The Twelve Days of Box Office: Day Two
Weekend Wrap-Up: One Hobbit to Rule the Holidays
By John Hamann
December 23, 2012

Hobbits are *stabby*.

Uh-oh. Hollywood is getting a lump of coal in its stocking, unless Quentin Tarantino or Victor Hugo can save Christmas.

In 2007, Christmas was also on a Tuesday, and the weekend before Santa’s arrival brought five new films, with three expanding. This weekend, five new films also open, but the same weekend five years ago will make this weekend look like the Grinch - and this weekend has The Hobbit on its side. In 2007, National Treasure: Book of Secrets was the big film – not Hobbit sized, but a sequel to a solid earner, and the weekend also offered Sweeney Todd, P.S. I Love You, Charlie Wilson’s War, and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Titles other than National Treasure 2 opened to an average of $7.4 million, but it was still enough to keep the top 12 strong, as the group earned $152.1 million.

This weekend, the big film for Christmas was launched last weekend in the form of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It took in a strong $84.6 million, setting the record for a December release. Films opening this weekend included Jack Reacher with Tom Cruise, This is 40 from Judd Apatow, The Guilt Trip with Seth Rogen and Babs, Monsters, Inc., a greedy Disney cash in (you know, for Christmas!), and Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away, which looks caught somewhere between the theatre and the movie screen. These titles seem to have enough star power to beat the group from 2007, but sadly, it’s certainly not the case, and on top of that, The Hobbit is caving in. Happy Christmas, everyone!

So, our number one film of the weekend is The Hobbit, and had it dropped 20% this weekend, it would have earned about $68 million, but that didn’t happen. A 40% drop would have served up a $50 million gross this weekend, but that didn’t happen either. In reality, the bottom has fallen out of this Hobbit, and the second-weekend gross of one of the most anticipated films of the year comes in at only $36.7 million, and serves up a questionable second weekend drop of 57%. When your film cost $270 million to make, you now say "ouch." On the other hand, we must remember that $13 million of last weekend’s Hobbit Haul came from midnights, so the number we are really looking at from last weekend is more like $72 million, which makes the drop less bad.

Still, the Lord of the Rings films didn’t decline like this, but they were all released a weekend after The Hobbit was, so their second weekend was usually Christmas weekend, which would drastically improve their weekend-to-weekend performance. Fellowship of the Ring dropped 18% from $47.2 million to $38.7 million, Two Towers dropped 21% from $62 million to $48.9 million and Return of the King dropped 30% from $72.6 million to $50.6 million. The real thing to watch here is the gross to date, as timing the opening weekend date is a very important factor. After two weekends, both Two Towers and Return of the King had earned more than $200 million. After two weekends of The Hobbit, the Peter Jackson spectacular has earned $149.9 million, and will need to power through the next 12 Days of Box Office if it wants to be compared with the Lord of the Rings films.

Finishing an okay second is Jack Reacher, the new Tom Cruise movie based on the Lee Child novel. Surprisingly, Jack Reacher is the only fresh new film this weekend at RottenTomatoes (other than Monsters, Inc., which isn’t even close to new), and audiences sought it out more than its comedic brethren. Jack Reacher earned a lukewarm $15.6 million this weekend from 3,352 venues, giving it a venue average of $4,654.

This is another team up for Tom Cruise with Christopher McQuarrie (writer of Valkyrie, writer of The Usual Suspects). Valkyrie was released at Christmas in 2008, and earned $21 million from the 26th-28th, and $29 million if we include Christmas Day, on its way to $83 million. Jack Reacher has a few extra days to work with, but considering softer opening frame and two more big releases on the 25th, this one could be in the middle rungs of the top ten come the New Year. However, Jack Reacher should earn an average of $5 million a day between opening and January 2nd (at least), which alone is $65 million. Jack Reacher cost Paramount a fairly inexpensive $60 million, so this one is going to escape just fine.

This Is 40 managed a third place finish this weekend, but the totals aren’t great, especially compared to the sort-of original, Knocked Up, which opened to $30.7 million in 2007. This Is 40 took in only $12 million from 2,912 venues, and earned a venue average of $4,132. Critics were split down the middle on this one, with reviews at the time of this writing coming in at 49%. For a movie like this, reviews need to be better, as Knocked Up was 90% fresh. Knocked Up was also about the Seth Rogen character – he was the one we all laughed at and with – not the Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann characters. They kept Knocked Up grounded. In This Is 40, they just put it in the ground. Like Jack Reacher, though, This is 40 was made on the cheap, costing Universal only $35 million to bring it to the screen. If it averages $3 million per day over the 12 or 13 days of Christmas, it will earn at least $40 million, and at worst, be a push for the studio.

Fourth spot goes to Rise of the Guardians, as little kids only have this and Monsters, Inc. to choose from. One is 11 years old, the other is five weekends old – which would you pick? After a gross last weekend of $7.1 million, Rise of the Guardians earned $5.9 million this weekend, a decline of only 17%. Had Paramount waited a couple of weekends for release, Rise of the Guardians might have been a number two film instead of a number four film, and would likely be in a better position to recoup the $145 million budget. Instead, Rise of the Guardians has a gross so far of $80 million, and has no chance of matching the production budget stateside. The good news is that it has earned over $120 million overseas, so it should make out okay in the end and be a long term seller on Blu-ray and as a Christmas download.

Fifth spot goes to Lincoln, the Steven Spielberg winner. Now in its sixth weekend of wide release, Lincoln earned $5.6 million and fell 20% from the $7 million it earned last weekend. Lincoln has been very strong over the last month and a half, and has a gross so far of $116.8 million. The holidays will help, but this one peaked last weekend.

Sixth is The Guilt Trip, and will likely be the big loser out of the holiday season. The Paramount release opened on Wednesday to sluggish business, and just didn’t pick up. Who really wants to see Seth Rogen in a movie with Barbra Streisand? Obviously no one, as The Guilt Trip earned only $5.4 million from 2,431 venues (the venue count indicates Paramount knew what was going on, as does the fact that the studio scheduled two other new releases to open on the same day). Will it be a disaster? No way. Remember that the box office was "stormed" by P.S. I Love You in 2007, and that one had earned $40 million after the New Year was a weekend old. The Guilt Trip cost the studio $40 million.

Seventh goes to Monsters, Inc., which opened quietly on Wednesday. After pulling in only $1.5 million over Wednesday and Thursday, things didn’t get much better over the weekend proper. Over the three-day portion of the weekend, the 3D Pixar re-release earned a mere $5 million at the box office, below expectations. Still, kids are now out of out of school for the next two weeks, so a film like this should do at least okay over the same time period. Additionally, the funds were spent to make this one over a decade ago, and Disney certainly didn’t commit marketing overkill for Monsters either, so they will see a profit in the end.

Eighth goes to Skyfall, which is simply running out of steam after seven weekends of release. This weekend, Skyfall earned another $4.7 million and was off a palatable 28% despite being around so long. The $200 million Sony release has now earned $280 million stateside, with another $680 million coming from overseas.

Ninth is Life of Pi, as like Skyfall, there is only so much time a film has to earn money. Life of Pi earned $3.8 million in its fifth weekend and was off 30%. Its domestic gross of $76.2 million is well short of its $120 million budget, but it has taken in another $140 million from overseas cinemas thus far.

Tenth is The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, which enjoys its last days as a top ten film. For Christmas this year, I get a world without Twilight, as Django Unchained and Les Miserables will definitely move it out of the top ten list. This weekend, it earned $2.6 million and dropped 49% from last weekend. It has a cume of $281.6 million. Don’t go away mad, Twilight. Just go away.

Finally in 11th is Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away, our last opener. The 3D flick opened at only 840 venues and earned $2.1 million, giving it a venue average of $2,542. Like all the other new films out this weekend, this one was made on the cheap, costing only $18 million. It will have to improve if it has any chance of succeeding this holiday season.

Overall, this weekend's box office, when compared to last weekend, last year, and the last time Christmas fell on a Tuesday, things are not good. The top 12 films this year took in $101.5 million. Last year over the same weekend, the top 12 earned $114.4 million. In 2007, the top 12 earned $152 million. However, the films released this year are for the most part inexpensive – there are no big budget letdowns in this crop – so studios should breathe a sigh of relief, even if there is opportunity lost.