Weekend Box Office (December 26 - 28, 2014)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND A wide assortment of flashy choices brought large numbers of moviegoers out to the multiplexes driving the box office to the best Christmas holiday weekend in five years. Holding onto the crown for a second straight frame was the concluding Middle Earth chapter The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies which dipped 25% to $40.9M pushing the total to $168M after 12.5 days, according to final studio figures. That puts the final film of the trilogy 19% ahead of last year's The Desolation of Smaug and even with 2012's An Unexpected Journey after the same number of December days. Tentpole sequels normally tumble in their second weekends but the holidays helped soften the blow in this case.

All films have a lucrative week ahead of them. With schools closed and many adults also being off from work, every day will play like a Saturday at the box office allowing cumes to rise quickly.

There was a near tie for second place from two films driven by the starpower of Hollywood's leading ladies, both scoring better sales than expected. The Disney musical Into The Woods starring Meryl Streep bowed to $31.1M over three days and a potent $46.1M over four days. The PG-rated musical attracted sales identical to third place Unbroken but did so from 691 fewer theaters. Co-starring Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, and Johnny Depp, Woods averaged a spectacular $12,726 from 2,440 locations across the Friday-to-Sunday span.

Reviews were positive, but ticket buyers were only somewhat satisfied with what they got out of Woods. The CinemaScore grade was a B which is only decent. Maybe paying customers were expecting more than just two minutes of Depp in the film. Studio data showed that the audience breakdown was 54% female and 57% over 25. Woods scored one of the biggest openings of all-time for a musical nearly matching the $48.8M four-day start of Les Miserables which also debuted on Christmas Day.

Angelina Jolie's directorial outing Unbroken debuted close behind with $30.6M over the Friday-to-Sunday period and a stellar $46.1M over the four-day period starting with Thursday's Christmas Day launch. Playing in 3,131 locations, the inspirational PG-13 war drama averaged a terrific $9,780 over three days.

With no major stars on the screen, no widely known subject matter, and reviews that were decent but not exceptional, Universal focused on the uplifting true story set during World War II, American patriotism, and Jolie's star wattage. And it worked. Thursday kicked off with a massive $15.6M gross for the third largest Christmas Day opening in history. Despite what critics had to say, audiences liked Unbroken which earned a good A- CinemaScore. Studio research showed that the audience was 52% female and 71% over 25.

Both Unbroken and Into the Woods should have no problem surpassing $100M domestically in early January.

Fourth place went to the adventure sequel Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb which enjoyed a solid 18% holiday surge from its opening weekend to gross $20.2M. The Fox release has banked $54.7M to date and has a whole holiday week ahead of it. Fellow PG-rated sophomore Annie also saw a boost inching up 4% to $16.5M this weekend. Sony has banked a solid $45.7M to date for a film that has been pirated for weeks thanks to the studio's files being hacked.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 became only the second movie of 2014 to break $300M domestic. Lionsgate's popular tentpole rose 28% to $10.1M lifting its cume to $306.7M. While the latest Katniss saga joins Guardians of the Galaxy as this year's only members of the triple-century club, it still is running 22% behind the pace of its predecessor Catching Fire from this same time of year. That hit stood at $391M at this point on its way to a $424.7M finish after the holidays. Mockingjay has reached $670M worldwide.

Opening to disappointing results was Paramount's The Gambler with $9.1M from 2,478 locations for a mild $3,684 average. Moviegoers who did show up did not care much for the Mark Wahlberg film as the CinemaScore grade was a lousy C+. Total since Thursday is $14.1M. The gender split was even with males making up 51% of the crowd, but Gambler skewed much older with 81% being over 25. Reviews were mixed.

Benedict Cumberbatch's awards contender The Imitation Game expanded nationwide from 34 to 747 theaters and took in $7.9M for a fantastic $10,619 average. Building up buzz for a month in limited play, The Weinstein Co. release successfully executed its expansion and stayed popular in wider play despite a flood of other competitors in the marketplace going after sophisticated adults. Cume is $14.6M and there is plenty of cash still to come.

Fox's big-budget epic Exodus: Gods and Kings followed with $6.7M, down 17%, for a $52.5M cume to date. The Reese Witherspoon awards contender Wild rounded out the top ten with $5.4M, jumping up 31%. Fox Searchlight has collected $16.3M so far.

With so many choices for adults, Tim Burton's latest film Big Eyes failed to capture an audience and opened outside of the top ten with $3M from 1,307 locations for a weak $2,297 average. The four-day total since its Christmas Day debut was only $4.4M. Reviews have been generally good for the Amy Adams-Christoph Waltz starrer, but the lack of major awards buzz coupled with limited starpower led to only a modest turnout for The Weinstein Co.

The controversial comedy The Interview generated respectable grosses given its unique situation and collected $1.8M from 331 theaters over the weekend for a $5,422 average. Total since the Christmas Day launch is $2.9M. The James Franco-Seth Rogen pic about two Americans asked to assassinate North Korea's leader was released legally on Wednesday on online platforms such as YouTube, Google Play, and Microsoft Xbox which quickly resulted in illegal copies being shared for free download on other sites. With so much online availability, especially since this film skews towards a tech-saavy audience of young men, the fact that many shows in theaters were sold out was impressive.

The Interview has made headlines for weeks as part of the Sony hack story and its full theatrical release was scrapped and then reconfigured employing smaller chains and independent theaters with an online component added in. The major chains refused to play the film after threats of violence were made by the hackers. 36% of the four-day gross came from the first day making it the most front-loaded of all the films debuting on Christmas Day. Intense media attention created intrigue which translated into solid upfront business. Some audiences were buying tickets just to support freedom of speech. Reviews were mixed and audience feedback now that the film is out has been somewhat good, but not great. Sony is not planning any significant expansion of theaters.

Clint Eastwood's newest film American Sniper exploded to sensational numbers in platform release grossing $633,456 from only four houses in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas for a jaw-dropping $158,364 average per location. Reviews have been good with the R-rated film earning much praise for the direction and Bradley Cooper's acting. Sniper will stay in limited release for two more weeks and then expand nationwide on January 16, one day after Oscar nominations are announced.

Paramount's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. film Selma got off to a strong start with a $571,450 opening weekend from 19 theaters for a solid $30,076 average. Likely to be a major contender at the Oscars, the critically acclaimed drama debuted in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Washington D.C. and has banked $893,626 since its Thursday launch. The studio will go nationwide on January 9, a week before the MLK holiday weekend. With Academy Award nods to be announced on January 15, Selma should certainly enjoy at least two weeks of terrific nationwide play, if not more. The production budget was only $20M.

The top ten films grossed $178.5M which was up 7% from last year when The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug stayed at number one for a third frame with $29M; and up 16% from 2012 when The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey remained in the top spot with $31.9M, also from its third round.

Compared to four-day projections, Unbroken soared past my $25M forecast and Into The Woods opened a few notches above my $40M prediction. The Gambler was on target with my $15M projection but Big Eyes came in with half of my $8M forecast.

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Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death opens.

# Title Dec 26 - 28 Dec 19 - 21 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies $ 40,921,395 $ 54,724,334 -25.2 3,875 2 $ 10,560 $ 168,017,513 Warner Bros.
2 Into The Woods 31,051,923 2,440 1 12,726 46,141,663 Disney
3 Unbroken 30,621,445 3,131 1 9,780 46,055,845 Universal
4 Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb 20,202,008 17,100,520 18.1 3,914 2 5,161 54,732,724 Fox
5 Annie 16,474,065 15,861,939 3.9 3,197 2 5,153 45,701,210 Sony
6 Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1 10,063,425 7,879,421 27.7 2,793 6 3,603 306,719,406 Lionsgate
7 The Gambler 9,129,999 2,478 1 3,684 14,133,168 Paramount
8 The Imitation Game 7,932,292 858,615 823.8 747 5 10,619 14,633,946 Weinstein Co.
9 Exodus: Gods and Kings 6,713,921 8,105,681 -17.2 3,002 3 2,236 52,482,279 Fox
10 Wild 5,389,214 4,113,752 31.0 1,285 4 4,194 16,334,730 Fox Searchlight
11 Big Hero 6 5,006,485 3,642,326 37.5 2,065 8 2,424 200,084,063 Disney
12 Top Five 3,639,210 3,590,013 1.4 1,426 3 2,552 19,100,530 Paramount
13 Penguins of Madagascar 3,274,134 3,476,141 -5.8 2,033 5 1,610 70,948,595 Fox
14 Interstellar 3,002,658 2,702,289 11.1 1,253 8 2,396 177,387,217 Paramount
15 Big Eyes 3,001,738 1,307 1 2,297 4,412,264 Weinstein Co.
16 The Interview 1,794,666 331 1 5,422 2,880,952 Sony
17 PK 1,705,839 3,565,258 -52.2 264 2 6,462 7,866,268 UTV
18 Horrible Bosses 2 1,455,710 2,203,429 -33.9 1,002 5 1,453 50,861,637 Warner Bros.
19 The Theory of Everything 1,221,261 1,611,333 -24.2 736 8 1,659 22,374,956 Focus
20 Foxcatcher 947,000 954,000 -0.7 315 7 3,006 6,147,000 Sony Classics
Top 5 $ 139,270,836 $ 103,671,895 34.3
Top 10 178,499,687 122,059,385 46.2
Top 20 203,548,388 132,821,815 53.2
Top 20 vs. 2013 203,548,388 192,103,771 6.0

Last Updated: December 28, 2014 at 2:55PM ET

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