The 12 Days of Box Office

Analysis for Wednesday, December 23, 2009

By David Mumpower

December 24, 2009

We beat Avatar? Seriously?

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Welcome to the third day of the 12 days of box office. We're starting to get into the heart of it now. Major releases hit theaters yesterday and major releases will hit theaters tomorrow, meaning that the period between now and January 3rd is going to see the largest daily numbers of the entire year. For those of you new to the process, here are a couple of notes as we move forward. First of all, the daily numbers for today, Christmas Eve, will be much lower than the rest of the week. I realize that this is counter-intuitive based on what I said in yesterday's column. The trick is that this is a combination of travel day/family night for a lot of people and that negatively impacts box office.

Christmas Day will see a massive spike in overall box office as everyone enjoys the rare Friday holiday (the last time this happened was all the way back in 1998). I'm expecting one of the largest single days of box office in the industry's history. The same rules will apply next week as well. New Year's Eve negatively impacts box office as people get drunk on champagne and have instantly regrettable sex. After the following morning's walks of shame, everyone who isn't watching bowl games heads to the movies. As strange as it may sound, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve are going to be the two smallest days of box office during the period of last Friday to January 3rd. Every other day is going to work like a Friday/Saturday.

Now that we've gotten the shop talk out of the way, the top story of the day is obvious the release of Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. BOP's crazy, drunken attorney, Ben Farrow, recently stated that he believed the advent of the word Squeakquel added millions of dollars to the box office upside of this film. While I'm normally disinclined to make eye contact with Farrow, much less engage him in conversation, he has a point here. This film has somehow managed to deftly avoid the fates of other similarly iconic family films with lackluster sequels such as Garfield, The Flintstones and Scooby Doo. Garfield dropped from $75.4 million to $28.4 million in only two years. The Flintstones went from $130.5 million for the original to $35.2 million for the sequel. And while Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed was a huge box office success, earning $84.2 million against a budget of $25 million, it earned only 55% of the original's $153.3 million. So, a lot of market share was lost in the process. Most of the time, films like this are able to capture lightning in a bottle once but not twice.


Keeping all of this in mind, let's examine Alvin and the Chipmunks' performance last time around. It earned $217.3 million two years ago this month and, in an odd quirk of fate, managed to do so without ever being the number one film at the box office for even a single day. No other film has ever earned this much domestic box office without finishing in first place for at least one day. My Big Fat Greek Wedding holds the record for the largest final box office tally without finishing in first place for a weekend, but it did finish in first on several weekdays, starting with (I kid you not) its 137th day of release. Alvin and the Chipmunks was unfortunate enough to face off against the even more potent I Am Legend as well as National Treasure: The Book of Secrets the following weekend. In a quirky turn of events, three films opening within a week of one another each earned over $215 million domestically. This behavior demonstrates that x-factor of time theme discussed in yesterday's column. Three blockbusters were all able to reach their target audiences and achieve monumental success without interfering with one another's box office totals.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel has already one-upped its predecessor in this regard. Yesterday, it beat Avatar to become the number one film of the day. The first film debuted to $13,300,713 on a Friday then spiked 42% to $18,883,832 on its second day of release. This was its biggest single day of box office during its domestic run. Squeakquelitis drove people into such a frenzy that this total has already been matched. Yesterday, the film debuted with a stunning $18,801,277, making it an instant blockbuster. The question of whether it can sustain momentum moving forward is valid, but it's safe to say that the folks at Fox are having a joyous holiday season, given that they have the two most popular films in America today.

While headlines will gleefully point out that the annoying 78RPM voices that represent lowest common denominator cinema beat James Cameron, the reality is that this isn't in any way detrimental to his latest film, Avatar. In fact, that film managed an extremely successful increase of 2% relative to Tuesday's tally of $16,086,461. I discussed yesterday that the film was off only 40% against its opening day total of $26,752,099 and that number still stands as accurate. Avatar is running like a finely tuned engine. With a running total of $125,943,053 million, it is keeping the pace I had indicated in Tuesday's column. $200 million by Tuesday remains a likelihood with this possibly occurring as soon as Sunday.

On a site note, on behalf of the entire staff at Box Office Prophets (and there are like a billion of us), I want to wish you and yours the happiest of holidays. Drive carefully, be safe and content, and enjoy all of your presents. You've remained loyal to our site through thick and thin and we couldn't do what we do without your loyalty and support. Our gratitude for your support is total.



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