sunday and it then should be able to take advantage of the holidays to gross between $45 and 50 million total.

We kind of feel bad for the road trip comedy The Guilt Trip (Paramount), which brings together the brilliant pairing of Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand, making it only her third movie appearance in 16 years, the previous two being the Christmas comedy releases Meet the Fockers and its sequel Little Fockers. Rogen has his college age male fanbase who may or may not appreciate him doing more toned-down PG-13 humor, but the hopes are that Streisand’s older female audience may be thrilled to see her back on-screen to give it a chance. Clearly not feeling too positive that Babs’ audience is out there, Paramount is only releasing the movie, directed by The Proposal‘s Anne Fletcher, into roughly 2,300 theaters on Wednesday, but frankly we don’t expect it to do too much before Christmas, since its key demographic of parents with teen and older kids won’t be together until then. With that in mind, it probably will make $3 to 4 million or so in its first couple of days and another $7 to 9 million over the three-day weekend. The good news for the movie is that it’s the type of comedy that can do better after Christmas Day and we expect it to actually have a bump up during the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s and wind up with between $50 and 55 million by the time it leaves theaters.

Obviously, Paramount doesn’t have enough on their plate this weekend with the above two movies, which is why they have decided to release the 3D performance film Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D (Paramount), based on the hugely popular Montreal circus troupe, whose shows have toured and played in Vegas to packed audiences for years. Produced by James Cameron and directed by Andrew Adamson of “Shrek” and “Narnia” fame, the movie is opening in just 800 theaters and we’re not sure, but we believe that some theaters will be doing limited screenings. Since we don’t see this having the same appeal as some of the bigger 3D concert movies like the ones starring Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber, it probably will be hit the hardest by the pre-holiday weekend and is more likely to do business when families gather next week. We think it will be lucky to make $3 million this weekend and might just sneak into the Top 10, although it will probably end up making around $20 million or so by the time it leaves theaters.

On Christmas Day proper, three new movies will open with two being long-awaited movies each with their own fanbase. With Christmas Day being on a Tuesday, it creates an odd dynamic where we suddenly have a big influx of movies that could cut into the business from the movies opening this weekend and we think at least two of those movies will open over $10 million, which wouldn’t be unheard of going by Christmas Day 2008 when three movies opened with over $10 million each. The following weekend, four new movies each grossed $20 million and that was without one franchise in the bunch. (Of course, that year didn’t have a “Hobbit” or a “National Treasure” or a “Fockers” or “Sherlock Holmes” bringing in most of the business.)

We think Quentin Tarantino’s Western Django Unchained (The Weinstein Company), which brings together Oscar winners Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington, will do very well with so much anticipation built up since Tarantino’s previous movie Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino has become one of those directors like Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese or David Fincher who can get people into theaters with their name alone, but having Brad Pitt helped “Basterds” open with $38 million in late August 2009, normally not a great time to open a movie. It went on to gross $120.5 million to become the filmmaker’s highest-grossing film. Just like with the “Kill Bill” movies which both opened with over $20 million, Tarantino fans will be eager to see how he tackles the Western genre and this one should also benefit from the presence of a popular actor like DiCaprio, while also doing well with African-American audiences due to the strong draw of Jamie Foxx and Samuel L. Jackson. We think that many single guys will be out in droves on Christmas Day to see “Django” and word-of-mouth and repeat business should keep it going through the holidays and into the New Year. While we don’t think “Django” will set a new Christmas Day opening record, we do think it will fare better than Will Smith’s Ali, which opened on a Christmas Day Tuesday with $10.6 million. We could see “Django” making $12 to 14 million its opening day and then tapering off over the weekend to something closer to $7 or 8 million on Friday. By the weekend, it should still have enough interest to bring in $20 to 22 million, but Tarantino’s dedicated fanbase and the fact it’s not a family film will definitely make it more frontloaded than other Christmas releases even if it should be well on its way to $100 million by New Year’s Day.

Offering the most competition for Tarantino will be the record-setting Broadway musical Les Misérables (Universal), which also opens on Christmas Day, helmed by Oscar-winner Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), with an astounding cast that includes Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. Over the nearly thirty years since the musical first debuted in London and then Broadway, the show’s become hugely popular with many younger and older women, setting a number of records, as they’ve been trying to turn it into movie for almost as long. The movie’s already received a lot of awards buzz, which will drive up the curiosity factor among those who normally wouldn’t check out a musical as well as helping its legs into January. It isn’t the first musical to open over Christmas as others like The Phantom of the Opera and Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, both period-based musicals, opened in the week before Christmas, neither faring well, and The Producers movie musical opened on Christmas Day proper but was an even bigger bomb. Fortunately, “The Miserables” (as I like to call it) has a much bigger name cast and it’s a much more popular musical with nearly three decades of fans. Like “Django,” this should also have a big opening day, maybe even in the $10 to 12 million range on Christmas Day, although since the film’s key demographic of women are more likely to be doing Christmas stuff, we expect this could potentially have a bigger Wednesday and maintain that business through the weekend. We wouldn’t be surprised if the movie makes as much as $22 to 25 over its first full weekend, although it’s still likely to take second place to The Hobbit or third to “Django” depending on how well they hold up business.

9/10 Review

Interview with Director Tom Hooper

Last and probably least is the family comedy Parental Guidance (20th Century Fox), marking the return of actors Billy Crystal (whose voice can be heard in the Monsters, Inc. rerelease) and Bette Midler, neither whom have been seen on screen much in recent years, Crystal’s last time being a cameo in the comedy Tooth Fairy and Midler not since The Women. Directed by Andy Fickman who had a minor hit with The Game Plan starring Dwayne Johnson, it’s the type of high concept family comedy that may have fared better five years ago when moviegoers weren’t so finicky with their money. The kids who enjoy this sort of low-brow humor won’t have much of an idea who Crystal or Midler are, and their parents certainly have plenty of other choices, although with school being out, they’ll be looking for something to see and the best thing we can say about this movie (without having actually seen it yet) is that it is “something to see.” Fox’s Cheaper by the Dozen starring Steve Martin opened on Christmas Day 2003 (on a Thursday) with $7.8 million, but with so much stronger offerings in theaters, we don’t expect this one to open quite as well, probably around half that amount, although its business should pick up over the couple of days following Christmas, allowing it to end up with between $11 and 12 million over the weekend and probably ending up with around $45 million or less.

We also expect that over the weekend of the 28th many of the returning movies will be up or only slightly down from the previous weekend, especially some of the movies that have been generating positive word-of-mouth since opening in November.

This weekend last year was probably a pretty decent indicator of what to expect this weekend although it’s not a great comparison since Christmas Day fell on a Sunday, which meant that business was fairly slow on Friday and Saturday between people traveling and Christmas Eve, before things picked up on Sunday and then exploded on Monday and over the next week.

After opening in 425 IMAX theaters one week earlier, Tom Cruise’s action thriller Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol expanded nationwide into nearly 3,500 theatres where it grossed $29.5 million in the three days to take first place over Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, which had a minor 20% drop thanks to the bump from Christmas Day. Opening on Tuesday night was David Fincher’s thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Sony), starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, which grossed $8.3 million in its first couple of days and then another $12.8 million on the weekend for third place, just ahead of Alvin and the Chipmunks – Chipwrecked. On Wednesday, Steven Spielberg’s animated The Adventures of Tintin (Paramount) opened and made a little under $5 million in its first two days and another $9.7 million over the weekend for fifth place. It would build on that $14.5 million over the holidays to have a grand total of $77.5 million. Friday saw the release of Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo (20th Century Fox), starring Matt Damon, which opened softly with $9.8 million over the three day weekend but it also built on that to amass $75.6 million in its theatrical run, making it a welcome comeback for Crowe.

Sunday, which was Christmas Day proper, saw the release of Steven Spielberg’s War Horse (DreamWorks) and the alien invasion thriller The Darkest Hour (Summit), the former bringing in $7.5 million and the latter making less than $3 million – they’d go on to gross $80 million and $21 million, respectively.

This Week’s Predictions
(These are for the weekend of December 21)

1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (New Line/WB) – $40.5 million -52%

2. Jack Reacher (Paramount) – $17.6 million N/A

3. This Is 40 (Universal) – $14.7 million N/A

4. Monsters, Inc. 3D (Disney) – $10.6 million N/A

5. The Guilt Trip (Paramount) – $8.7 million N/A

6. Lincoln (DreamWorks) – $5.4 -23%

7. Rise of the Guardians (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $4.8 million -33%

8. Skyfall (MGM/Sony) – $3.8 million -43%

9. Life of Pi (20th Century Fox) – $3.4 million -37%

10. Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D (Paramount) – $3.2 million N/A

This week’s “THE CHOSEN ONE” is the dramatic thriller The Impossible (Summit) from Spanish filmmaker Juan Bayonna (The Orphanage), starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor as parents of three boys who travel to Thailand for their Christmas vacation only to get caught in the horrifying events when the tsunami hit the country separating the family. It’s one of our favorite movies of the year and is even in our Top 10, but like some of the other limited releases this weekend, it’s being dumped into the weekend to be considered for awards with very little publicity and even less chance of making a mark against so many stronger releases.

9/10 Review

Opening on Wednesday in New York and L.A. is Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (Sony), her follow-up to the Oscar winning The Hurt Locker and second collaboration with screenwriter Mark Boal. This one stars Jessica Chastain as Maya, a CIA operative who is put in charge of the mission to find and kill Osama bin Laden following the events of 9/11. Over the course of seven years, she works diligently, often facing friction from her superiors, before finding the location as a team of Navy Seals are sent to follow up on her intelligence. With a large ensemble cast that includes Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, Edgar Ramirez and James Gandolfini, it will follow its holiday platform run with a wider release on January 11.

7.5/10 Review

Video Interview with Jessica Chastain

Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke (Funny Games, The White Ribbon) returns with Amour (Sony Pictures Classics), a drama starring veteran French actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as an elderly couple in their 80s whose relationship is put to the test when she becomes afflicted with a debilitating disease and refuses to go to hospital, forcing him to tend to her as she slowly dies. This cheery holiday offering which is Austria’s entry for the Oscars also opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.

7/10 Review

Barbara (Adapt Films) is the new film from Christian Petzold (Jerichow), a Cold War thriller starring Nina Hoss as the title character Barbara Wolff, a young doctor living in East German in 1980 who has filed for her exit visa and is transferred to a small pediatric hospital as punishment while her West German lover plots her escape. It is Germany’s submission for this year’s Oscars foreign language race.

“The Sopranos” creator David Chase makes his feature film directorial debut with Not Fade Away (Paramount Vantage), the story of a group of high school graduates from New Jersey who decide to form a rock band in the wake of the British invasion of the ‘60s, but when the drummer Doug (John Magaro) gets involved with a rich socialite (Bella Heathcote) who convinces him to become the band’s singer, it causes friction with his best friend and guitarist (John Huston from “Boardwalk Empire”). “The Sopranos” star James Gandolfini plays Doug’s hard-working father, and it opens in select cities on Friday.

7.5/10 Review

Video Interview with Steven Van Zandt

Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles (Central Station, The Motorcycle Diaries) tackles another road trip movie, adapting Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (IFC Films), based on his own drug-fueled road trip with Sam Riley playing Sal Paradise, a young writer who drives across the country with the fast-talking Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) and his girlfriend Marylou (Kristen Stewart). Along the way, they encounter all sorts of strange characters played by the likes of Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Terrence Howard, Alice Braga, Amy Adams and more. It opens in select cities on Friday.

Limited Releases Opening Dec. 25 to 28

Opening on Christmas Day is Amy (Deliver Us From Evil) Berg’s documentary West of Memphis (Sony Pictures Classics), produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, which looks at the evidence gathered to help free the West Memphis Three, including Damien Echols, who was convicted as a teen for the murder of three young boys and has been sitting on death row for 18 years despite the prosecutor not having any concrete evidence they committed the crime. We’ll talk more about this movie, next week’s “THE CHOSEN ONE,” when we post our interview with Echols and Jackson.

Interview with Director Peter Jackson and Damien Echols (Coming Soon!)

Opening on Thursday, December 26, is Portuguese filmmaker Miguel Gomes’ TABU (Adopt Films), a two-part film based around an elderly woman in Lisbon named Aurora who is hospitalized and dying, so she sends her neighbor Pilar to find a man no one’s heard of named Gian Luca, her husband’s best friend with whom she had an affair with fifty years earlier.

Matt Damon and John Krasinski co-wrote and star in Promised Land (Focus Features), directed by Gus Van Sant, with Damon playing Steve Butler, a representative for a natural gas corporation trying to lease land from local farmers to “mine” for gas along with his partner (Frances McDormand), until they encounter a feisty environmentalist (Krasinski) who wages a war against them to try to convince the townspeople to turn down their offer. Also starring Rosemarie DeWitt and Hal Holbrook, it opens on Friday in New York and L.A. and then nationwide on January 4.

8.5/10 Review

Video Interview with Matt Damon & John Krasinski (Later this week)

Shad Moss AKA “Bow Wow” stars in Michael Connors’ thriller Allegiance (XLrator Media) playing a National Guard soldier who goes AWOL forcing his colleague played by Seth Gabel to make a tough decision whether to find him or continue with his deployment to Iraq.

Next week, the Weekend Warrior takes a much needed week off, but then in two weeks, the first week of January, we’ll have a brief column with our thoughts on the first horror movie of 2013, Texas Chainsaw 3D (Lionsgate). Sometime between now and then we’ll be posting our annual Top 25 and Terrible 25 lists for 2012, as well.

You can read stuff like this and regular box office, awards and festival coverage on the new Weekend Warrior Blog and to keep up with the latest articles and posts, you can follow us on Twitter.

Copyright 2012 Edward Douglas