By Gabe Toro | The Playlist December 12, 2010 at 6:07AM
The winter box office is proving to be a bummer for the major studios. A year after “Avatar” ran the table, allowing “The Blind Side,” "Sherlock Holmes" and “Alvin And The Chipmunks” to pick up the scraps on the way to $200 million domestic totals each, audiences have been rejecting the winter 2010 fare. What happened to the promising tent pole schedule that usually piques people's interest?
This weekend, Hollywood offered warmed-over third helpings of the “Narnia” series and the eighteenth or so mismatched spy romantic thriller of the year. This would make sense in April, or maybe even October. But the period before Christmas? This is… not encouraging? At the current rate, 2010’s box office is about to finish far behind 2009’s take, despite billion dollar successes “Toy Story 3” and “Alice In Wonderland.” The fourth quarter has produced films like “Tangled” and “Harry Potter,” both generating stellar income on a surface level.
But “Potter” looks like it will be one of the lowest-grossing films of the series, and $300 million domestic seems like a pipe dream after a $125 million opening. And “Tangled” should bring in families deep into the holiday season, but the cost of the film was massive enough that Disney is going to have to rely on moving some dolls hardcore to avoid losing money. The season’s other big earners include “Megamind,” pretty much the only DreamWorks ’toon not popular enough to garner a franchise, “Due Date,” which won’t even leg it to $100 million and “Unstoppable,” a typically expensive Tony Scott mediocrity.
Joining that group is “Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” Without a 3D surcharge, the first films in the series generated $65 and $55 million in their opening periods. With the added dimension, “Narnia 3” pulled in less than half of what “Prince Caspian” could generate in the middle of summer a couple of years ago. Disney, who distributed the last two movies, must have seen the writing on the wall, as Fox utilized a lightweight ad presence to get this virtually-indistinguishable fantasy sequel into the marketplace, suggesting a half-hearted interest in their product. $40 million or so would have been weak but predictable, and it would have led to a final gross to buoy likely strong worldwide numbers and toy sales. But these tallies? Walden Media is still hot-to-trot on making more “Narnia” films, but don’t be surprised if the next film in the series is a straight-to-DVD affair with an all-new cast.
That is, if it ever surfaces. This take should prove an intriguing case study on the nature of the modern fantasy franchise. If this third film drops modestly in future weeks, and finishes at a family-holiday-strengthened $90 million domestically (and probably twice that internationally, if not more), then it will remain, at best, a modest success after ancillary sales. Which, to shareholders, is something of a failure. But this property is more Walden’s baby than Fox’s, and the company might be willing to go at it again. They sank a reported $150 million into the film, but this franchise debuted with entries that grossed $745 and $419 million globally before likely-strong DVD sales. This cow still produces milk, in other words.
It’s anyone’s call what to make of “The Tourist,” however. Sony did not know what kind of movie they had on their hands, resulting in a timid sub-3000 theater launch amidst gunshy promotion. Reports are suggesting the budget was north of $100 million, which means this weekend produced rather underwhelming numbers, to say the least. People crow about how movies like this, with big stars and international locales, will do gangbusters overseas. But unless it’s a big day-and-date tentpole release, a lot of releases schedule their international rollout in proportion to the early domestic returns. International audiences know when a film just doesn’t connect stateside, and it can seriously cripple a word-of-mouth-dependent movie like this.
But this is the holiday season, so rules are different. “The Tourist” is the only new adult diversion in the marketplace right now, meaning solid legs could goose final domestic numbers to something on par with “Knight And Day.” An opening weekend would have been nice, as “The Tourist” will have to compete with “How Do You Know” and “The Fighter” for the adult ticket next week, but not all is lost. Yet.
“Tangled” outpaced “Harry Potter” by a significant margin in weekend three, although that has more to do with the “Potter” freefall than the Disney toon’s appeal. After three weeks, the animated picture remains under $120 million, when most expect pictures of this ilk to be threatening $200 at this point. That post-Thanksgiving drop really hurt the picture, but at least it held on to a solid audience share in this period. Meanwhile, “Potter” is merely making time at the moment, comfortably over $250 million and set to lose screens with “Yogi Bear” ready for next weekend.
“Unstoppable” continues to maintain a position in the top five, continuing its once-unlikely pursuit of $90 million domestic. But the biggest news in the top ten is the emergence of "Black Swan." Having expanded to ninety theaters, the Darren Aronofsky fever dream exploded into the top ten with a per-screen average of $37k, promising a further awards season expansion. It leapfrogged the DOA campfest “Burlesque,” which itself has tidily outpaced release date-mate “Love And Other Drugs.” Both the latter are serious underperformers, and both should be forgotten until the DVD release dates. Registering to the not-a-star offices: Jake Gyllenhaal and Christina Aguilera, please fill out your paperwork.
Opening with superb numbers in limited release was "The Fighter," which averaged a spectacular $80k per-screen at four engagements. Unlike "Black Swan" or "127 Hours," among other awards season platformers, "The Fighter" is a major studio crowdpleaser, and could easily break out with blockbuster numbers if the buzz gains. "The King's Speech" is also doing stellar arthouse business, pulling in $31k per-screen at nineteen theaters; its three-week total is at $1.5 million at under twenty screens in an increasingly crowded prestige marketplace.
Julie Taymor's "The Tempest" also premiered this weekend, though the $9k per-screen numbers on five screens definitely pales compared to some of the other major indie debuts of late. Also playing at the arthouse with more muted numbers are the likes of "127 Hours" ($8.2 million total and fading fast), "Fair Game" ($8.2 million), "I Love You Phillip Morris" ($309k in two weeks, 35 screens), "Inside Job" ($3.1 million) and "Waiting For Superman" ($6.4 million). Lots of options, so support your local indie theater, boys and girls.
1. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Deathly Hallows (Fox) - $24.5 million
2. The Tourist (Sony) - $17 million
3. Tangled (Disney) - $14.6 million ($116 mil.)
4. Harry Potter And The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader (WB) - $8.5 million ($258 mil.)
5. Unpop-And-Lockable (Fox) - $3.8 million ($74 mil.)
6. African American Swan (Fox) - $3.3 million ($5.6 mil.)
7. Burlesque (Sony) - $3.2 million ($33 mil.)
8. Codeine And Other Drugs (Fox) - $3 million ($28 mil.)
9. Due Date (WB) - $2.5 million ($95 mil.)
10. Megamind (Paramount) - $2.5 million ($140 mil.)