(12/17 @ 1:27pm Update): Friday estimates are out, and the Great Box Office Recession (copyright pending…) continues.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows opened to a surprisingly soft $14.7 million on Friday and is now on track to gross less than $40 million this weekend. While a respectable total for most films, this can’t be seen as an encouraging sign for a sequel to a well-received franchise flick during the holiday season. The Friday figure represents an estimated (-40%) drop from the first film’s opening day of $24.6 million on Christmas Day in 2009.
Additionally, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked opened to $6.8 million on Friday, or a (-63%) drop from the second film’s $18.8 million opening on Wednesday, December 23, 2009.
The only bright spot of the weekend? Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol pulled $4.1 million from its 427 IMAX and large screen format theaters on Friday. Helped by larger ticket prices, this at least bodes well for the film’s expansion into conventional theaters next Wednesday. In fact, its now a strong contender to upset Holmes 2 for the holiday box office crown if it can maintain its positive word of mouth throughout the remainder of the holiday season.
Leading the pack this weekend is the much anticipated Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, re-teaming Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law with director Guy Ritchie — the team that sent the first film to huge success this time two years ago. While the recent box office downturn has muted my somewhat optimistic expectations, I still think Holmes 2 is being slightly undersold.
A major reason that the box office has been in such a decline is because of the shrinking teenage and young adult audience. As we saw during the holidays last year, it was adults and families that really drove the marketplace (my theory here is that, in this economy, those are two of the few demographics with enough expendable income to afford a movie ticket on a regular basis anymore).
Having said that, there seems to be substantial interest from the younger crowds for Holmes 2. Perhaps not as strong as that of Iron Man 2, Downey’s most recent franchise sequel, but nevertheless the first film received strong word of mouth back in 2009 and Downey’s star has risen in similar-if-not-literal way that Johnny Depp’s did back in 2003 after Pirates of the Caribbean and his Jack Sparrow character brought him to the forefront of popular movie culture.
With Christmas just over one week away, there’s a good chance that some crowds are waiting for the holidays to catch most movies but Holmes 2 has the larger advantage of any others thanks to its nature as a sequel to a well-received film. As noted in my December preview two weeks ago, a relevant comparison here could be the National Treasure series. Its first film was a word-of-mouth-driven hit much like the first Holmes. The former pulled in $173 million off of a $35 million opening during the holiday/winter season of 2004-2005. Three years later, the sequel Book of Secrets opened to $44.8 million and grossed $220 million by the end of its run. In terms of ticket sales, that was approximately a 12.7% increase in lifetime ticket sales and a 15% increase in opening weekend admissions.
At the time, I had speculated that a $70m+ opening might be in store (ala Return of the King in 2003, I Am Legend in 2007, and Avatar in 2009 — each on this same weekend). Perhaps against my better judgment in this depressed market, I still think that figure is on the table but I’m going to lower my expectations to a more conservative $64 million for the weekend. Long term, with positive word of mouth (and judging by the screening I attended with a very youth-driven audience last night, it just may be), crossing the $200 million threshold again should be achievable.
Additionally, the second sequel in the Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise also debuts this weekend. Chipwrecked, interestingly enough, reverts back to the same weekend that the first film opened on back in 2007. I say that’s interesting because on that same weekend, Warner Bros. debuted Will Smith’s I Am Legend to a then-December record $77.2 million (while Alvin surprised with a $44.3 million). 2011 is a mirror of that release pattern with Alvin 3 again counter-programming a major Warner Bros. tentpole.
As I’ve noted before, you would think that I learned my lesson after betting against the first two films from becoming such big hits. I have, partially, as I feel this film will still find most of its audience considering the extreme lack of appealing films to young kids and families right now. However, even though Alvin 2 pulled $220 million two years ago — $3 million more than its predecessor — demand for the genre has waned considerably thanks to increasing ticket price burdens on families.
As a result, 2010 has yet to produce a $200 million grossing film in the family animation genre (live-action hybrid or otherwise) and I don’t think Alvin 3 will be the one to change that. In fact, six of the seven films in the animation genre this year have fallen in the $165 million or less bracket — including Kung Fu Panda 2, The Smurfs, and Puss in Boots.
With openings of $44.3 million and $48.9 million for the two films, respectively, I expect we’ll start to see those signs of franchise fatigue with this new entry that many of us expected two years ago. Additionally, while families can certainly be the driving force of the holiday season, they’re also the ones that spend the most money on such an event — meaning its all or nothing when it comes to sequels like Alvin, as other disappointing family films have proven this year (Kung Fu Panda 2, Cars 2, and Happy Feet Two all disappointed during their runs despite their popular predecessors).
Similar to The Smurfs‘ $35.6 million opening last summer, and conservatively, I’m predicting a more subdued $27.5 million opening this weekend — or about a 45% drop in revenue from Alvin 2‘s unadjusted opening weekend.
Lastly, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol opens in IMAX and other large format screens this weekend. There isn’t really a solid precedent to go by here as the film won’t open in conventional theaters until next Wednesday. Having said that, reviews are strong and the buzz around Tom Cruise’s Burj Khalifa stunt has been prevalent in recent months — moreso than any buzz Mission: Impossible 3 ever received back in 2006 before its underwhelming summer kick-off.
Opening in 425 theaters and benefiting from entirely from large screen format price inflation, I’ll throw a dart at the board for this one and “predict” (using that term loosely) Ghost Protocol can achieve a $11.5 million opening weekend with the advance sneaks. Having strong appeal toward the adult audience will certainly help its case, however, directly competing against Holmes 2‘s opening weekend may not have been the best strategy (though the film is certainly strong enough to make up for it with long holiday legs). Having the prologue from The Dark Knight Rises attached certainly won’t hurt, though.