The worst possible calendar configuration took its toll at the box office during the Christmas holiday weekend. A slew of new openers all felt the sting with none of them earning a significant amount of revenue relative to expectations. In the end, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe pushed King Kong to the brink, but the big ape squeaked out a victory.
By David Mumpower
December 30, 2005
As is always the case with regards to movie-going behavior, a holiday occurring on Saturday means that consumers have less time to take in a flick. Since Christmas Eve and Christmas both occurred on the weekend, the four-day frame saw the rarest of rare box office behavior. Monday was the biggest day over Friday, Saturday and Sunday, a quirk in the movie business we probably won't see again until December 26, 2011.
This impact was felt throughout the top ten with King Kong, the title with a three hour run time, being the most negatively impacted. Even so, Peter Jackson's latest epic managed $33.3 million in four days from 3,576 venues. Over a third, $12.0 million, came from Monday alone. Kong's performance was not surprising, but it was a second weekend of bad news for a project that has yet to match its lofty expectations. The current running tally of $120.6 million represents even less box office than Jackson's last title, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, attained in only its first five days of release.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe seemed like a good bet to take the weekend after outperforming King Kong on Friday and Saturday. When all was said and done, though, Narnia was edged out for first place by $1.6 million, managing $31.7 million over the four-day period in 3,853 venues. Despite not quite pulling off the upset victory, Narnia still has a lot of good news in its debit column. With a standing total of $165.1 million, it appears likely to hold off Kong for the title of biggest December release. It even has an outside shot at overtaking Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as the most successful holiday season production.
Fun with Dick and Jane has the semi-dubious distinction of being the top opener this weekend, earning third place in the process. The film brought in a less-than-stellar $21.5 million and has running box office of $29.1 million in its first six days from 3,056 exhibitions. Jim Carrey comedies are ordinarily the most bullet-proof of movie productions with regards to opening weekends. Unfortunately, this re-make is closer to The Cable Guy than Bruce Almighty. The only good news for Sony and Carrey is that its performance throughout the holiday campaign should save it from being considered a bomb. It's definitely a disappointment, though.
Speaking of disappointments, Cheaper by the Dozen 2 proved to be no Cheaper by the Dozen, finishing only fourth. The original took in $27.5 million during its opening weekend on its way to final domestic box office of $138.6 million. The quick sequel managed only $15.3 million from 3,175 venues over the holiday and has a running total of $20.6 million after six days. Fox has not been able to capture lightning in a bottle the way that they did in 2003, but the follow-up should still be a money maker. With family films so popular over the holidays, it even has a chance to overtake Fun with Dick and Jane by the time both comedies have exited theaters. So, the news is not all bad. A film with trailers featuring Eugene Levy is getting the same box office attention as one with Jim Carrey electrocuting a dog.
Rounding out the top five is a platforming title which continues the theme of box office mediocrity. Memoirs of a Geisha was being declared an Academy Awards front runner from the moment Rob Marshall announced his intention to direct. Then, the title was screened for critics, and it's been downhill ever since. For whatever reason, Geisha is not striking a chord with movie audiences either. It accrued only $10.2 million in 1,547 venues, giving the production a running tally of $13.3 million. For a title with a production budget of $85 million, there is simply no sugarcoating what a disaster this is. Geisha appears unlikely to recoup more than half of its cost during domestic release. And it's almost certain to get shut out of key Academy Awards categories due to the hostile critical reception. Marshall was uniquely fortunate with his first directorial effort, Chicago, but it appears that fate has caught up with him now to a degree normally reserved for Final Destination actors.
The Family Stone continued to prove that while imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, it does not guarantee box office success. The Luke Wilson/Rachel McAdams comedy earned only $10 million over the holiday, earning sixth place. The Fokkers wannabe fell 48% in four days from the opening frame three-day total, giving it a running total of $29.2 million. Relative to the $17 million budget, it's doing fine, though, and that's all Fox hoped for when they greenlighted the thematically similar but legally different concept. After all, it's only fair for them to reciprocate since the aforementioned Cheaper by the Dozen sequel had its thunder stolen by Paramount's Yours, Mine and Ours.
The other new openings this weekend each found the competition brutal and their reception chilly. The most successful of them – if that term properly applies here – is the tasteless Farrelly Brothers production (is that redundant?), The Ringer. The Johnny Knoxville starrer managed a paltry $7.7 million from 1,829 venues, good enough for seventh place. This total slightly surpassed the disastrous Jennifer Aniston project, Rumor Has It. The semi-sequel to The Graduate was soundly rejected by North American audiences to the tune of only $7.5 million from 2,815 venues. That's a per-exhibition of $2,670 over four days for the eighth place entrant, so even that number is artificially inflated. Describing this film as a disaster isn't quite harsh enough. Then again, it's no real surprise since the former Untitled Ted Griffin project went forward after Griffin removed himself from the production.
Munich, the new Steven Spielberg epic, went significantly wider this week, earning it a spot in the top ten just behind Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Potter bagged another $6.5 million from a still-wide 2,521 venues, bringing its total to $263.2 million. Munich managed almost as much, $6.0 million, from only 532 venues. Where it goes from here remains to be seen, but the initial showing is relatively impressive.
Overall box office for the top ten was $149.7 million, reinforcing the fact that consumers had too many other things to do over the Christmas holiday. This prevented them from attending theaters to the degree we have become accustomed in the Christmas-to-New Year's holiday period. The combination of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on Saturday and Sunday combined with more sub-par fare makes for a fitting encapsulation of 2005 box office as a whole. We end the year with a weekend epitomizing the uneven, largely disappointing movie year. On the plus side, 2006 has nowhere to go but up from here.