Christmas Comes Early for Disney Again
By John Hamann
November 8, 2009
It's the first weekend of November, so Disney must be pushing a Christmas movie or a blockbuster animated film. After a few years off since the last Santa Clause movie, Disney is back with A Christmas Carol, the new 3-D feature from director Robert Zemeckis and starring Jim Carrey. This one is a little different than a Santa Clause flick, or even Chicken Little or The Incredibles, as it carries a $200 million plus price tag. Other openers this weekend include Overture's $5 million George Clooney pickup, The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Box with Cameron Diaz, and The Fourth Kind with Resident Evil's Milla Jovovich. On top of that, we have the second weekend of the Michael Jackson flick, This Is It, so it should be an interesting weekend at the box office.
Our number one film is Disney's A Christmas Carol, as the Mouse House takes over 3-D cinemas until December when Jim Cameron's Avatar finally opens. The Jim Carrey holiday flick earned a softer than expected $31 million from 3,683 venues, of which more than half (2,035) are 3-D locations, as well as 181 IMAX screens. Carol had a venue average of $8,417. Considering that 55% of the locations are showing this one in 3-D, we can attribute approximately $5 million of the opening weekend gross to the 15% premium paid to get the glasses needed to watch the film.
Is Disney going to be happy with this opening? For the most part, yes, as legs are certainly the big factor here. Still, the holiday extravaganza opened lower than where tracking had it, between $40 and $45 million. The question is, why did it miss tracking by more than 10%? The marketing was fair – I thought the trailer I saw before Nightmare Before Christmas in 3-D was actually quite impressive – but I think film quality and scheduling may be more at fault. Critically, this was no homerun, as the 136 reviews counted at RottenTomatoes were pretty much split down the middle, with 75 positive and 61 negative, giving it a rotten rating of 55%. "Top Critics" at RT liked it even less, giving it a 43% rating, but on the other hand, reviews from the RottenTomatoes "Community" came in at a very fresh 83%. The community score is the best news for Disney, as it means the 3-D razzle-dazzle presented in this Christmas Carol is working for the opening weekend audiences, and should provide decent word-of-mouth, at least initially. Scheduling may be the bigger issue at work here. Halloween was just last weekend, and it fell on a Saturday, which would have made for a busy weekend for both kids and parents. Christmas is also still two months away, so I ask the question again, is it too early for this sort of thing?
Obviously, Disney has already asked itself the same question, and past performance proves that its none too early to be talking Christmas. In 2007, Fred Claus was the first out of the gate, debuting on November 7th. Fred earned a not-so-good $18.5 million over its opening weekend, but was able to turn that debut into a $72 million domestic finish, despite being an awful film. The opening-to-finish multiplier for Fred Claus was 3.9, a fair-at-best number for the month of November, and may have been a lot better if it had opened one weekend later against the soft starting Mr. Magorium's Magic Emporium (which is already in the $2.99 bin at Wal-Mart). The next example is The Santa Clause 2, the sequel to the film that started the "Christmas in November" phenomenon. The Santa Clause 2 opened to $29 million, and had a domestic finish of $139.2 million. That gives it an open-to-finish multiplier of 4.8, a fantastic figure considering that this was a sequel, and usually sequels flame out fast. Would things have been different if The Santa Clause 2 had opened after November 1, 2002? Yes. The total domestic box office would have been worse. Why? Because no one wants to see a Christmas movie in January. The Santa Clause 2 dipped over 60% in the two weekends following Christmas. These "Christmas in November" flicks have only a certain shelf life – November 1st until approximately December 28th, which gives studios eight weeks to get all the possible life out of their movie (Juno earned more than $1 million for 14 consecutive weekends). So as a business model, the 'Christmas in November' phenomenon is here to stay – the closer a studio can get to Halloween the better, but, the film had better have some legs.