Weekend Wrap-Up

Thanksgiving Big For Kids at the Box Office

By John Hamann

November 27, 2011

I'm just slumming in between prestige films, dearie.

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The Muppet franchise had been on a long slide downward since the debut of The Muppet Movie in 1979. For me, that first Muppet Movie way back then still holds fond memories, and it feels like these movie makers here have captured that same magic. That first Muppet Movie had human roles played by the likes of Steve Martin, Bob Hope, and Orson Welles – just to name a few. The franchise seemed to slide away from having those A-listers show up in cameo roles, with Muppets from Space sporting roles for B-listers like Kathy Griffin and Rob Schneider. The new version of The Muppets goes back to that higher standard, giving human roles and cameos to Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Jack Black, Katy Perry, Emily Blunt, Zach Galifianakis, Jim Parsons, and Selena Gomez, just to name a handful.

In 1979, that first Muppet Movie was a huge hit. Despite not even hitting the '80s yet, The Muppet Movie still managed to earned a ton of dough. Wikipedia says the first Muppet Movie earned $65.2 million over its run (other sites go as high as $76 million), but when accounting for inflation, that amount becomes more like $210 million. It cost $28 million to make, a number that would have seemed very high at that the time. Following that 1979 release, Jim Henson could never find the success he found with the first film. Five more Muppet films were released over the next 20 years, but the top domestic gross was only $35 million, and the last film, 1999's Muppets From Space, earned only $16.3 million against a budget of $24 million. This weekend's release put The Muppets back where they should be – on top – as this one was made for only $45 million, and with the Christmas season approaching, it is going to be huge. The Muppets are back, baby.


Third spot goes to Happy Feet Two, a film that needed a strong holiday weekend just to keep it relevant against three other kids movies. After a disappointing opening frame where it took in $21.2 million, Happy Feet Two held okay in the face of massive competition, earning $13.4 million over the three-day portion of the weekend and $18.4 million over the extended five-day weekend. Comparing the three-day figures, Happy Feet Two fell 37%, which is still too high for a film that got off to a slow start and cost $135 million to produce. As BOP's Tim Briody said yesterday, Happy Feet Two's Friday gross was quite similar to last weekend ($5.13 million this Friday versus $5.9 million last Friday on opening day). The problem is that over Thanksgiving weekend, returns diminish for kids films, instead of an increase they would have normally. Last weekend, Happy Feet Two earned $5.9 million on Friday, then jumped to $9.3 million on Saturday and $6.1 million on Sunday. This weekend, Friday is the big number, and the weekend multiplier (weekend gross divided by Friday gross) comes in at a low 2.3 (where usually a film like Happy Feet Two would have a 3.5 multiplier or higher over the second weekend). So after a decent Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, all of a sudden this animated feature is struggling again. So far, the George Miller animated release has earned $43.8 million, and is just getting started overseas.

Fourth spot is a close race between new releases Arthur Christmas and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. The winner is Arthur Christmas, but likely only because it cast a wider net, appearing at 3,376 venues. Arthur Christmas had a three-day Thanksgiving gross of $12.7 million and a five-day take of $17 million. From Aardman Animation and Sony Pictures Animation, this $100 million 3D kids flick didn't actually have to be huge this weekend. It just needed to be good enough to create enough interest to help spread word-of-mouth. Again, fabulous reviews are on Arthur's side, as this one is 92% fresh at RottenTomatoes (96% from Top Critics). Arthur Christmas should play well on both sides of the Atlantic ocean, as Aardman (Wallace and Gromet) is a British treasure, and the cast features Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, and James McAvoy, just to name a few. I believe this one will survive a slower start, and hold well throughout the Christmas season.

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