Box Office Sleeps as Force Awakens
By John Hamann
December 13, 2015
The force just awakened, and it swallowed In the Heart of the Sea whole.
With only a few (long) days now before the launch of the much-heralded Star Wars: The Force Awakens, moviegoers did not support the weekend’s lone release – or much of anything else. The lamb to the slaughter this weekend is Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea, starring Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth, but the box office cratered, as the inevitable vacuum appears before what could be the biggest release of the year (it can never match the hype).
The box office vacuum, which sucks the life out of the current weekend and pushes the box office fortunes of the future weekend release even further ahead, happens for two different reasons. A soft schedule culminates in a massive flop, reducing overall business the weekend prior to the bigger film. Then, that future film fills the gap. The other reason is the simple massiveness of the future film.
Take the first Avengers, for example. The weekend prior to its record breaking release, four films debuted, all on more than 2,200 screens, and the average opening was about $9 million. The films that opened the weekend prior to Marvel’s Avengers weren’t bad – The Pirates! A Band of Misfits was 86% fresh, and comedy The Five Year Engagement was 63% fresh. The other two openers were star-driven – Jason Statham in Safe and John Cusack in The Raven. Box office history is stacked with these examples – Hellboy 2 prior to The Dark Knight, Pain and Gain prior to Iron Man 3, Spy before Jurassic World – all of these films left money on the table before the crushing wave of the bigger release hit.
The other aspect of the vacuum comes with an extremely slow weekend followed by a surprise breakout success. My favorite example of that came in 1998 when The Waterboy opened to $40 million over the first weekend in November. The previous weekend was Halloween, and the box office cratered, with a lone horror release (John Carpenter’s Vampires) flailing with $9.8 million in top spot before falling to eighth in its second weekend. The top 12 films over that Halloween weekend only earned $45 million, which set the stage for the crowning of Adam Sandler the following weekend.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens has both of these scenarios occurring this weekend. We have the soft opener with In The Heart of the Sea, and we have the soft overall box office occurring this weekend, as the top 12 films could only muster $68.7 million – near the $62.7 million earned over Halloween weekend (with the 31st on a Saturday) and the $65.9 million earned over the first weekend in September. Given the amount of new product coming next weekend (10,000+ venues will have new movies), the gross of The Force Awakens remains a guess, but we know for sure that this weekend lives in its shadow and in misery.