Thanksgiving Box Office Analysis
By David Mumpower
November 29, 2013

I see soon to be dead people.

There is cachet in being the number one film in North America on Thanksgiving. Just look at the list of the past 14 years to confirm this notion. The group includes Disney masterpieces Toy Story 2 and Enchanted and holiday staples such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Four Christmases and Elf. There are franchise titles such as National Treasure, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts I and II plus James Bond films Die Another Day and Casino Royale. There is one maverick blockbuster in the group, The Blind Side. We will ascribe that to people’s association of football with Thanksgiving. In reality, it is every bit a celebration of family as any of the other instant holiday classics on the list. These 14 titles have combined domestic box office of $3.16 billion. In other words, the average number one movie on Thanksgiving grosses $225 million in North America. Simply by dominating this holiday, a film production guarantees its profitability.

Yesterday, another title became the 15th entry, and it falls squarely into the franchise title category. Catching Fire has proven to be prophetically named in terms of box office revenue. It is poised to shatter one of the longest standing box office records of note this weekend, and I say this with confidence because it already broke a record yesterday. Catching Fire grossed $14.9 million on Thanksgiving. In the process, the sequel to The Hunger Games became the top performer of all time on the actual holiday. The previous record holder was the first of the movies mentioned above, Toy Story 2. That title grossed $13.2 million on November 25, 1999. Here is the full list of 15 years of Thanksgiving number one performances:

November 25, 1999: Toy Story 2, $13.2 million
November 23, 2000: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, $12.4 million
November 22, 2001: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, $12.3 million
November 28, 2002: Die Another Day, $8.4 million
November 27, 2003: Elf, $5.7 million
November 25, 2004: National Treasure, $7.8 million
November 24, 2005: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, $12.4 million
November 23, 2006: Casino Royale, $7.5 million
November 22, 2007: Enchanted, $6.7 million
November 27, 2008: Four Christmases, $8.9 million
November 26, 2009: The Blind Side, $9.5 million
November 25, 2010: Deathly Hallows Part I, $11.5 million
November 24, 2011: Breaking Dawn Part I, $7.7 million
November 22, 2012: Breaking Dawn Part II, $8.0 million
November 28, 2013: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, $14.9 million

I should note that if we adjust for ticket price inflation, Toy Story 2 remains the champion as its 1999 performance equates to $19.5 million. That nitpick aside, the news for Catching Fire is glowing. It is certain to annihilate Toy Story 2’s standing five-day holiday record of $80.1 million. To wit, the Jennifer Lawrence flick has already earned $35.6 million prior to the weekend. As BOP has mentioned oh so many times over the years, box office behavior is such that movies spike the day AFTER Thanksgiving. The average number one film from the group listed above experienced an increase of 80% (!) on the Friday after Thanksgiving. In aggregate, these titles grossed roughly 2.2 times as much over the weekend as they did during the Wednesday/Thursday portion of the holiday.

If Catching Fire mimics this behavior, its weekend total would be $78.3 million, giving it a Thanksgiving period of $113.9 million. Since we are discussing larger numbers, I do not expect the sequel to perform quite so strongly. As we have explained ad nauseam, larger numbers generally mean smaller multipliers. Still, we discussed a couple of times over the last week that attaining even 67% of last weekend’s box office over the week of Thanksgiving would be great. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I somehow managed 75%, and that was exemplary. Catching Fire should match or surpass that hold, a stunning second weekend performance.

Equally impressive is Disney’s Frozen. The glowingly reviewed animated tale grossed $11.1 million yesterday. Look at the list above once again and you will appreciate that this is the seventh highest Thanksgiving total over the last 15 years. Frozen is poised to surpass Toy Story 2 to become the Disney’s best Thanksgiving performer. With $26.6 million already in the bank, the same rules apply for the behavior of this title. It should expand at least 100% tomorrow, meaning a 2.35 multiplier is a strong possibility. That would give Frozen a $61 million weekend and roughly $90 million over five days. Tangled has been most often mentioned in comparison to Frozen. It managed $68.7 million in 2010. Frozen will easily surpass that amount. With the holy grail of an A+ Cinemascore on its resume, Frozen is likely to become a $250+ million blockbuster for Disney. It should be the family film of note through the end of the year.

The rest of the top ten is obviously less exciting than the top two. There are a few stories to track, though. Keep in mind that the rising tide of holiday box office will lift all boats. And that is what makes the stunning failure of Oldboy all the more remarkable. The ultra-violent Spike Lee remake has already failed so completely that star Josh Brolin is threatening to start calling people out in the media. The film is being exhibited in only 583 locations and there is no plan for further expansion. The $30 million production is unlikely to earn $5 million this weekend, making it an Oogieloves type of failure. Combined with Miracle at St. Anna, this marks the second dramatic failure over the past five years for Spike Lee, one of the most talented directors in the world. Now is probably the time for him to consider an Inside Man sequel. He sorely needs a hit.

There were a couple of small scale titles of note that debuted/expanded this week. Black Nativity grossed a moderate $686,000 yesterday. It is pointed toward a five day take of $4 million, give or take a few hundred thousand. Meanwhile, the critics' darling, The Book Thief, garnered $725,000 on Thanksgiving. It has a real chance at $6 million, which is stellar for a title exhibited in fewer than 1,250 locations.

The other new debut is the latest low budget title from Open Road Films, Homefront. The latest Jason Statham punching people title grossed $1.4 million yesterday, bringing its two-day take to $2.8 million. It should reach about $9 million over the five day holiday. Once again, a frugal investment from Open Road Films pays off.

Finally, Last Vegas grossed $580,000 yesterday, which isn’t particularly noteworthy in and of itself. What is important is that CBS Films claimed their most popular domestic title of all time this week. Last Vegas usurped The Woman in Black on Tuesday. With $55.9 million worth of North American revenue, the old man’s hangover flick has become another small scale triumph. While Disney continues to destroy the competition overall in 2013, Open Road Films and CBS Films are demonstrating how to maximize profits with smaller production investments. For that matter, so is Lionsgate, which still leaps to my mind when I think of smaller studios despite Twilight and The Hunger Games. I have enjoyed tracking their ascendance over the past decade.