The holidays may be almost over, but it was certainly a Merry Christmas for the film industry as the well-received final installment of The Hobbit, paired with the one-two punch of Unbroken and Into The Woods, created a seasonal surprise at the box office.
Starting with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Warner Brothers (a subsidiary of Time Warner (NYSE:TWX)) is in line to win the weekend and snare another $40 million (over the three day span), bringing its total to around $168 million in just two weeks. Toss in international earnings and the film has more than over-performed. Given how the year had been for the studio (and the box office in general), that's very good news.
If Five Armies stays on track it will have surpassed what predecessor The Desolation of Smaug did last year in this time frame by almost 20% and come just shy of what An Unexpected Journey did two years ago.
Yet what really is getting the industry buzzing the powerful pair of Xmas day releases that was comprised of Universal's (a subsidiary of Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (CMCSK)) Unbroken and Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Into The Woods. After the two combined to earn nearly $2 million in Christmas Eve showings, analysts began having a reason to be excited as the Angelina Jolie directed bio-pic and the well-known Stephen Sondheim musical proved to have legs.
Unbroken is looking at a near $32 million weekend gross and second place finish with a total closer to $47 million, while Into The Woods isn't that far behind with just over $31 million for the weekend and nearly $46 million overall.
The other big story of note has nothing to do with new releases as Lionsgate's (LGF) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1 quietly used the holiday frame to cross the $300 million mark, putting it just behind Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, which is the year's top earner (with $332.7 million). Not bad for a movie that was dogged early in its run when it opened below "expectations."
Putting it all together this weekend's results are good news across the board, especially for Warner Brothers, which had been struggling for a good chunk of the year. The studio can now end the year on a high note, which is actually how it started courtesy of The Lego Movie. Yet generally you want success in between as well, which, aside from Godzilla and to an extent Tammy, didn't really happen.
Warner has a Mad Max reboot, plus disaster pic San Andreas, Magic Mike sequel XXL and the Entourage movie on deck for 2015, which combined executives hope will fare better. The good news for investors is that Time Warner subsidiaries HBO and Turner Broadcasting can still be counted on to bolster the company's film division if need be.
Meanwhile Universal ends the year with another hit following a solid slate of films that were by and large made for less than $40 million. Unbroken is also the studio's big awards play for 2014 and this type of opening will only help its chances.
The same can be said for Disney, which would love to see Woods enter the race, but realistically can't expect more than a nod for Meryl Streep who Oscar voters worship. Financially though Disney is coming off a year where aside from Guardians the studio was helped by the remarkably well received Captain America: The Winter Solider. Together the pair dominated and with The Avengers sequel on deck for May and Star Wars: The Force Awakens slated for this time next year, good luck to any studio coming close to the financial windfall expected for the house the Mouse built in 2015.
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