Thanksgiving Box Office Analysis

By David Mumpower

November 29, 2013

I see soon to be dead people.

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There is cachet in being the number one film in North America on Thanksgiving. Just look at the list of the past 14 years to confirm this notion. The group includes Disney masterpieces Toy Story 2 and Enchanted and holiday staples such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Four Christmases and Elf. There are franchise titles such as National Treasure, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts I and II plus James Bond films Die Another Day and Casino Royale. There is one maverick blockbuster in the group, The Blind Side. We will ascribe that to people’s association of football with Thanksgiving. In reality, it is every bit a celebration of family as any of the other instant holiday classics on the list. These 14 titles have combined domestic box office of $3.16 billion. In other words, the average number one movie on Thanksgiving grosses $225 million in North America. Simply by dominating this holiday, a film production guarantees its profitability.

Yesterday, another title became the 15th entry, and it falls squarely into the franchise title category. Catching Fire has proven to be prophetically named in terms of box office revenue. It is poised to shatter one of the longest standing box office records of note this weekend, and I say this with confidence because it already broke a record yesterday. Catching Fire grossed $14.9 million on Thanksgiving. In the process, the sequel to The Hunger Games became the top performer of all time on the actual holiday. The previous record holder was the first of the movies mentioned above, Toy Story 2. That title grossed $13.2 million on November 25, 1999. Here is the full list of 15 years of Thanksgiving number one performances:

November 25, 1999: Toy Story 2, $13.2 million
November 23, 2000: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, $12.4 million
November 22, 2001: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, $12.3 million
November 28, 2002: Die Another Day, $8.4 million
November 27, 2003: Elf, $5.7 million
November 25, 2004: National Treasure, $7.8 million
November 24, 2005: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, $12.4 million
November 23, 2006: Casino Royale, $7.5 million
November 22, 2007: Enchanted, $6.7 million
November 27, 2008: Four Christmases, $8.9 million
November 26, 2009: The Blind Side, $9.5 million
November 25, 2010: Deathly Hallows Part I, $11.5 million
November 24, 2011: Breaking Dawn Part I, $7.7 million
November 22, 2012: Breaking Dawn Part II, $8.0 million
November 28, 2013: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, $14.9 million


I should note that if we adjust for ticket price inflation, Toy Story 2 remains the champion as its 1999 performance equates to $19.5 million. That nitpick aside, the news for Catching Fire is glowing. It is certain to annihilate Toy Story 2’s standing five-day holiday record of $80.1 million. To wit, the Jennifer Lawrence flick has already earned $35.6 million prior to the weekend. As BOP has mentioned oh so many times over the years, box office behavior is such that movies spike the day AFTER Thanksgiving. The average number one film from the group listed above experienced an increase of 80% (!) on the Friday after Thanksgiving. In aggregate, these titles grossed roughly 2.2 times as much over the weekend as they did during the Wednesday/Thursday portion of the holiday.

If Catching Fire mimics this behavior, its weekend total would be $78.3 million, giving it a Thanksgiving period of $113.9 million. Since we are discussing larger numbers, I do not expect the sequel to perform quite so strongly. As we have explained ad nauseam, larger numbers generally mean smaller multipliers. Still, we discussed a couple of times over the last week that attaining even 67% of last weekend’s box office over the week of Thanksgiving would be great. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I somehow managed 75%, and that was exemplary. Catching Fire should match or surpass that hold, a stunning second weekend performance.

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