The Twelve Days of Box Office Day Nine
By Reagen Sulewski
December 30, 2013

Did you really think making me go on a merry-go-round would win me over?

Sunday finalized a few of the narratives for this Christmas season, although there was not much in terms of shaking up the established pecking order of films. To put it plainly: if you opened your presents before Christmas, you had a happy holidays. The Hollywood films that waited for Christmas got coal, or a coal-like substance, in their stockings.

Everything took about a 15 to 20% dip on December 29th, befitting its status as a bit of a travel day for people, but far less of a drop than a typical Sunday. For the second straight day, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug took the top spot at the box office, with another $9.1 million. This was enough to make it the weekend champ with just under $30 million for the weekend and ran its total to $190 million after 17 days, about $30 million behind An Unexpected Journey.

A possible bright spot is that this stopped the bleeding somewhat, almost equaling the equivalent weekend for the first Hobbit film. With all things being equal, that's probably where the gap between the films stays, and somewhere around a $275 million final domestic total should be expected. Any kind of drop, considering the Lord of the Rings films all built on each other, isn't a positive sign, but it could have been much, much worse if audiences had turned on the series like it appeared they might. It's also a hopeful sign for the last entry in the series, There and Back Again, but it still has a lot to prove.

The big story of the Christmas season continues to be Frozen, however, which took advantage of strong word-of-mouth and a quirk of the calendar to nearly win the Christmas weekend. Sunday was a solid $8.6 million, leaving it about $1 million short of The Hobbit for the weekend, but completed its 46% boost over the previous weekend and a 62% boost in per screen average. Let's spend a little more time looking at how this happened.

The first thing to realize is that not all Christmas weeks are the same. What day of the week Christmas falls on makes a difference. You don't want it to displace a weekend day, as that's a waste of the boost, and having Christmas Eve fall on one also hurts it. But more important in this year's case, the weekend before can also see some effects. Frozen dropped only 19% the weekend of the 20th to the 23rd, giving it a higher baseline, almost $7 million more, for Christmas week to work with. Compare this to Tangled, the most obvious parallel, which had the booby prize of Christmas configurations to work with. It got hit with the double whammy of a big drop off thanks to that, plus a loss of screens. Both films had similar percentage boosts over their next Friday-to-Sunday period, but Frozen's was standing on a stepladder when it did it. This has meant almost $45 million extra for Frozen compared to if it was in the worst case. This is not to dismiss the quality of the film – it had to have word-of-mouth to even get to this point – but sometimes luck is on a studio's side.

American Hustle was third for the second straight day, with just under $6 million, and hitting the $60 million domestic mark. The Oscar hopeful is performing adequately, and has leveraged its great reviews and solid word-of-mouth into a decent run. This wasn't exactly fun time Christmas cinema, so a hold of this level is a decent win.

Anchorman 2 showed a bit of weakness across the Christmas weekend, falling to fourth place and $5.8 million on Sunday. One of the few films to show a drop over this weekend, it's still managed to match the domestic total of the original in just two weeks, which I find hard to find fault with. An Austin Powers like breakout might have been hoped for, but never materialized, and it should wind up with around $125 million domestic.

The top performer of the actual Christmas Day releases was fifth, which just shows how poor that slate did. The Wolf of Wall Street earned $5.4 million on Sunday to bring its running total to $34 million, which is perhaps two-thirds of what might have been hoped for with the pedigree of the actors and its director. I guess corporate greed just isn't what people are looking for over the holidays, go figure. Against a $100 million budget, this is a bit of a misfire, but Oscar attention could help this out a little.

Saving Mr. Banks was actually the best relative performer of the holidays, with a $4.25 million Sunday and a $14 million weekend. This still only got the film to $37 million domestic, but it's essentially gotten a new opening weekend, and could get to around $80 or 90 million when it's done. This is what leveraging against the Christmas week looks like when it's done properly.

What it definitely doesn't look like is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which was seventh on Sunday with just $3.7 million. Ben Stiller's Forrest Gump-lite failed to ignite over the holidays, and has only $25 million to show for itself in five days. I think we might be looking at just $70 million for it in total, and it has probably written itself completely out of the Oscar race.

There was a time when it wasn't a certainty that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire would hit the $400 million mark domestically despite its enormous opening weekend. That's been erased as of this Sunday, with $391 million total. In fact, that $400 million should happen by next weekend at this time, with an almost certain chance of passing the $408 million of the first installment. The franchise has grown, if ever so slightly, which bodes well for films 3 and 4.

Thankfully for every other film out there this weekend, there's 47 Ronin to point at and laugh. Its ignominious debut finished with a $2.8 million Sunday and $20 million in five days, against a (depending on who you talk to) $175-225 million budget. And really, who wouldn't bet that much against a Keanu Reeves samurai movie with witches and ghosts? Outside the comfy confines of Christmas, this should drop like a stone – it had among the lowest Saturday increases and highest Sunday drops – and $40 million domestic might be the final total.

Entering the lower rungs of the box office, we have A Madea Christmas, which for a Tyler Perry movie, actually exhibited legs of a sort, only dropping 12%. With $43 million domestic and the purpose for it existing running out, this will still end up being one of the less profitable Tyler Perry movies – though still wildly profitable.

The idea of Grudge Match appeared to be as unsettling to the general public as it looked on paper, as the notion of seeing septuagenarians punch each other in the face only attracted $13 million of business over five days, and a dismal $2.1 million on Sunday. Career revivals will have to get only more desperate from here on.

Dinosaurs, kids and Christmas. How can you go wrong? Fox found a way, as Walking With Dinosaurs was flat over the Christmas weekend, and earned an even $2 million. With $20 million in the bank, even its $80 million budget seems enormous. Something something extinct soon.

Entering into the limited releases, we had Philomena continuing a strong run and getting to $16.5 million on Sunday, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom had an okay debut with $2.2 million and $750,000 on Sunday, while Biebermania may have been officially buried with just $544,000 on Sunday, and $4.2 million over five days, just 12% of Never Say Never's box office over the same time period.