Sunday, November 20, 2011

Weekend Box Office (11/20/11): Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn scores 5th-biggest debut, while Happy Feet Two fails and Descendants scores in limited debut.

It is weird that I have so little to offer on a weekend when a film earned the fifth-biggest debut in US history, as well as the tenth-biggest worldwide bow.  But the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part I (essay) had an opening weekend that is so perfectly in line with the franchise, that it is not only unexpected, but leaves us with little doubt in regards to how the film will fare in the long haul.  For the record, Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part I (trailer and teaser) opened with $139.5 million this weekend, $30 million of which came purely on Thursday midnight showings.  That's just shy of the $142 million debut of Twilight Saga: New Moon on this same weekend two years ago.  With a 1.93x weekend multiplier film was slightly more front-loaded than the first sequel (they both had $72 million opening Fridays), but less so than the original Twilight.  The original, with its $35 million opening day and $69 million opening weekend, opened with a 1.97x weekend multiplier this weekend three years ago).  The third film, Eclipse, opened on a Wednesday over the Independence Day holiday of 2010, which makes comparisons difficult.  The film played 80% female, 60% over-21, and earned a B+ from Cinemascore.

In terms of long-range forecasts, just look to precedent.  New Moon (essay) earned just 2.08x its opening weekend, ending up with $296 million domestic and $709 million worldwide.  Eclipse earned $300 million off a $176 million six-day debut, with a $698 million international total.  So it stands to reason, barring variables, that Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part I will earn around $300 million domestic and around $700 million worldwide (it has already earned $284 million globally).  It stands to reason that the series will get a bump, at least over opening weekend, for its fifth and final installment this time next year (Breaking Dawn part II), as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II noticeably exceeded all of its predecessors save for the original installment even when adjusted for the 3D bump and inflation (it's still second in terms of pure tickets sold).  The key difference is that the finale of Harry Potter was relatively well-received in print form and received rapturous reviews in its film version, neither of which applies to Breaking Dawn (the book or the first of two movies).  Still, the series will end however it ends, financially, and the saga will still go down as a truly important one, a rare franchise that achieved blockbuster grosses without having to spend hundreds of millions to do it, and achieved 2D blockbuster grosses in an IMAX/3D marketplace.

The other wide release was Happy Feet Two, the generally unasked for sequel to the inexplicably Oscar-winning (cough-Over the Hedge-cough) dancing penguins environmental dramedy that opened on this weekend five years ago.  The film earned lousy reviews and debuted with $22 million, or about half of the $41 million opening weekend of the first Happy Feet.  The original film ended up with $198 million, which is still the second-highest grossing animated film not made by Disney or Dreamworks (behind Despicable Me).  While the original was somewhat unique and capitalized on a mini-craze of 'penguin fever', the sequel looked like just another needless 3D toon in a marketplace where animated sequels both terrific (Kung Fu Panda 2) and mediocre (Cars 2) have somewhat disappointed on the domestic front.  I don't know the budget for this one, but I can only presume it was at least $120 million (which is the norm for these 3D animated toons these days), so this is going to be pretty bad for Warner Bros unless overseas saves the day yet again.  With the onslaught of family fare coming this Wednesday (The Muppets, Hugo, Arthur Christmas) and the continued strength of Puss In Boots ($10 million this weekend, $122 million domestic so far with Thanksgiving sure to help business), this poorly received sequel is likely to disappear pretty quickly.

The major limited release debut was the 29-screen start for Alexander Payne's George Clooney vehicle The Descendants (review).  The Oscar frontrunner earned $1.2 million over the weekend ($1.3 million since Wednesday), for a scorching $42,138 per-screen average.  It's far-and-away the best per-screen average of the year for any film opening on more than six screens, and the 18th-biggest per-screen average for any movie  opening on seven or more screens ever.  The next few weeks will determine whether it goes the usual $35-50 million route for George Clooney dramas or whether it approaches the $83 million earned by Up in the Air two years ago.  It expands into semi-wide release this Wednesday.  In holdover news, it was grim all around, mostly due to the fact that last weekend's Friday was a school and work holiday.  Immortals (review) dropped 62% and ended its 10th day with $52 million.  It's no blockbuster, but the $75 million Relativity film will be a solid long-term hit, as its nearing $100 million worldwide and will be a popular impulse rental for years to come.

Jack and Jill
dropped 52% for a $12 million second weekend and a $41 million cume.  It's customary for Sandler films to take large drops in their second weekend only to find their legs after that, but it's unlikely that this somewhat 'off-the-beaten path' Sandler comedy will have the legs of his more generic and audience-friendly comedies.  Point being, this could be the rare Happy Madison-produced mainstream release that doesn't make it to $100 million.  Life goes on.  J. Edgar (essay) dropped an okay 42%, but its $20 million cume means that it will need Oscar nods for DiCaprio (likely) and the film (not so likely) to get much past its $35 million budget.   Footloose crossed the $50 million mark, and The Help (remember that one?) now sits with $168 million.  Not only is it by-far the biggest grossing drama released in the summer that didn't have extensive special effects or action, it is just a few Oscar nominations away from surpassing Bridesmaids ($169 million), Captain America and Rise of the Planet of the Apes ($176 million) and eventually Thor ($181 million).  Oh, and with its US release a month away, Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin has already amassed $187 million overseas.      

Join us next weekend when Thanksgiving unspools three major family films.  Disney releases the friggin-terrific The Muppets (review), Paramount gives us Martin Scorsese's 3D live-action Hugo, while Sony delivers another Aardman Studios would-be gem Arthur Christmas.  Until then, take care and good luck preparing for the holidays.

Scott Mendelson

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