SUNDAY CENTS: Slight ‘Christmas’

Posted by · 10:30 am · November 8th, 2009

A Christmas Carol*All historical figures cited are adjusted to today’s dollars.

The first weekend in November is considered the official kick-off of the Holiday season at the box office and so it’s appropriate that Robert Zemeckis’s yuletide digital experiment, “A Christmas Carol,” is the film leading the way. The film grossed $31 million for the weekend to easily claim the top spot and set itself up very nicely for a strong, two-month run.

Sure, it’s nowhere near the $63.1 million that “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” claimed on this weekend last year, but “The Polar Express” started with $27 million in November 2004 before chugging along through the new year and maxing out at $187.7 million, and I expect “A Christmas Carol” to come very close to, if not match, that figure.

Zemeckis has directed 15 features in his phenomenally successful career and only three of them have failed to reach the $100 million mark (his first two and “Beowulf”). An amazing seven of them have grossed the equivalent of over $200 million in today’s dollars. To use that success and single-handedly try and pioneer a new medium of filmmaking is admirable, even if it means millions of children will have nightmares involving Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey and their dead, soulless eyes.

“Michael Jackson’s This is It” fell a respectable 40% to $14 million and a running total of $57.9 million. Anything under 50% was going to be a huge win for Sony and will undoubtedly cause the studio to back off the “two weeks only” promise and let this one coast to around $75 million domestic and $200 million+ worldwide.

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” managed to rise above the silliness of its title and concept to corral $13.3 million and third place. That’s an improvement over the $10.5 million debut of “The Informant!” and serves as another small victory for modestly budgeted Hollywood films aimed at adults. In a time when even a film like “Zodiac” costs close to $100 million, if a filmmaker can keep costs manageable and deliver an original product audiences are willing to take a chance on, we all win. That said, I’m pretty sure this is just “White Chicks” for the latte-sipping-liberal crowd.

Universal’s “The Fourth Kind” opened, appropriately, in fourth with $12.5 million. In a post-Halloween market already filled with “Paranormal Activity” and “Saw VI,” this is a great result and will be another film to cite for studio execs anxious to call the docu-realism success of “Paranormal Activity” a trend instead of a fluke.

Said fluke closes in on $100 million with another $8.6 million this weekend and $97.4 million total. The momentum has finally passed for Oren Peli and company and good thing, too, because we are quickly running out of superlatives to label their stupenderrific achievement.

Sixth place finds “The Box,” which grossed a disappointing $7.9 million for a number of likely reasons. First of all, the market is too crowded with thrillers and high-concept sci-fi angles are no match for found-footage faux-youtube angles. Second of all, it’s from Richard Kelly, who doesn’t get to be known as a cult director by making popular films. At least not popular at first. And finally, it’s got Cameron Diaz in it, and we all know that she’s the pits.

“Couples Retreat” grossed another $6.4 million, which is down 0% from last weekend. That’s right, 0%. The total now sits at $95.9 million and America has some serious explaining to do.

Then there’s Oscar favorite “Precious.” On 18 screens in Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta, the Lionsgate drama earned $1.8 million, or a per theater average of $100,000. Only 23 films have ever earned that type of average and never on more than 6 screens. The last film to accomplish the feat was “Dreamgirls,” which averaged $138,465 on three screens, all charging $25 a ticket that weekend.

Needless to say, this is a juggernaut figure and will cause some ripples in the industry. Whether it translates to multiplex success in the weeks to come isn’t assured (the $11.6 million for “The Crucible” is the lowest total gross for a film that started at these heights), but it’s already a blockbuster in the home of 90% of Academy voters.

“That Evening Sun” did Hal Holbrook’s slim Oscar chances no favors by opening to a relatively soft $7,900 on one screen. “Venus” this ain’t.

Despite five or six titles I feel inclined to catch up on, I only made it to the theater once this week to see “Bronson.” For me, Tom Hardy’s is the performance of the year so far and I can’t understand why he isn’t discussed with more seriousness in the Oscar race. The film, however, I thought was little more than a 75 minute trailer.

What do you guys think about the new batch of films this week?  Here are the weekend’s top domestic grossers, courtesy of Exhibitor Relations:

Weekend of Friday, November 6, 2009

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Starting today, Chad’s Sunday Cents columns will no longer include projections for the following weekend. Rather, Chad will be writing a modest column every Thursday previewing the weekend ahead. Look for the first of those this Thursday.)

→ 15 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Box Office · Sunday Cents

15 responses so far

  • 1 11-08-2009 at 10:35 am

    Joel said...

    “A Christmas Carol” was wondrous, if imperfect, while “The Fourth Kind” was mostly silly tripe with a fantastic final act.

    I have a feeling that next week’s BIG opener will most obviously be “2012” which I am REALLY looking forward to, admittedly.

  • 2 11-08-2009 at 11:10 am

    Bob McBob said...

    why aren’t you guessing next week’s grosses like you do every Sunday?

  • 3 11-08-2009 at 11:15 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    see the editor’s note at the bottom of the column

  • 4 11-08-2009 at 11:30 am

    Frank Lee said...

    I’m trying to salvage your Cameron Diaz dig by finding irony in your statement, but I can’t find it. Why slam her so gratuitously?

  • 5 11-08-2009 at 11:58 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    No irony. Sometimes I’m just a dick.

  • 6 11-08-2009 at 12:14 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    “No irony. Sometimes I’m just a dick.”

    A funny dick.

  • 7 11-08-2009 at 12:38 pm

    Maxim said...

    “Zemeckis has directed 15 features in his phenomenally successful career and only three of them have failed to reach the $100 million mark (his first two and “Beowulf”). ”

    Not dissing Zemeckis, whom I like but unless you are adjusting your figures for inflation this statement is not correct. Five of his movies grossed less than $100 million domestically, including “Romancing the Stone”, “Death Becomes Her” and “Back to the Future 3”.

    Something tells me that when he does make “Yellow Submarine” it will be the most financially successful of all of his mo-cap works.

  • 8 11-08-2009 at 2:41 pm

    Jeremy said...

    “I’m pretty sure this is just ‘White Chicks’ for the latte-sipping-liberal crowd.”

    Huh? I liked “Men Who Stare at Goats”, though it wasn’t anything special. Does that mean I’ve just been insulted?

    Maxim: Chad always adjusts for inflation.

    Anyone know Precious’ expansion schedule? I’m hoping I’ll get to see it before Thanksgiving.

  • 9 11-08-2009 at 2:46 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    jeremy- look for somewhere between 50 and 100 screens this friday is my guess.

  • 10 11-08-2009 at 4:08 pm

    Rob said...

    about 50 this Friday

    The 20th is the “semi-wide date” — about 300-400 screens

  • 11 11-08-2009 at 4:35 pm

    James The Greatest said...

    Thank you, Chad, for bringing up Tom Hardy’s incredible performance in ‘Bronson’. I’m surprised that no one here or at any of the other awards blogs is getting behind him. Aside from the cheer dedication to his role-of-a-lifetime, he transformed himself physically in an astounding way. (Why does the Academy only take notice when women change their appearance for a role, by the way???) Yes, the movie itself was mediocre but I still found myself transfixed by Hardy the entire time.

  • 12 11-08-2009 at 4:41 pm

    James The Greatest said...

    “sheer dedication”
    (I’m mortified by the typo I just noticed.)

  • 13 11-08-2009 at 7:21 pm

    Speaking English said...

    ***On 18 screens in Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta, the Lionsgate drama earned $1.8 million***

    Err… somehow you forgot Chicago in that mix.

    Anyway, I saw it and really liked it. Performances are amazing all around, but Daniels makes some choices I wasn’t too fond of throughout. However when it’s going for the realism and the stark moments of inner struggle as seen through Precious’ internal monologues, it’s some pretty powerful stuff.

  • 14 11-12-2009 at 7:05 pm

    James D. said...

    So where is our Thursday Cents?

  • 15 11-12-2009 at 8:03 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Couldn’t come up with a witty name with Thursday in the title so it’ll be posted in a few hours and called Friday Forecast. Unless you can come up with something for Thursdays….