Sagging box office looks for a Christmas miracle

By Joshua L. Weinstein

LOS ANGELES ( – After a miserable few weeks at the box office, Hollywood is counting on a flurry of big movies hitting theaters starting Tuesday to reinvigorate its business.

In fact, between Tuesday and Sunday, five films will go wide, while close to half a dozen notable specialty titles will either expand or open, too.

That tally doesn’t even include the film picked to finish No. 1 this week, Paramount’s PG-13-rated “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” which will expand wide at 5 p.m. Tuesday into about 3,400 domestic theaters after a successful $12.8 million start at 450 locations last weekend.

Sony’s R-rated “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” opens two hours later, starting out in about 2,800 locations. Also on Tuesday, Paramount will open Steven Spielberg’s PG-rated “The Adventures of Tintin” at about 3,000 theaters.

In limited release Tuesday, Roadside Attractions opens the R-rated Glenn Close drama “Albert Nobbs.”

Then, on Friday, Fox’s PG-rated comedy “We Bought a Zoo” opens wide in about 3,000 theaters, while GK Films’ R-rated “In the Land of Blood and Honey” opens at three arthouses.

On Sunday, Disney opens DreamWorks’ Spielberg-directed “War Horse,” and Summit tries some counterprogramming with its PG-13 sci-fi thriller “The Darkest Hour.”

Among specialty fare on Sunday, Warner Bros. opens 9/11 drama “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” at six locations. And the Weinstein Company plans expansions for “The Artist” and “My Week With Marilyn.”

Studios had hoped that the box office would come back to life last weekend, when Warners opened “Sherlock Holmes — A Game of Shadows” and Fox debuted “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked.” But audiences largely stayed away, and the weekend was down 14 percent compared to last year.

The weekend before that — December 9-11 — was the worst at the box office since September 2008.

And this year’s overall North American box office is about $900 million behind last year’s at the same point in time.

One problem with this weekend and next: Saturday night generally is the best moviegoing night of the week, but this year, both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve fall on Saturdays, dampening expectations.

The movie with the best tracking, according to the research firm NRG, is Paramount/Skydance’s “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol.”

Paramount opened the fourth installment in its action series at 425 locations — 300 of them IMAX — on December 16 to build a buzz. It seems to have worked: According to NRG, 89 percent of Americans are familiar with the movie.

The numbers are strongest for men — 92 percent of men younger than 25 and 95 percent of men 25 and older report familiarity with the film.

More important, 56 percent of younger men and 54 percent of older ones say they have “definite interest” in seeing the film.

The movie, which cost an estimated $145 million to make, has a very nice 94 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Tom Cruise stars in the movie, which Brad Bird directed.

Box-office watchers figure “M:I4” will gross around $40 million for its six day holiday period.

Sony’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” based on Stieg Larsson’s bestseller, is tracking strong across all demographics, and the studio expects it will gross around $35 million at 2,914 locations through Monday.

Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara star as Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander in the movie, which has an 84 percent ranking at Rotten Tomatoes and cost about $90 million to produce.

NRG says that 85 percent of Americans are familiar with the movie.

Tuesday’s other wide release, Paramount’s “The Adventures of Tintin,” already has grossed nearly $240 million overseas.

It is expected to take in somewhere in the high $20 million to low $30 million range over its first six days.

The movie, which has a budget estimated at $130 million, is based on a comic book by Belgian artist Georges Remi, better known as “Herge.”

In the motion-capture animated movie, which Spielberg directed and Peter Jackson produced, young adventurer Tintin and his friend Capt. Haddock search for a sunken treasure ship that was commanded by one of Haddock’s ancestors.

The film has an 80 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Fox comedy “We Bought a Zoo,” meanwhile, has sterling credentials: Cameron Crowe directed the film, which stars Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson and Thomas Haden Church. It is about a father who loses his wife and moves with his children to the country, where they try to renovate a struggling zoo.

The movie cost an estimated $50 million to make, and box-office watchers expect it will gross $15 million-to-$18-million from Friday through Monday.

Its Rotten Tomatoes score is 65 percent.

On Sunday, DreamWorks releases the second Spielberg movie of the weekend, the World War I movie “War Horse.” It’s currently scheduled for 2,376 locations — a number that is likely to increase slightly by Sunday.

The film, which cost an estimated $70 million to make, is about a young man who enlists in the British Army after his beloved horse is sold to the cavalry.

Disney is releasing the DreamWorks movie, and expects it to gross $3 million on Sunday.

The movie has a solid 75 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and is tracking strongest among men.

Finally, Summit is releasing “The Darkest Hour,” a sci-fi movie starring Emile Hirsch and directed by Chris Gorak.

The 3D movie, set in Moscow, is about five young people who find themselves stranded after a devastating alien attack.

It opens in 2,299 locations, although that number could increase by Sunday.

The co-production between New Regency and Summit cost an estimated $30 million to make, and has not been screened for critics.

The film has fairly weak tracking: NRG says that 49 percent of men younger than 25 and 48 percent of those older than 25 are aware of it.

Summit expects the movie to gross between $2.5 million to $3 million on Christmas Day, and between $4 million and $5 million on Sunday and Monday.

About doddle 16509 Articles
Doddlenews is the news division of the Digital Production Buzz, a leading online resource for filmmakers, covering news, reviews and tutorials for the video and film industry, along with movie and TV news, and podcasting.

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