Twelve Days of Christmas: Day Three

Friday Box Office Analysis

By David Mumpower

December 23, 2006

Many, many things can go wrong with toy set-up on Christmas morning.

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It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the box office. While the biggest holiday on the calendar does not technically arrive until Monday, the period from Friday-to-Sunday represents the second to last weekend of the box office calendar as well as the start of the most lucrative ten-day period for the industry. While we continue to see a December void in the absence of Lord of the Rings releases, there were three new entrants into the box office derby yesterday. One was a success while the others are going to have to take a wait-and-see approach.

The mega-opening for Friday was the Ben Stiller comedy, Night at the Museum. A virtual Who's Who of comedy icons, this project has been assumed to be one of the heavyweights of December for some time now. Its debut justifies the buzz to a large extent. $12.3 million from 3,685 venues means that Fox is going to win the weekend. The question is by how much, and that is where the speculation gets tricky. Sunday is Christmas Eve, a holiday that is generally negative for box office receipts. People are more inclined to spend that day with their families and as such, there is a stiff drop in business at the local cineplex.

Don't believe me? Have a look at the numbers. Last year, Christmas Eve came on a Saturday. On that day, top ten box office receipts added up to $20.1 million. Saturday is supposed to be the biggest day of the week for movie business. Due to the holiday's impact, however, Saturday was actually a decline of $16.3 million from Friday's tally of $36.4 million. When Friday business almost doubles Saturday business, you know something strange is at work. More telling is the fact that Sunday was the biggest day of this weekend last year with $41.5 million. So, if you are keeping score at home (which is weird, by the way), business revenue for the top ten fell 81% from Friday to Saturday then grew 107% on Sunday. Obviously, that is not normal box office behavior.


As you can see, Christmas Eve creates a negative stigma with regards to box office...or at least it does most years. The trick is that since December 24th and 25th are not locked to a certain day of the week as Martin Luther King Jr. Day and President's Day are, there is variation in the behavioral pattern. Rather than look at last year and say with confidence how movies will behave the same weekend this year, we have to find the most recent calendar configuration that matches the current one. As it happens, that year is 2000.

Cast Away, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and What Women Want were the dominant titles in release six years ago. The rest of the top ten included some winners such as Miss Congeniality and The Emperor's New Groove (which I highly recommend, by the way) as well as some comically forgettable dogs such as Dracula 2000 (God help me, I paid money to see this) and Vertical Limit (a $68 million earner that nobody liked). If we take a look at the top ten's daily box office behavior in the same way for 2000 that we did for 2005, we see that Friday, December 22, 2000 had $39.1 million worth of receipts. On Saturday, there was the expected growth to $43.4 million. On Sunday - Christmas Eve - there was the expected precipitous decline. Receipts fell all the way down to $20.1 million. Sunday box office is expected to fall from Saturday, but it shouldn't be by that much.

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