Monday 6 June 2011

US Box Office - 18th - 20th December 2009

1. Avatar - $73M - $73M
2. The Princess and the Frog - $12.2M - $44.8M
3. The Blind Side - $10M - $164.7M
4. Did You Hear About the Morgans? -  $7M - $7M
5. The Twilight Saga: New Moon - $4.4M - $274.6M
6. Invictus - $4.1M - $15.8M
7. A Christmas Carol - $3.4M - $130.7M
8. Up In the Air - $3.1M - $8.1M
9. Brothers - $2.6M - $22M
10. Old Dogs - $2.2M - $43.5M

It's been a long time coming. The idea of Avatar was first mentioned by James Cameron during the 1990s but was shelved until technology could catch up with his vision for the film. Instead, Cameron went on to make the biggest film in box office history followed by a hiatus over ten years from traditional film making. During that time the director concentrated on documentary film work and a quick foray into TV with the short lived series Dark Angel. For a number of years, follow up projects were bandied around including a sequel to True Lies (keep wishing Tom Arnold), a big budget Battle Angel Alita adaptation and at least one rumour that saw him helming a third or fourth Terminator flick. All the while, Avatar was dismissed as many times as it was mentioned, as being Cameron's next project. Sometime around late 2006, perhaps buoyed by recent advances he'd witnessed in motion capture technology, Cameron announced that he was ready to bring Avatar to the big screen. Rather than license existing filming techniques, he decided to create his own including a system that would allow him to see rendered rough cuts of a finished scene within seconds of capturing them. So impressed were they with the technology that director's Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson chose to employ it on their production of Tin Tin.

Filming was kept top secret and plot details didn't begin to emerge until earlier this year. A relatively unknown (at the time) actor by the name of Sam Worthington was cast in the lead role with support ably supplied by Sigourney Weaver amongst others. First production stills revealed very little except for control panels and a lot of blue screens. When footage was screened for various industry bigwigs along with selected members of the press and public, the opinion was off the scale with many claiming that Cameron had somehow managed to create a world full of photo-realistic characters and surrounds. Suffice to say, when the general public saw the trailer on what was deemed Avatar Day, opinion wasn't quite so high. A second trailer impressed more but without seeing the footage digitally presented in 3D, it didn't hold the same weight and opinion went from optimistic to cautious. Further trouble would raise its head when various press outlets reported that Fox would need to make over $500M from the film before it would see anything approaching a profit. Such was the intense speculation over the budget that Fox took the unusual path of issuing a press statement in regards to what the film cost ($287M if I recall correctly). Still, the budgetary stories would continue to run regardless. Given the lack of information or trouble while shooting the film, the press had to pick up on something.

Early reviews were impressive, at least as far as the look and technology was concerned - more than a few critics saw the poor dialogue and story as its one major flaw. Moving towards its release date cinema chains frantically set about converting screens to make a 3D presentation possible (and allowing them to charge more for tickets). The scene was set, arguably the world biggest director was returning with a ground breaking film. And then it snowed.

Midnight screenings weren't expected to be high given the film's run time and lack of a hook (the film is not a sequel and has no major stars) so the $3.5M wasn't quite the disappointment some were calling it. Avatar's total Friday taking was much stronger and going into the weekend there was the potential for the film to take the biggest December weekend from 2007's I Am Legend (with $77M). Unfortunately for Fox and Cameron, huge snowstorms down the east coast of America meant for a lot of people, digging their car out or getting their electricity back on was far more important than a trip to the cinema. The snow impacted the film's takings for Saturday but were still acceptable, though some analysts claim this is an easy 'get out' for the film under-performing and not having a bigger Saturday than Friday.

While Avatar wouldn't end up smashing any records during its opening frame (except for perhaps, biggest opening for a 3D movie), the scene is now set for the long haul. There are no major 3D/Imax releases until Alice in Wonderland in March, affording Avatar at least another two months of limited competition and higher ticket prices. Word of mouth has been strong, especially for the 3D presentations of the film, so next weekend should see a decent hold. How it will fare against the return of Alvin & The Chipmunks and the much-hyped Sherlock Holmes remains to be seen. At the time of writing international figures were unavailable but early reports indicate that James Cameron's return to feature film directing has been a solid one.

The Princess and the Frog opened on the disappointing side of estimates last weekend and has been sparring for the top spot with The Blind Side throughout the week. With no 3D gimmick or excessive marketing to shore up the film, Disney almost appear to be willing the film to fail. The fact that a North American based forumite mentioned last weekend that he didn't even know the film was on general release before he saw the report speaks volumes on how Disney is or isn't pushing the film. This weekend the film is down 54% which is high for an animated family film. By and large this makes little sense as the film was very well reviewed and the word of mouth seems very positive. The Princess and The Frog should pick up some pre and post holiday business but will also have to contend with the return of Alvin & The Chipmunks on December 23rd - a film whose prequel took $217M during the December of 2007.

The Blind Side can do no wrong and is even working well as alternative programming to Avatar. The Sandra Bullock drama was further buoyed this week by a number of Golden Globe nominations. The film has now become Bullock's biggest ever movie, surpassing the already mighty total of the summer release The Proposal. The Blind Side was produced for just $29M and had little fanfare prior to its release leading one to believe that it is unlikely the studio spent more than the film's production budget advertising it. This all leads to this being just as profitable as the aforementioned Proposal. (Rough rule of thumb - the prints & ad budget is the same as the actual production budget).

Our only other release this weekend is being seen as solid alternate programming. Did You Hear About The Morgans stars Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker as a warring couple who have to up-sticks from New York to Hicksville when they witness a gangland killing. Cue some fish out of water capers alongside the potential to rekindle their feelings for one another. Reviews for the film were horrific with it currently sitting on a 10% fresh rating at RottenTomatoes. To make things worse for the comedy, it seems that the crowd who skipped out on seeing Avatar chose to see The Blind Side instead. Budget details weren't available at the time of writing but this somewhat poor start for the film doesn't bode well for it recouping any costs above $30M.

Twilight: New Moon has now pretty much burnt itself out both domestically and internationally. Did Summit even notice? Doubtful, they were probably too busy counting the $630M the film has taken since its release in mid-November while making their plans for the release of Eclipse in the summer of 2010. With the new releases in the coming week, Twilight may find itself well down the top ten, perhaps even slipping out altogether by next Friday night. After a lacklustre opening last weekend, Invictus disappoints again in its second frame. The $60M drama based on an incident in Nelson Mandela's life now has a real worry of topping out below $30M unless business really picks up in the coming weeks. The location count probably isn't helping matters either and that situation is unlikely to improve based on its performance so far - a real catch-22 situation. There's a strong chance that the film will see Oscar nods for Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon but as was mentioned last weekend, the film will be long gone from theatres before that could have any influence on its performance.

The rest of the top ten had to make way for Avatar in more ways than one. While some films would have had to give up their screens, A Christmas Carol had to give up its main revenue stream - 3D enabled and Imax screens. For the past week it's been hanging around the top three but Avatar's release has pretty much finished off the film until next year when hopefully (for Disney) there'll be no major 3D movies looking for screens. Given how quickly studios are catching on to the increased 3D ticket prices, I'd say it's unlikely that A Christmas Carol will have many screens to play upon.

Up In the Air, the George Clooney drama is still at only 175 locations but managed to break into the top ten thanks to near exemplary word of mouth. The recent award wins and nominations haven't done any harm either. In the film, directed by Jason Reitman, Clooney plays a company hatchet man, tasked with travelling around the US giving people their redundancy notices. Trouble emerges when he's given a co-worker who has designed a system to fire people via computer, thus potentially rendering him obsolete. Expect the film to move further up the charts after Wednesday when it expands into 1,600 more locations.

War drama Brothers will just about recoup its production budget by the end of its theatrical run but proves once again that no matter how well reviewed or cast a film is, the public just aren't interested in a contemporary war movie at this present time, especially one that strikes so close to the bone. Star Tobey Maguire is gearing up (or is he?) for Spiderman 4 while Jake Gyllenhaal takes on the Prince of Persia in May 2010. Old Dogs, while not a failure as such, hasn't really been the success that Buena Vista had hoped for when they teamed up John Travolta and Robin Williams. Furthermore, this past week has seen the studio scrapping plans for a Wild Hogs sequel and dumping Wedding Banned, a film in which Williams was set to star. It's unlikely that the performance of Old Dogs had been the deciding factor for either project's termination but one can't help but feel it had an influence in some small way.

Finally, a big thanks to all who have read and/or commented on the Box Office Reports during 2009. We've got one more report to go before the epic report of 2009. Wishing you all a very merry Christmas!

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