Earth Stands Tall...ish
By David Mumpower
December 14, 2008
The first major December release entered theaters this weekend. Keanu Reeves' first post-Matrix science fiction flick, The Day The Earth Stood Still, won the weekend, but it wasn't an I Am Legend, or a National Treasure: Book of Secrets or even an Alvin and the Chipmunks. Instead, the film's $31 million debut it was closer to the opening of The Golden Compass, which is an ominous way to start the holiday box office season.
The performance of The Day the Earth Stood Still lends credence to the fact that there might be reason for economic concern during this December timeframe. These are anxious times for all major corporations and the movie industry in particular is nervous about their holiday slate. After summer, the December schedule is the most important revenue source on the box office calendar. Films have always been considered recession-proof, but an unusual combination of events has industry observers wondering if that trend will hold over the holidays. The writer's strike at the start of the year has created a dearth of high quality releases with the many of those being exhibited in November. A lackluster December schedule combined with competing technologies on home video and an unprecedented economic collapse has created a lot of tension about the expected holiday money train.
While December has historically been a time of deflated opening weekends followed by lengthy legs for major releases, the perception has been fundamentally altered in recent years. The dozen largest openings of this month have all occurred in December with three of the top ten coming last year. Simply put, the era of the mega-opening has reached December now as well. Consider that this same weekend in 2007 saw the release of two movies that earned north of $44 million in I Am Legend and Alvin and the Chipmunks. I Am Legend's performance set the monthly record for largest debut, besting the previous champion, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, by almost $5 million. The following weekend saw the release of National Treasure: Book of Secrets, a title also debuted with $44.8 million.
With last year's hottest December films finding record-setting opening weekends, there was reason to hope that a big budget action film featuring the star of The Matrix would perform on a level with the National Treasure sequel, if not better. Tracking had indicated that this was a possibility. After all, Keanu Reeves has delivered consistent box office results over the past five years. Beginning with Hardball, a low budget film that earned back roughly double its production budget, Reeves has been on a hot streak. His success with the Matrix sequels created a historically unprecedented financial windfall for the actors, upwards of $200 million according to some reports. Then, he turned the unheralded comic book character Constantine into a successful $76.0 million hit domestically that had a flabbergasting $230 million in worldwide revenue. Even his dalliance in the romantic comedy genre, The Lake House, brought in $52.3 million domestically and $114.8 million worldwide against a $40 million production budget. Reeves has quietly but consistently been a box office draw this entire decade.