Christmas Comes Early for Disney Again
By John Hamann
November 8, 2009
For Jim Carrey, this is his eighth film to play out over the holiday season, and second after How The Grinch Stole Christmas to have the big holiday in the title. It's no wonder he came back to Christmas, as the Grinch remains his biggest film to date, taking in $260 million in domestic grosses and just short of $350 million worldwide. The Grinch had a $125 million budget, about $75 to $100 million LESS than A Christmas Carol, and the Grinch example shows how difficult it will be to make money off this project. The Grinch did open two weekends later than A Christmas Carol, and oh how the Grinch fell sharply after Christmas (50%, 66%, 71% drops). By opening A Christmas Carol two weekends earlier, Disney has a chance to see a bigger profit here than Universal did with their scheduling decision. The trick for A Christmas Carol is to make up that $75 to $100 million budget differential in the first two weekends, but now that we know this weekend's score, that's likely not to happen.
The other obvious comparison to Disney's A Christmas Carol is The Polar Express, Robert Zemeckis' last CG animated Christmas picture, and the film Disney is using as their financial guide. The Polar Express opened, dead eyes and all, on November 10, 2004 (there's that extra weekend again) to $23.3 million, against a budget of $165 million. There was a large ballyhoo that The Polar Express was going to be a disaster for Warner Bros. given the lower-than-expected opening versus that huge budget. Over its first run, though, The Polar Express ended up earning $163 million, or about seven times (!) that of its opening weekend. Since then, it's gone on to earn $305 million internationally, and continues to pop up with re-releases, 3-D showings, and likely has decent DVD sales every holiday season. I think there were some very scary moments for Warner Bros., but in the end, The Polar Express became a financially viable title for the studio. The same things will be expressed about A Christmas Carol. My suggestion is to wait to judge until at least after Thanksgiving.
The three films that finished from second to fourth were quite close, with last weekend's number one film, This Is It, finishing a surprise second. Some thought This Is It was going to be a one weekend wonder, but it actually did okay this weekend, earning $14 million and dipping only 40%. Any figure above a 50% drop was going to be excellent news for Sony, and would mean that This Is It will likely play more than its initially planned two-weekend run. Picked up by Sony for $60 million, I'm sure the studio thought it would play for two weekends, and be done, with the studio picking more than $200 million internationally for their efforts. Now it looks like This Is It, could possibly be an $80 million film on the domestic side, and if things play out the same way internationally, a $200 million film away from the US. All of a sudden, Sony could see a lot more cash out of this experiment than they initially expected. Give This Is It a running total of $57.9 million on the domestic side, and another $100 million on the international side, for now.