Box Office Tempered By Long King Kong

Weekend Box Office Wrap-Up for December 16-18, 2005

By John Hamann

December 18, 2005

Excuse me, where did you get that sweater?

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After an opening weekend of $50.2 million and a five-day total of $66.2 million, Kong had better have big legs in the long run. The big ape got off to its much-anticipated debut this weekend, and to the naked eye, the box office result may leave some wondering. However, while the opening seems to be on the soft side, there really is nothing to worry about here. Kong is a good film, albeit long, so Universal will just have to be patient before hitting the December movie lottery.

First, let's look at how Kong did over its Wednesday-to-Thursday portion of its opening frame, and find out why the press was bashing Kong's box office before the weekend began. King Kong opened to a slight $9.8 million on Wednesday (if $9.8 million of anything can be considered slight), and followed that up with a $6.3 million gross on Thursday. Instantly, the media wanted to know what was going on, why did Kong fail to break the Wednesday-to-Thursday gross of the Lord of the Rings films, like it was doomed to failure. The LA Times called the opening Wednesday/Thursday "surprisingly low" and a "disappointing domestic haul" two days into Kong's opening. Nikki Rocco, head of Universal's distribution, has made the wrong move all week in response to these comments. After the Wednesday gross, Rocco pulled out the Shrek 2 reference, reminding us how Shrek 2 grossed $12 million on its first Wednesday, before going on to reap $108 million over its first Friday to Sunday. This wasn't smart. Kong was never going to come close to matching Shrek 2's opening weekend gross, considering the animated ogre film had a run time about 1.5 hours shorter than Kong. To make a long story short, the Peter Jackson flick earned about $16 million from its first two days, despite its run time and the fact that the third biggest December opener ever had opened just a week earlier. Who really killed the beast this weekend? Those damned kids from Narnia.

After the rocky Wednesday/Thursday start from Kong, things got a little better on Friday. As BOP's Tim Briody noted yesterday, Kong grossed about $14.4 million on Friday, a figure that wasn't low or high. We can't ignore the run time on Kong. At 187 minutes, it was longer than Fellowship of the Ring (178 minutes, $47.2 million opening), and The Two Towers (179 minutes, $62 million opening), but shorter than Return of the King (201 minutes, $72.6 million open). Many theatres were stuck showing Kong once in the afternoon and once in the evening. Fewer showings with successful opens is not new, but they were never as high as the LOTR films. Long films like Titanic (194 minutes) opened strongly at $28.8 million. Pearl Harbor (183 minutes) opened to $59 million. Lord of the Rings was able to keep its run time and keep the big opening weekend grosses, the rest of these films didn't, due to a lack of LOTR fanboys. With a three-hour-plus run time, a film needs a group of fans that will go through hell to see a film at all hours of the day, to make it an opening weekend box office super-hit. Run time wasn't the only thing working against Kong this weekend, but we'll get to the others further down in this column.

In the end, with its 187 minute run time, King Kong grossed $50.2 million this weekend from 3,568 venues over the Friday-to-Sunday portion of the weekend and $66.2 million since opening on Wednesday. The Saturday gross has been estimated at $19.9 million and the film had a weekend venue average of $14,054, less than The Chronicles of Narnia's opening average of $18,129. The weekend multiplier (Friday gross divided by weekend gross) for Kong comes in at 3.48, a fantastic figure that will give the suits at Universal some relief. A higher number than 3.0 suggests that word-of-mouth is working since the Wednesday opening, and suggests the film has some momentum heading out of opening weekend. It also enforces the idea that run time is holding Kong back somewhat; there are more opportunities for sold out shows on Saturdays and Sundays, and thus the multiplier increases. The best comparison here, as much as I hate to make it, is to Titanic. We know the James Cameron slop-fest had the similar long run time, but like Kong, it also had some serious competition over its opening weekend. When the doomed boat opened on December 19, 1997, it had to wrestle with another much-anticipated film, Tomorrow Never Dies, the second Bond feature to star Pierce Brosnan. Titanic had to duel to get the big screens, much like Kong had to do with Narnia. Titanic opened to what seemed to be a slight $28.6 million (only $3.5 million more than TND), and questions were raised after opening weekend as to whether Fox had spent too much on the James Cameron film. Good, bad or indifferent, I think it's important to remember that Titanic made $8.6 million on its opening Friday, much like Kong's Wednesday.

There is another comparison though that isn't as kind as Titanic. When Pearl Harbor opened, with its 183 minute run time, it had to face off against the second weekend of the first Shrek movie, which slightly increased its gross in its second weekend to $42.5 million. Still, the Michael Bay WWII story opened to $59.1 million, yards ahead of where Kong is this morning. Like Kong, Pearl Harbor had all the same things working against it, and still opened bigger. However, King Kong's future is a lot brighter. The $135 million Pearl Harbor film was devastated by critics, and not just for its long run time. Pearl earned only a 25% fresh rating at RottenTomatoes, which forecasted its quick decline. Kong, on the other hand, has great reviews. At RT, the $215 million Kong gathered 168 reviews, and of those, only 30 were negative, almost all of them due to the film's run time. That's 82% fresh, and a very long way from Pearl Harbor. When everyone is screeching tomorrow about the low gross of King Kong, please, do me a favor, and remind them that its not a sprint, it's a marathon, and this ape will more than likely have big, big legs.


One of the big reasons for a lower-than-expected score from Kong is our film in second place this weekend, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. It was a power struggle this weekend between these two films, and in the end, both films hurt each other's potential successes, which may wake Hollywood up to the idiocy of scheduling these types of blockbusters over back-to-back weekends. Having "made room for Kong", exhibitors may have shot themselves in the foot this weekend, as Chronicles grossed just $31.2 million from 3,680 venues. That's down a pretty shocking 52% from last weekend. This didn't have to happen. I made mention above of the second weekend of Shrek against Pearl Harbor's opening weeken, and having an increase in the second weekend compared to its first frame. I was expecting a drop in the 30-40% range; however, Disney and Walden will have to settle for the bigger plunge. Now, after two weekends of release, The Chronicles of Narnia has earned $112.5 million domestically, and is a long way away from its budget figure of $180 million. It's still too early (especially with the Kong opening) to say where Chronicles will end up, but it will need to improve on this performance drastically over the Christmas weekend in the next frame if it's to reach $300 million. Eight films open or go wide between Wednesday and Sunday of next weekend, so the battle for eyeballs will get even tougher in the days to come.

Third this weekend goes to the counter-programming entry, The Family Stone, from Sideways producer Michael London. It was hard to escape the shadow of Kong and Chronicles this weekend, but The Family Stone went against the grain smartly, earning $12.7 million, and setting itself up for a big gross next weekend. The film, which stars the largest amount of solid actors in a comedy since The Royal Tenenbaums, earned a strong venue average of $5,160 from 2,466 venues this weekend. IMDb lists the budget at $17 million, which makes it even more compelling competition for the two blockbusters, as it will match its budget domestically by early next weekend, something neither of the big boys will be able to accomplish. From Fox, this one stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Claire Danes and Craig T. Nelson. Critically, The Family Stone was split right down the middle, with RottenTomatoes finding 106 reviews, 59 of which were fresh, leading to the slightly rotten rating of 56%. This one has enough seasonal family angst to keep it around solidly for another weekend, but then will probably wane in the face of expanding Oscar product. Still, considering the budget, this is going to be another big success for Michael London and the folks at Fox.

The rest of the top ten was cut up pretty bad this weekend, as the big three took most of the momentum out of the returning films, except for the Oscar worthy Brokeback Mountain. Before we get to that, though, we have to give Harry Potter props this weekend for cruising past $250 million. In its fifth frame, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire grossed $5.9 million, down 43% from the previous weekend. Currently, the Mike Newell flick sits with $252.6 million, and should climb to between $280 and $290 million on the domestic front.

Fifth spot goes to Syriana. Audiences abandoned the George Clooney think piece in its second wide weekend, as the film grossed only $5.5 million, down a dreadful-for-drama 53%. Now at 1,775 venues, the current events film could only muster a venue average of $3,078. With its $50 million budget, this WB film is all of a sudden going to have to work very hard over the holidays to recoup the budget domestically. Currently Syriana has grossed $22.3 million from North American markets.

Walk the Line slides into sixth spot this weekend, as the Johnny Cash biopic continues its ascent. Walk the Line grossed $3.6 million this weekend, down 37% from the previous frame. I think nominations will keep this one going for a while still, with maybe a drop out of the top ten until Oscar nominations, when it might get a lift back into the top films of the weekend. With $100 million still not out of the question, Walk the Line sits with $82.5 million.

I'm happy to announce that Yours, Mine and Ours is almost a memory this weekend, as the Dennis Quaid family fest finishes seventh with $3.4 million this weekend. Cheaper by the Dozen 2, good or bad, will at least remove this one from the top ten. Down 32% from last weekend, Yours has now conned families out of $45.1 million domestically.

Eighth spot goes to the aforementioned Brokeback Mountain, which is simply finding huge success despite being at only 69 venues, and carrying a subject matter that some still find shocking. Brokeback Mountain, the story of gay cowboys by The Hulk's director Ang Lee, grossed a stunning $2.4 million from only 69 venues this weekend. That score gives it a deafening venue average of $34,188, a weekend after it scored the largest venue average ever for a live-action film at $109,385. Currently, the film made for only $15 million has already earned $3.3 million despite not seeing more than 70 venues yet. IMDb lists six production companies for Brokeback including Paramount and Good Machine, as well as distributor Focus. Where this one goes is anyone's guess, but if this isn't a wake up call to an under-served market, I don't what is.

Just Friends holds on to a top ten spot this weekend (which isn't much of a feat), finishing ninth. The Ryan Reynolds flick grossed $2 million, off a large 49% from last weekend. Friends will be a memory in seven days, as eight new films open wide between Wednesday and Sunday of next week. It spends its last weekend in the top ten with a total so far of $29.4 million, against a budget that was probably half that.

Tenth goes to flop Aeon Flux. The Charlize Theron miss grossed $1.7 million in its last weekend on the chart, down a woeful 63% compared to the previous frame. The Paramount flick now has a gross of $23.1 million against a budget in the $60-80 million range.

In limited release, Memoirs of Geisha finished 12th with a gross of $1.2 million from only 52 venues this weekend. That's good for an average of $23,750 and a total so far of $2.2 million before going nationwide next weekend. The Producers didn't fare as well. The comedy grossed $156,000 from six venues this weekend, good for an average of $26,000.

Overall, for the second weekend in a row, the top ten managed to get ahead of last year. Last year, the top ten films grossed about $95 million, with the top three films grossing about that much this year. Over the December 16-18, 2005 weekend, the top ten at the box office grossed $118.5 million.

Happy Holidays!

Top Ten for Weekend of December 16-18, 2005
of Sites
Gross ($)
Gross ($)
1 King Kong 3,568 New $50.1 $66.2
2 The Chronicles of Narnia 3,680 -52% $31.2 $112.5
3 The Family Stone 2,466 New $12.7 $12.7
4 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 3,185 -43% $5.9 $252.6
5 Syriana 1,775 -53% $5.5 $22.3
6 Walk the Line 2,664 -37% $3.6 $82.5
7 Yours, Mine & Ours 2,723 -32% $3.4 $45.1
8 Brokeback Mountain 69 New $2.4 $3.3
9 Just Friends 1,882 -49% $2.0 $29.4
10 Aeon Flux 2,058 -63% $1.7 $23.1
11 Pride and Prejudice 1,141 -42% $1.5 $29.2
12 Memoirs of a Geisha 52 New $1.2 $2.2



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