Weekend Wrap-Up

Smaug Box Office Hot, But Dwarfed By Original Hobbit

By John Hamann

December 15, 2013

More fun than a barrel of dwarves.

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Over the entire weekend, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug took in $73.7 million, down $10.9 million from the original’s $84.6 million record. Smaug finishes as the fourth biggest December opener ever, behind the original, I Am Legend ($77.2 million), Avatar ($77 million), and notably ahead of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, which opened to $72.6 million in 2003 (although that one should be king, as it earned $50+ million before the weekend even began). The Desolation of Smaug cost a reported $225 million to bring to the screen, and likely another $100 million to market worldwide. An Unexpected Journey took in $303 million domestic, which wouldn’t have covered the production and marketing costs for a film like this. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit franchises are not made with North American audiences in mind. This is a global release, where Unexpected Journey earned over $1 billion, making it the 16th biggest global earner ever.

Will The Desolation of Smaug earn more in the end than Unexpected Journey? It’s too early to tell at this point, but the signs are positive. I think the competition over the Christmas season – at least domestically – is weaker this year. I don’t believe there’s a Django Unchained or a Les Miz in the mix this year; however, Wolf of Wall Street should perform decently. The Desolation of Smaug appears to be a better film for audiences this time around. Critics like it better than the original, as this one is currently 74% fresh, where the original was 65% fresh. Smaug also earned an A- Cinemascore. Lastly, the audience outside of North America continues to grow, with early returns suggesting that Smaug is running about 5% ahead of the original. The overseas numbers released so far indicate a gross of $131 million, so it is another Hobbit Christmas, at least for Warner Bros., New Line and MGM.

Finishing second this weekend is Disney’s Frozen, which continues to be white-hot at the box office. The Disney Animation product scored another $22.2 million this weekend – its third above $20 million – and fell 30% compared to last weekend’s $31.6 million take. Considering that it’s up against The Desolation of Smaug, this should be considered a huge win for Disney, as the trajectory heading into the Christmas “box office lottery” period is fantastic. Tangled earned $14.3 million over its third weekend, and went on to earn another $85 million over the Christmas season. Frozen, which cost $110 million LESS to make than Tangled, should do much better over the next three weeks. Frozen crossed the $150 million mark on Saturday, and has a cume after three weekends of $164.4 million. Tangled had earned $115 million over the same amount of days, so I am looking for Frozen to push towards $250 million.

Third is our other opener this weekend, Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas. Even with Madea in the title this weekend, the Tyler Perry Christmas entry came in softer than expected. A Madea Christmas earned $16 million from 2,194 venues, which makes it the lowest opener for a Tyler Perry film with Madea in the title. The lowest was Madea’s Big Happy Family, which opened to $25 million in April of 2011. It’s less than half of Madea Goes to Jail, which opened to $41 million in February 2009. The cost to make the film was likely very similar the opening amount, which does put Lionsgate in a decent position, but Tyler Perry films tend to take about half of the entire domestic haul of over opening weekend. Given this one is a Christmas film, that trend could change this time around.

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