Twelve Days of Box Office
By David Mumpower
December 23, 2008
Let's look at Mouse Hunt again for comparison. Its first two weekend drops were...well, that's a different situation. Mouse Hunt's second weekend saw an increase of 60.0% to $9,702,770. Then, it fell 13% to $8,418,001, a total that was still $2.4 million ahead of its $6,062,922 start. What's amazing about how Mouse Hunt behaved is that its first Monday after release saw box office of $1,256,047, remarkable considering its first day in theaters had revenue of $1.39 million. Its first Tuesday of $1.41 million actually surpassed that of its debut day, a stunning feat for any title over the past quarter century. Mouse Hunt's first Monday-through-Thursday had combined revenue of $5,506,047, 90.8% retention from the weekend to the weekdays. The following weekdays totaled $10,057,843. No, that's not a typo. The film made more in its second set of weekdays than its first set or either of its first two weekends. So, Mouse Hunt is a bit anomalous and we should not expect its behavior to be matched this season. If Despereaux even approaches such behavior, it's golden.
Even if we ignore the anomaly, however, here is what we can take from Mouse Hunt and Tomorrow Never Dies. Both of them had solid first weekend to second weekend holdovers. As such, that seems like a reasonably expectable result for the 2008 releases. They also saw weekday retention the likes of which is generally demonstrated over the summer, only in a heightened capacity. At the start of business on Monday, December 22, 1997, Mouse Hunt had $6,062,922 and Tomorrow Never Dies had $25,143,007. At close of business on January 4, 1998, the end of the holiday run, the two films were at $40,021,527 and $92,408,204, respectively. Revenue piles up that quickly during the late December period. Just for fun, here is the logical extreme of that idea. Titanic finished its first weekend with $28,638,131. By January 4, 1998, it was at $157,467,971.
The obvious concern with using 1997 data is that box office behavior has evolved dramatically over the past 11 years. The proof is in looking at the top openings of all time. The first 28 (!) on the list have happened since 2000. The Lost World, a 1997 release, is the only non-2000s release in the top 45. Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace is the only other pre-2000s release in the top 60. The market has changed on a fundamental level due to the nature of exhibitor contracts. Studios get paid more in the first month of a title's release, so they construct their entire marketing campaign around a film's debut. Theoretically, legs have been truncated for all releases, but the December holiday season is an entity unto itself.
Let's use 2003 as proof of this. The big release that season was the climax of Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Mona Lisa Smile was also released that weekend, which is an amusing little movie trivia anecdote: "Which chick flick was sacrificed to the box office gods in honor of Peter Jackson?" At least, that would be the perception based upon Mona Lisa Smile's $11,528,498 debut. Of course, people who paid attention remember that the Julia Roberts film went on to earn $63,803,100, a final multiplier of roughly 5.5. By January 4, 2004, the movie had jumped from its modest $11.5 million start to $50,006,766. That's how quickly things change around this time of year.