Weekend Box Office (December 13 - 15, 2013)
THIS WEEKEND 2013's final action tentpole kicks off at midnight on Thursday night when The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug arrives hoping to duplicate the success of the previous Middle Earth adventure from the same frame a year earlier. The PG-13 pic from Peter Jackson continues the stretch-one-book-into-three-long-movies strategy which culminates next December with the final film There and Back Again opening on Wednesday, December 17, 2014.
Last year's Hobbit broke the opening weekend record for December with its $84.6M debut helped by higher 3D and IMAX prices as well as nine years of anticipation following the final Lord of the Rings movie which swept the Oscars. But audience feedback was mixed with many loving it, but many also feeling that it was more of the same and not too special. The Tolkien faithful no doubt will all be back this weekend for their annual December donation. But some of the more mainstream moviegoers going along for the event ride last year might skip this time, at least on opening weekend. The first Hobbit was not amazing enough to grow the audience larger the next time around the way the Rings films did.
Reviews are a bit better for Smaug when compared to Journey, but the difference is negligible. The running time is about ten minutes shorter, but again that will make no difference. Those who are sold on this brand will come out, newcomers are unlikely to join the quest at this point. One big difference will be competition though. A year ago, the rest of the Top 20 during Journey's opening weekend pulled in just under $50M of business with no title breaking $8M. This weekend it will be closer to $80M with two capable of surpassing $20M a piece.
That plus the reduced excitement should put The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug on track to open lower than its predecessor. Warner Bros. is even going into 142 fewer theaters this time in a more competitive environment. Attacking 3,903 locations, a weekend tally of about $78M may result.
Tyler Perry is back with his second directorial project of the year with the holiday comedy A Madea Christmas. The filmmaker's movies tend to open in a set range thanks to his loyal fan base and Madea stories perform better than most non-Madea pics. The Christmas theme makes it relevant for this time of year and as always the core spending should come from adult black women. But one factor Perry's past films didn't have to deal with was holiday shopping which is a big weekend activity in mid-December so potential may be affected on opening weekend. If fans are satisfied with the new film, it has time later this month to reach those too busy with other activities this week. A Madea Christmas opens in about 2,100 locations and could debut to around $26M this weekend.
The Disney animated smash Frozen started in an exclusive L.A. run, then expanded nationwide and rose to second place before taking over the number one spot last weekend. Now it will see what third place is all about as it gets bumped down by a pair of new releases with solid brands. Still the mighty toon is pleasing crowds and remains the only option for younger children too frightened to watch the Spiders of Mirkwood. Look for a 35% slide to about $20M for a cume to date of $163M.
As a massive literary action tentpole, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire should see more of a direct threat from the arrival of Smaug. The fourth weekend may drop by 45% to roughly $14M boosting the total to $358M.
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LAST YEAR Studios all made way for the grand arrival of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey which broke the all-time December opening weekend record grossing $84.6M. The first installment in the Warner Bros. trilogy went on to collect $303M domestically and a stunning $1.02 billion worldwide. With nothing new daring to open against Gandalf and gang, holdovers rounded out the top five. Rise of the Guardians held steady at number two with $7.1M while Oscar hopeful Lincoln enjoyed a small decline taking third with $7M. Spy smash Skyfall followed with $6.6M and 3D adventure Life of Pi took in $5.4M.
This column is updated three times each week: Thursday (upcoming weekend's summary), Sunday (post-weekend analysis with estimates), and Monday night (actuals). Opinions expressed in this column are those solely of the author.
Last Updated: December 12, 2013 at 1:05PM ET
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