BOX OFFICE: ‘The Hobbit’ Wreaks ‘Desolation’ on its Competition

The Hobbit - The Desolation of SmaugLast weekend was a dull frame at the box office, but it’s tough to expect any more when Out of the Furnace is the sole entering competitor against such massive likes as Frozen and Catching Fire. Now another literal behemoth has come to roost with the second part of Peter Jackson’s extensive trilogic adaptation of The Hobbit. I must admit, while it’s doubtlessly a money-grubbing move on New Line’s part, it is an interesting and unique way of adapting and expanding a novel. Seeing The Desolation of Smaug, I was most surprised by the benefits the series’ over-extension, mainly how the 2nd film’s structure is inhibited by neither boggy exposition or tidy finale clean-up. I might be interested to see this method implemented to an adaptation without financial expectations attached to it.

Setting my opinions aside, not all audiences were rushing out to catch the 2nd installment after the first one rubbed most non-devotee viewers afoul. Much attention during this season, it seems, is drifting towards the awards players. Philomena, The Book Thief and Dallas Buyers Club continue to hold themselves sturdy while American Hustle, Saving Mr. Banks and Inside Llewyn Davis creep into the box office fray. How’d they handle this weekend?

Weekend Winners

The Hobbit - The Desolation of SmaugThe Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug soars, but not as high as Unexpected Journey

 The east coast did have a tough time getting out to theaters amidst heavy weather conditions this weekend, but even aside the road conditions, I expect many were reluctant to pay this film mind (or dollar) after a mostly mediocre first installment (not just a personal opinion, but one held by many). That public disinterest isn’t enough to tank the 2nd installment, but it does blow some of the fire out of its chest. At $73.7 million, it opened nearly $10 million below An Unexpected Journey, though that significant gross is surely nothing to scoff at. What’ll decide its final take is how well its legs stretch over the coming weeks. Considering it’s been better received by most (myself surprisingly included), it may be a considerable upswing, but perhaps too far a reach to reach $300 million domestically, let alone $1 billion worldwide.

Saving Mr. Banks - American HustleSaving Mr. Banks and American Hustle bustle in limited release

These limited release studio Oscar vehicles starting out small is a clever attempt to boast massive per theater averages, but let’s not pretend for a moment these are massive *indie* debuts. They’re merely assurances that wider audiences will take a shine to them once they expand wide, particularly in the case of American Hustle‘s $123,333 average. David O. Russell’s last two films, Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, ended at $132.1 million and $93.6 million, respectively. There’s an eager, hungry audience for his brand of punchy formula films, and one has to be happy for his recent career invigoration. Saving Mr. Banks was a not too far cry below with a $28,067 average at 15 theaters, but NY/LA areas aren’t exactly hot spots for family oriented films as they are for more adult fare.

Weekend Losses

A Madea ChristmasA Madea Christmas a low for Tyler Perry’s brand

Well, $16 million isn’t particularly low, right? I’ve said some iteration of this for many a Tyler Perry film recently, which is a sign that his brand’s wider appeal may indeed be waning. At $16 million, it’s the lowest Madea movie debut of his career, I think we can agree it’s time Perry retire the character, both critically and financially speaking. If he announces his next film is titled Tyler Perry’s Gonna Kill Madea Now, that may give him some boost of interest. Even outside his particular brand, A Madea Christmas is a repetitive gesture after The Best Man Holiday spoke to a similar crowd on a similar theme.

Out of the FurnaceOut of the Furnace Seared by Dragon Fire

Since we missed last week’s edition, let’s talk Scott Cooper’s sophomore directorial effort following up the respectably soulful Crazy Heart. The box office take should be some indication that none of us have yet seen it, which is some combination of patchy theatrical distribution and general critical apathy towards it. Likely to finish below it $22 million budget, it’s safe to say this is less commercially consumable fare than Cooper’s last film, but I’m still quite interested to see it. Christian Bale, Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson are not actors worth disregarding, even if Zoe Saldana seems to be the only woman on board this predominantly male vehicle.

Box Office History

The Hobbit: The Phantom Menace

The Hobbit: The Phantom Menace

This frame has often been more of a tentative position for blockbuster tentpoles than an assured on. I Am Legend and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader made attempts to ignite it, but it’s only the re-entrance of middle earth to the frame that’s given it any heartbeat. Situated towards the end of the school semester, it’s more effective for young-adult fare than family attractions. 2011 was a particularly low year for the frame, with comic offerings like New Year’s Eve and The Sitter hitting foul with critics and even less enamored with audiences at $13 million and $9.9 million, respectively.

The top 10 that year only amounted to $62.9 million overall, a sum which The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ($84.6 million) did a fair deal towards doubling the following year with $126.6 million in the top 10 overall. In spite the 2nd film’s weaker performance, however, this weekend still improved upon last year with $136.5 million in the top 10, with much thanks to Frozen and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire for putting it there.

Box Office Top 10 – December 13-15, 2013

1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (1st Weekend: $73.7 million)
2. Frozen (3rd Weekend: $22.2 million; TOTAL: $164.4 million)
3. Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas (1st Weekend: $16 million)
4. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (4th Weekend: $13.2 million; TOTAL: $357 million)
5. Thor: The Dark World (6th Weekend: $2.7 million; TOTAL: $198.1 million)
6. Out of the Furnace (2nd Weekend: $2.3 million; TOTAL: $9.5 million)
7. Deliver Man (4th Weekend: $1.9 million; TOTAL: $28 million)
8. Philomena (4th Weekend: $1.8 million; TOTAL: $11 million)
9. The Book Thief ($6th Weekend: $1.7 million; TOTAL: $14.9 million)
10. Homefront (3rd Weekend: $1.6 million; TOTAL: $18.4 million)

What did you see this weekend? Let us know!

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