Daily Box Office for December 26, 2007
By David Mumpower
December 27, 2007

And the writers get none of it! None of it, I say!

Due to the unusual calendar configuration of the holidays coming on Monday and Tuesday of this week, the ordinary pattern of evaluating the 12 Days of Holiday Box Office has been disrupted. I apologize for this, but it has been largely out of my hands. Even now, a couple of key distributors are not reporting their numbers on a daily basis, creating the need for estimation based on key theater data updates. The fallout from all of this is a truncated series of columns this year, the first of which will be comprised largely of an all-in-one update. There is a lot to go over, so let's jump right in.

Friday, the 21st of December, is the day that "officially" began the 12 days of box office for our purposes. This date through New Year's Day is the period where so many people are on holiday vacation that the entirety of movie releases sees a vast increase in box office performances. This is perhaps best demonstrated by a movie example combined with an examination with the entirety of the top ten. So, let's start with the number one movie for the past six days, National Treasure: Book of Secrets. On Friday, it debuted with $16.7 million. On Saturday, it fell 8% to $15.3 million. That decline continued on Sunday as it dropped another 17% to $12.7 million. Monday was Christmas Eve, a day we will talk about a bit more lower in this column. On this date, the Nicolas Cage sequel dropped 45% to $7.0 million. All of the classic signs are in place for heavy frontloading, right? Not so fast.

Tuesday, more popularly recognized in this country as Christmas Day, saw an increase of 95% (!) to $13.7 million for Book of Secrets. This total represents its third best day thus far. The obvious conclusion would be to write this off as a fluke, a primary example of holiday inflation that has saved an otherwise dying title. I am not saying this supposition is incorrect, but let me give you one other data point before you decide. Yesterday, the day after Christmas, the Da Vinci Code wannabe sequel earned $12.4 million, a number on a par with its Sunday performance. Obviously, titles are not supposed to match their Sunday totals on Wednesday. So, those of you who are new to this annual column are correctly wondering what in the world is going on. Before I offer an explanation, let me demonstrate that what has happened with Book of Secrets is not a fluke.

The composite top ten box office for Friday, the 21st of December, was an impressive $50,213,157. That number rose to $53,330,862, an increase of 6%. On Sunday, box office was "down" to $44,734,073, a modest Sunday decline of 16%. The head-scratcher if you are new to the process is what happened on Monday when receipts totaled a dreadful $22,639,732. That's a precipitous drop of roughly 50% from Sunday-to-Monday. Now, that's ordinary behavior for a regular weekday, so why am I describing it as dreadful? The answer is on display when Tuesday and Wednesday are factored in. One of them matching a weekend day's total is one thing. If it happens twice, it's a pattern, not an isolated phenomenon.

The pattern of behavior is exactly what has happened here. Tuesday had combined top ten receipts of $58,159,595. Yes, that is the largest total out of the bunch. It is also a massive spike of over two and a half times what Christmas Eve's top ten managed. Is Christmas Day simply that good for box office? Well, yes, it is, but the phenomenon exists beyond the single day. The proof of this lies with Wednesday's top ten of $50,436,946. If you will glance up one paragraph, you will note that this number exceeds either Friday or Sunday in terms of combined top ten box office revenue. A random Wednesday is showing superior performance to two of the prior three weekend days. In a nutshell, this is the power of the holiday box office period.

For those of you new to the process, the key to attending a movie is free time. Given reasonable opportunity to attend and quality product to consume, customers will do just this. The period in late December is the best of the year for a reason. Potential consumers have more free time during this stretch than at any other point during the year due to a combination of company holidays, official government holidays, and vacation time. With regards to that last point, a lot of people are required to spend any accrued vacation days from the calendar year prior to its end, meaning that if they have not used them by December, they are almost out of time. In addition, many folks use this opportunity to travel home to spend time with relatives. Movies become a nice manner of polite escape once family members begin to wear upon one another's nerves, creating a sort of vacation cabin fever. This creates a potent cocktail of outside forces that makes any and all movies a reasonable solution to avoid (at least temporarily) the alcoholism and pushy pestering of annoying relatives. Studios capitalize on this each year.

The only exceptions to this phenomenon are Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. Along with July 4th, these are the three "anti-holidays" on the calendar each year. On these holidays, consumers choose not to avail themselves of movie options at the Cineplex for various reasons. Instead, they choose to spend time traveling, shopping, or celebrating. In the cases of July 4th and New Year's Eve, it's the celebrating that becomes a negative factor. In fact, films that skew younger and more family oriented are not as negatively impacted on New Year's Eve as those that skew more adult. The reason is that families still have time to get to the matinees that afternoon, so the ordinary box office is not as negatively impacted. Raucous party goers do not have the same option for their festivities. Movies become an either/or proposition versus drunken revelry with the booze and sex almost universally winning out. This means we may expect next Monday's box office to be similarly weak relative to the previous and following days.

Christmas Eve's struggles are a bit more complex. The holiday is a travel day most of the time with consumers unable to go to a film due to being on the road. Obviously, this is not the case in 2007 since almost everyone who needed to travel somewhere was able to do so on the weekend prior to the holidays. The only exceptions would be those whose companies did not give a vacation day on Christmas Eve, but they wouldn't have been able to go see a movie anyway. That's not the root cause. Instead, it is that Christmas Eve has become the day where more people celebrate the gift-giving process. Combined with the fact that it is frequently the "catch-up day" where visiting family members have the first, best opportunity to make a year's worth of catch-up small talk, there is strong causality preventing people from going to the theater. And that is not even factoring in the unfortunate sorts who have not finished their holiday shopping prior to Christmas Eve. Historically, their numbers were larger than is the case in the era of Internet shopping, but this is still another segment that negatively acts against potential movie box office. In short, Christmas Eve movie releases are really up against it.

The end result of all this is that any film in release will experience weekend days-level performance on almost all the various weekdays during the period from December 21st - January 1st save for the "eves", Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. That means ten days worth of weekend day performances for all the titles in release, which is a huge end-of-year bonus for movie studios. The bad news this year is that due to the calendar configuration, 2007 sees the fewest possible "bonus weekdays" possible. December 21 is a Friday, meaning it would have already been a strong performer. Had those fallen on weekdays like Monday-Wednesday, studios would have received three more bonus days of strong performances all around. The same can be said of the next two days when Christmas Eve and Christmas occur. The goal would be for Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve to not fall on a weekend date, thereby hurting what should be strong dates already. After all, what is the point of a bonus box office weekday if a couple of the normal weekend days are artificially deflated anyway? One would cancel out the other.

What all this means in combination is that we are currently smack dab in the middle of the best box office period of the year. I will be able to make this point better tomorrow when I can provide a three-day comparison example that does not involve the Christmas Eve inflation. So, please check back tomorrow for this representation of the numbers as well as a few hand-picked examples that drive home the power of this movie-going period.