By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood December 27, 2013 at 3:57PM
A wide swath of movies shared the Christmas wealth this year. The box office took a distinctively different turn from 2012, when two new wide releases initially dominated the initial business.
This year's holdover "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" (Warner Bros.) led both Wednesday and Thursday, unlike last year, when the first "Hobbit" placed third for those two days, behind both "Les Miserables" and "Django Unchained," which grossed $30 and $25 million respectively. No film grossed as much this year -- "The Hobbit" this time around did $19.8 million.
But because of greater depth among the rest of the slate, the grosses for the top 14 films (in about 1,000 or theaters) actually came out ahead of last year by about $10 million ($139 against $129 million), guaranteeing that after a long, arduous struggle the total domestic box office will exceed 2012 by a tiny margin. However, despite their contribution to the overall take, some of the new films are struggling.
Much is understandably made about Christmas Day grosses, but professionals in the industry know that the next day's gross reveals the long-term prognosis for a new film. When Dec. 26 falls on a weekday, those films appealing to family audiences tend to thrive, but the relative position of all films to each other but also day by day suggests which will end up hits. So now the die is cast for all of the year end releases.
The chart below lists the top 14 as well as their daily grosses, change from Wednesday to Thursday and their totals so far. But let's also look at each of these films individually and what we know so far, before the rest of the holidays (which short term, includes a big weekend and strong weekdays through at least next Wednesday, New Year's Day) add to their take.
#1 - "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" (Warner Bros.) - $19.8 million in 2 days
At $19.8 million, this is down from the two-day total of $22.6 million of last year's entry. But significantly, it jumped 13% yesterday over Wednesday, while last year, that film was up only 1% (with it having a bigger opening than this year). This clearly suggests that the second "Hobbit" is benefiting from significant better word of mouth than last time, while likely repeating last year's three-week heading up the top 10.
#2 - "The Wolf of Wall Street" (Paramount) - $15.8 million in 2 days
Though the opening day of $9.2 million fell short of similarly-rough edged "Django" last year (which took in $15 million on its first day), Paramount has to be breathing easier after its reported C (quite bad) Cinemascore, with yesterday down 27%, compared to "Django"'s 33% 2nd day drop. Like Tarantino's film, this ended up #2 for the two day take. Its running time of three hours, which makes scheduling and turnover of seats tricky also likely have suppressed the gross a little. But going into the weekend, when more adults will be going out (and have more time), this could approach $45 million through Sunday, above estimates.
Longer term results will depend on how well those among the divided audience push the film -- Martin Scorsese's last film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, "Shutter Island," had a C+ Cinemascore but went on to a domestic gross of $128 million as a January release. "Wolf" also had the best hold of the four widest release Christmas day openings by some distance, suggesting it is the only one that has a chance of a long run. Also of note -- this is playing at only 2,500 theaters, hundreds fewer than most other top grossing films.
#3 - "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" (Paramount) - $15.5 million in 2 days
This has to be a real surprise for Paramount -- it looked unlikely to hit the top 5 once the new openings hit, but here it is, ahead of all but "Wolf." The studio's bet that its one-week early release would not only provide a good initial take but also establish enough positive audience response through the holidays is clearly paying off. Its position will fall ahead (expect it to fall a notch or two for the 3-day weekend).
#4 - "Frozen" (Buena Vista) - $15.5 million in 2 days
Falling a few thousand short of "Anchorman," a strong #2 yesterday and up 43% (not unusual for kids' films the day after Christmas), this is turning into a massive hit for Disney. This is a film that is already starting its fifth week of wide release, and is going to have one of the best two-holiday performances (both Thanksgiving and Christmas) ever.
#5 - "American Hustle" (Sony) - $13.8 million in 2 days
After opening wide last Friday, this is sustaining a decent performance, with the 14% drop yesterday from Wednesday suggesting long-term strength. With its expected large Oscar nomination haul ahead, this looks set to play for many weeks to come, with its $40 million total so far just the start.