Weekend Box Office – NEW YEAR’S EVE Underwhelms with $13.7 Million Debut

     December 11, 2011

New Year’s Eve is the new number one movie in America; but with one of the lowest first-place debuts of the year, Warner Brothers may not feel like toasting their success.  The studio’s follow-up to last year’s Valentine’s Day estimated just $13.7 million from 3,505 locations, or 76% lower than its predecessor’s first weekend total.

Title Weekend Total
1 New Year’s Eve $13,705,000 $13.7
2 The Sitter $10,000,000 $10
3 Breaking Dawn Part 1 $7,900,000 $259.4
4 The Muppets $7,070,000 $65.8
5 Arthur Christmas $6,600,000 $33.4
6 Hugo $6,125,000 $33.4
7 The Descendants $4,385,000 $23.6
8 Happy Feet Two $3,750,000 $56.8
9 Jack and Jill $3,200,000 $68.6
10 Immortals $2,442,000 $79.8

Back in February 2010, Valentine’s Day gave the box office a rare weekend bonanza of $56.2 million during an otherwise muted month.  The new-years-eve-movie-postercombination of stars, stars and more stars and a debut that corresponded with the actual holiday that inspired it, pushed Valentine’s Day to a final domestic total of over $110 million.  Clearly, Warner Brothers was interested in repeating that formula.

Like mid-February, the second week of December is not known for its huge box office wins; but the success of Valentine’s Day coupled with a dearth of recent romantic comedies seemed to promise an opening for New Year’s Eve that would change all that.  I, for one, believed that the film would at least equal last year’s Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader: which needed just $24 million to secure first place.  Instead, the new ensemble ended up earning less than the $16.4 million that The Tourist saw in second place on the same weekend.  Considering that the latter was one of 2010’s highest profile misses, that is not the kind of company that Warner Brothers wanted its holiday film to keep.

So what went wrong?  You probably don’t need me to tell you that the word of mouth on New Year’s Eve is bordering on atrocious.  Currently at a very-rotten 6% on Rotten Tomatoes, it looks like a mess of stars is no longer enough to get people to pay to see… well, a mess.  Valentine’s Day was by no means a critical success; but the big difference in 2011 is that people knew what to expect from another WB holiday ensemble.  Advertising for New Year’s Eve did not mention the Valentine’s Day link – but it didn’t need to.  The film’s distinctive posters and the presence of Ashton Kutcher was probably enough to convince most moviegoers that New Year’s Eve was really Valentine’s Day Part 2 – minus the incredibly convenient release date, of course.

Normally, New Year’s Eve would have the opportunity to build an audience over the holiday frame, but considering that the romantic comedy has now posted the second worst first place finish of 2011 (only Hall Pass came in lower with $13.5 million), I’m not sure that the film has legs to stand on let alone walk it through to its holiday namesake.

the_sitter_image_jonah_hillConsidering the underwhelming debut of New Year’s Eve, the second-place debut of The Sitter seems to look even worse by comparison.  With an estimated $10 million from 2,750 locations, the R-rated comedy is certainly not a runaway hit; but expectations for The Sitter were more modest during this family-friendly season.  Projections put The Sitter in the $13 million range, or right about where New Year’s Eve ended up after its first three days.  Like the latter, The Sitter also suffered from negative reviews, though it did manage to top director David Gordon Green’s last feature film, Your Highness, which debuted with just $9.3 million back in April.

After three weeks at number one, Breaking Dawn Part 1 took the expected tumble down to third place with its estimated $7.9 million.  That brings the penultimate Twilight’s domestic total up to $259.4 million – less than $8 million off of New Moon’s total after four weeks in theatres.

As if the news for New Year’s Eve wasn’t bad enough, it also has to contend with a flood of big holiday releases beginning next Friday.  Two big sequels – Alvin and the Chipmunks 3 and Sherlock Holmes 2 are hoping to inject life into 2010’s lackluster holiday box office.  And as a bonus, the long awaited Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol will begin its run next weekend in approximately 400 theatres.  Here’s hoping one of those titles will make the box office forecast more merry.

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