This weekend marks a Hollywood rarity…a Friday box office release date nobody seems to want.
In fact you have to go back to 2007 to find the last time a major studio opened a movie wide on the first Friday in December. It was New Line (now a part of Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) and the film was His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass. It made $25 million and topped the charts in its opening weekend. Of course it also cost $205 million to make and failed to break $70 million domestically when all was said and done.
Compass was also meant to be the start of a new Harry Potter like franchise and despite a massive international haul (that brought it back to the black) was quickly shuttered. You can't blame the studio as its flopping was a big deal and you can't make a franchise that costs that much and expect to be bailed out by international audiences every time. That's just bad business.
Now I'm not saying Compass was the reason why no studio has ventured into that territory since but it is a lesson to remember. The real reason why films aren't released during this frame is because it just isn't profitable as distributors expect at least a 50% drop in attendance from the five-day holiday frame and nobody wants to be a part of a weekend known for its declines. It's Hollywood's equivalent of a "Thanksgiving hangover."
The other half of that equation is that at least one November tentpole always seems to have a built-in advantage with audiences and usually keeps a firm hold on top of the charts. That's why previous winners of this weekend historically include Twilight: Breaking Dawn - Part 1, Tangled, Skyfall and The Blind Side. In all likelihood The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 will soon join that esteemed list.
Now entering its third week of release the Lionsgate (LGF) distributed adaptation of the fame young adult novel has not had an easy go of it after opening under-expectations. Yet as I've argued a handful of times, it's not the end of the world for the studio and its investors. Following this weekend the film should be at around the $250 million mark following an additional $20+ million haul.
Truthfully, the more the studio can add the better as Mockingjay - Part 1 is still about $85 million shy of what predecessor Catching Fire did last year, but right on track internationally where it has made over $250 million…so that half of the formula is still working perfectly. Again, remember this is a series designed for the long run, similar to Interstellar, which itself is still firing away.
So what should you expect from the other major studios? Well, DreamWorks Animation (NASDAQ:DWA) and Fox (NASDAQ:FOXA) (NASDAQ:FOX) should see around $13 million to $15 million for The Penguins of Madagascar and Warner Brothers/New Line should see another $10 million for Horrible Bosses 2. Like with Hunger Games, the less the films slip week to week, the better as both also opened well below expectations.
Personally I've wondered why WB didn't hold Bosses for this weekend, as it's well-known that "hard R" films don't usually fare well during the family friendly Thanksgiving weekend. Granted, the allure of a tentpole film opening on a holiday is usually too big to resist and the original Bosses shocked analysts with how well it did during its debut, so for a film that will easily re-coup its small ($40 million) budget, it was worth the studio to take a flier on that date. Yet Warner's also knows it has The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies ready to unroll in a few weeks, so they weren't exactly putting all their holiday eggs in Bosess' basket.
Simply put, if you're investing in a major media company, this isn't the week to make any major buy/sell decisions as you aren't likely to get any new information. While this period marks the official halfway point of the season, we still have a little ways to go before we can close the book on what has been a less than exciting 2014 for the movies.
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