Weekend Wrap-Up
North America to Tom Cruise: Most Is Forgiven
By David Mumpower
December 25, 2011

Oh no! Another angry Lost fan is after him!

Tom Cruise was the number one box office draw in the world for the body of 20 years. Starting with his career making role as “Maverick” Pete Michell in the 1985 blockbuster, Top Gun, Cruise’s appeal was such that he elevated subject matter as disinteresting as bartending, stock car racing and military justice into bona fide hits. Need a 19th century alcoholic Samurai? Cruise could pull it off. Want to turn a story of a disfigured schizophrenic into a $100 million movie? Cruise was the man. Have a story about a strange night that winds up at an orgy that you want to sell to the masses? Well, even Tom Cruise had his limits, but the point remains. Tom Cruise was the biggest star in the world for as long as any performer ever in the history of the industry. Then, he jumped on Oprah’s couch and…well, you know the rest.

There is no way to overstate the negative impact Tom Cruise’s personal eccentricities had upon the box office performances of his films. Mission: Impossible III is one of the best action movies of our generation, yet its global take is roughly $150 million less than the vastly inferior Mission: Impossible 2. Lions for Lambs is the worst performer of Cruise’s career as a lead actor (unless we include the obscure 1983 sex romp, Losin’ It) while Valkyrie barely exceeded its production budget domestically. The later Knight & Day was a global hit, but only earned $76.4 million in North America against a stiff $117 million outlay. Ignoring Tropic Thunder, a film that sold tickets independent of Cruise’s presence, none of his titles since Mission: Impossible III had spent a single day in first place in North America. For the former number one star in the world, this box office dry spell is historically unprecedented.

Christmas weekend is a time of love and forgiveness and this is great news to Tom Cruise as North American audiences finally forgave him for past indiscretions. Because of this, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was able to earn $25.8 million and thereby become the number one film at the box office. After earning $12.8 million in IMAX-exclusive engagements last weekend, the Brad Bird action flick added 3,023 locations on Wednesday. While the per-location average fell from $30,083 to $7,483, we should keep in mind that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day occurring on Saturday and Sunday artificially deflates the box office. This is why the four-day episode for Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is a much more impressive $39.5 million. Its best day in its entire domestic run should occur tomorrow.

The other positive for Ghost Protocol is that as the perceived biggest movie this holiday season, it will continue to run well over the next several days, effectively insuring it will reach $100 million by next weekend. Its current box office total of $71.9 million after ten days is in range of Mission: Impossible III and it should jump ahead of that film’s 12-day pace of $88.9 million by Tuesday. As we speculated last weekend, the massive buzz generated by the IMAX-only exhibitions cultivated the perception that this is the movie to watch and it is reaping the benefits during the strongest box office period on the calendar.

Finishing in second place is Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. The Robert Downey Jr. sequel earned another $17.8 million, a drop of 55% from last weekend’s $39.6 million. As we said above, all of this weekend’s box office declines are misleading due to the holiday. Still, the second Sherlock Holmes film has earned $76.6 million after 10 days, meaning Ghost Protocol will pass it by Tuesday and the gap will only grow over the next week, barring something unforeseen.

The two new releases from Wednesday are The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Adventures of Tintin, while the only new release on Friday was We Bought a Zoo. The North American adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular novel provided an acceptable but far from exciting $13.0 million, proving that its subject matter was not timed well for Christmas week. The feel-bad movie of the holiday season should find wider popularity over the next seven days. If not, it is going to be perceived as a box office disappointment independent of its quality. Our inclination is that it will recover starting tomorrow, but that is not a given.

The Adventures of Tintin is a global hit, but since Sony owns all the overseas revenue while Paramount gets the North American piece of the pie, they are left holding the bag here. Tintin managed a scant $8.8 million and has managed only $14 million since its release on Wednesday. We Bought a Zoo is BOP fave Cameron Crowe’s latest feel great tale. Its modest three-day total of $7.8 million is the latest reminder that for all of Crowe’s artistry as a filmmaker, only two out of his six theatrical releases have earned more than $35 million domestically. Jerry Maguire and Vanilla Sky both joined the hundred million club, but We Bought a Zoo appears to fall in the under-$35 million category unless it grows in popularity in the coming days.

Box office estimates for this weekend are particularly messy due to the holiday and the fact that a couple of films that will wind up in the top ten for the weekend were not released until today. War Horse and The Darkest Hour will have their fates revealed in tomorrow’s Twelve Days of Box Office column. Among the remaining holdovers, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked fell 43% to $13.3 million this weekend. It has a running total of $50.3 million and is now certain to fall well short of its predecessors. The Artist finally expanded into more exhibitions, garnering an estimated $857,000 in 167 locations, a per-location average of $5,131. BOP’s primary concern about its Academy Awards candidacy is its lack of box office pull. With only $2.4 million in the bank, it needs to pick up steam fast if it wants to be a serious contender rather than simply a quirky nominee.

Come back to BOP tomorrow for our analysis of the Christmas Day openers.