Friday Box Office: 'Desolation of Smaug' Down from First 'Hobbit' While 'American Hustle' Scores in Limited Release

Box Office
by Tom Brueggemann
December 14, 2013 2:15 PM
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Martin Freeman in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"
"The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug" (Warner Bros.) dominated the Friday box office, taking in over 60% of the top ten total with $31,145,000 (including over $8 million from Thursday late shows) to get off to a solid start. This was down from last year's initial entry ($37 million) despite stronger reviews. But business for the Top 10 was actually up - $50 million total compared to $48 for the same weekend (which also included the earlier Peter Jackson film) because of stronger showing from other films in the lineup.
 
Second go-rounds for major franchises often increase from the initial one as front-ended audience interest pushes ticket buyers to go early. In the case of "The Lord of the Rings," the second effort actually went up $15 million ($62 million from $47) for its initial five days (both opened on mid-December Wednesdays). But "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" had near-universal great reaction, while last year's first chapter of "The Hobbit" got a more mixed response, so the fall-off doesn't come as a great surprise. The most important point is that it still had a huge gross on a pre-Christmas Friday when ordinarily most of the public has other things than moviegoing on their agendas.
 
The second new opening placed #2, with "A Madea Christmas" (Lionsgate) grossing $5,740,000. This is lower than the first day of most of Tyler Perry's "Madea" films, but the pre-holiday date is the main reason, with the point of opening in a weak period to establish word of mouth going into the more lucrative playtime ahead. Nearly all of the 2,000+ theaters will be playing this into the new year, meaning it has a chance to hold steady and still amass totals consistent with Perry's usual performance.
 
In third place, and very impressive with its hold was "Frozen" (Buena Vista), taking in $5,107,000, less than 25% off from last Friday, with a total gross of around $160 million likely by the end of the weekend, and with the bonanza of school vacations ahead. This is turning into a major hit, perhaps not quite equaling "Despicable Me 2" ($367 million total) as the top animated release of the year, but still very strong.
 
Holding a little less well, but still decent for the playtime was "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (Lionsgate), with another $4.1 million, already with a huge $347 million total. Unlike Lionsgate's last "Twilight" entries, also pre-Thanksgiving openers, this has a shot at holding the majority of its theaters through Christmas. That gives this a clear shot at both matching the total take for the first film in the series as well as "Iron Man 3" as top domestic grosser of the year.
 
The good showings for the #2-4 films were responsible for the uptick from last year, when only "The Hobbit" took in more than $2 million. The rest of the top 10 though lagged far behind, all between $500,000 and $800,000. These included (from #5-10) "Thor: The Dark World" (Paramount), "Out of the Furnace" (Relativity), "Delivery Man" (Buena Vista), "Philomena" (TWC - this had a very small drop), "The Book Thief" (20th Century-Fox) and "Homefront" (Open Road).
 
As is normal, this mid-December weekend also saw the limited openings of other films in advance of their wide breakouts the following week in time for Christmas. "American Hustle" (Sony) opened spectacularly, taking in $211,000 in 6 New York/Los Angeles theaters, for a per screen average of $35,167, $5,000 ahead of "Inside Llewyn Davis" (CBS) last week, despite playing two additional theaters, a longer running time and less access to seats (because of the greater crunch of films this week). Coming atop its New York Film Critics win last week and strong showings for SAG and Golden Globes nominations, "Hustle" -- if it follows this success when it goes nationwide next week -- could have a major advantage going into Oscar season.
 
Also opening was "Saving Mr. Banks" (Buena Vista), opening at 15 theaters in six cities. It grossed $126,000 for a PSA of $8,400. The interest in this making-of-"Mary Poppins" tale never was going to be as initially intense as for "Hustle," nor were its older, more female and family-oriented audiences as likely to flock to a pre-Christmas opening. Also, numbers outside of New York/Los Angeles tend to be less than in those two markets, also bringing the average down somewhat. The potential for success for this remains real, and these numbers are a much more positive response to the disappointing earlier wide opening in the U.K., where this placed only fourth for its first two weeks.
 
Expanding this weekend, the Coen Brothers' "Llewyn Davis," also in 15 theaters, grossed $96,700 for a PSA of $6,447. This is a big drop from its initial 4-theater opening for three days ($101,000 PSA), suggesting that this might be more a strong specialized film rather than a breakout crossover hit going forward. Because of the tricky playtime and the potential for greater awards attention, bigger marketing from CBS and possible positive audience reaction will be needed as holidays loom. But it is far too early to be sure where this is headed. A PSA of around $20,000 for the weekend at this time of the year and in an expanded run is still a good number, just not quite as stratospheric as its opening.
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