Holiday Box Office – MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL Leads; WAR HORSE Opens Stronger Than Expected

     December 26, 2011

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Because of the unique release pattern of this year’s holiday offerings, we are posting the weekend box office numbers one day later than usual.  Yesterday’s estimates for the three-day period did not include War Horse, which needed only one day in theatres to earn almost as much as We Bought a Zoo did in three.  Please note that the chart below includes separate estimates for Friday-Monday that are NOT in the same order.  I just couldn’t come up with a better way to present what has turned out to be a very confusing Christmas at the box office.

Title Weekend 4-Day Total
1 Mission: Impossible 4 $26,535,000 $46.2 $78.6
2 Sherlock Holmes 2 $17,800,000 $31.8 $90.6
3 Alvin and the Chipmunks 3 $13,325,000 $20 $56.9
4 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo $13,000,000 $19.4 $27.7
5 Adventures of Tintin $9,125,000 $16.1 $24.1
6 We Bought a Zoo $7,800,000 $15.6 $
7 War Horse $7,500,000 $15 $15
8 New Year’s Eve $3,005,000 $5 $34.2
9 Arthur Christmas $2,600,000 $2.7 $44.1
10 The Darkest Hour $2,500,000 $5.5 $5.5

mission-impossible-ghost-protocol-posterFor those who wanted to keep track, a spreadsheet was the only way to make sense out of this year’s holiday box office.  With so many new releases, all coming out on different days, there was more than one way to dissect the numbers.  Normally, we could look at weekend performance on a year-to-year basis; but last year Christmas fell on a Saturday instead of a Sunday.  With one of the softest movie days of the entire year – Christmas Eve – taking the busiest day of the week out of play, hopefully you can see the difficulties that arise from any strict comparisons.

Confusion aside, the unequivocal conclusion to draw from recent box office positions is that Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is a hit.  Since it officially expanded on Wednesday, the sequel has dominated the daily charts: posting numbers that outstripped all expectations. In a season that has seen disappointing starts from some of the most-anticipated releases, M:I 4’s success has come as something of a surprise – especially considering the thud with which Mission: Impossible 3 landed back in 2006.  Five years later, Ghost Protocol is on track to top its predecessor’s final gross of $134 million.  Merry Christmas Paramount!

Things are not quite as merry for Warner Brothers.  After what most conceded last weekend to be a disappointing start, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows has continued to be upstaged by M:I 4 entering its sophomore frame. The film was down more than 50% from last weekend (though that figure falls to a more cheery 20% if the four-day estimate is included).  After eleven days, Sherlock 2 has earned an estimated $90.6 million, compared to the $141.6 that Sherlock Holmes took in over the same period in 2009.  Granted, the first Sherlock had a different release pattern – debuting on Christmas Day (Friday) and avoiding the Christmas Eve slump.  Still, considering that the film was expected to win this weekend outright not too long ago, it is difficult to spin these numbers in a positive light.

the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo-image-rooney-maraAbout the best that can be said about WB’s A Game of Shadows, in fact, is that it has beaten Sony’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo since the latter’s release last Wednesday.  Actually, David Fincher’s version of the best-selling novel opened in some locations on Tuesday night, leaving the issue of its Wednesday estimate somewhat murky. By most accounts, Dragon Tattoo came in second for the day with just over $5 million while Sherlock 2 placed third with just under $5 million.  That $5 million, however, included whatever Tattoo took in from its Tuesday ‘previews’ – a form of accounting that did not sit well with Warner Brothers.  If fighting over second place seems pointless, welcome to this year’s holiday box office!  With so many movies competing for attention, little things mean a lot.

For The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, here again we see a film that has (thus far) fallen short of expectations.  With $19.4 million earned over the four-day holiday, the drama has not turned out to be the kind of adult-audience lure that True Grit was over Christmas last year.  The real test for the R-rated title will come over the next week, however.  For films like Dragon Tattoo and Sherlock Holmes 2, the coming week promises to turn disappointing starts into decent multiples.  We’ll see what happens.

war-horse-movie-image-jeremy-irvine-01One film that is sure to benefit this week is Steven Spielberg’s War Horse.  While the director’s long-awaited animation debut, The Adventures of Tintin, has failed to capture American audiences (earning just $24.1 million in its first four days), War Horse is turning into a holiday contender.  Opening on Sunday in 2,376 locations, the film nearly doubled expectations with a two-day total of $15 million.

Meanwhile, Christmas Day’s counter-programming release, Summit’s The Darkest Hour, earned a more modest $5.5 million from Sunday and Monday – though that was in line with most expectations.  Overall, the box office was up slightly over 2010, a welcome bit of news for anyone who has been following recent charts.  Thanks to the inconvenient scheduling of New Year’s Eve, next weekend could be another confusing frame.  Luckily, the studios are expecting some of the highest week-day volume of the entire year to compensate for any loss so… fingers crossed.

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