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Investigating the New Releases

December 23rd, 2009

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It's Christmas on Friday, but one new release got the jump on the competition on Wednesday night. With three wide releases and two movies expanding wide, or at least wide-ish, this weekend will be just as busy as it was last year. However, despite all of these new films, it looks like we could have a repeat on top as Avatar continues its strong run. Meanwhile, the 2009 box office running tally surpassed the $10 billion mark early on Tuesday. This is of course the first time the yearly box office total has hit eleven digits and there are more records remaining to be broken.

It took just five days for Avatar to cross the $100 million mark, becoming the 28th film released in 2009 to reach that milestone. We just need one more film to hit $100 million to tie the annual record and two more to break it. That shouldn't be a problem. As for the film's chances this weekend, it appears its odds of repeating on top are no worse than 50/50. Most analysts have concluded that thanks to its stellar reviews and the holidays, it should not drop more than 30%, and some thinking it will fall just 20%. Split the difference and we get just over $57 million for the weekend and close to $200 million after two.

Its main competition comes from Sherlock Holmes, the latest adaptation of the literary figure who has appeared in dozens and dozens of movies over the years. Normally the character is portrayed as a rather stiff intellectual who uses his brains to solve crimes, to the exclusion of everything else. However, this time around Guy Ritchie has given equal weight to his physical skills, which were mentioned in the books, but never emphasized like this before. When the original stories were written, it would have been seen as too common to discuss a fistfight in any detail, so in the books Sherlock Holmes would instead comment that "he had to get rough" to get out of a situation. So, even though there is a literary basis for this change in emphasis, it is still a rather risky decision, but with the best reviews of any wide release of the week, it appears the critics have been won over. The film could do the same with moviegoers and take top spot with $60 million or so, but second place with $50 million is more likely.

Opening Wednesday night is Alvin and the Chipmunks 2 - The Squeakquel. So far the film's reviews are weak, but within the realm of expectations and nearly identical to the reviews earned by the original. The earlier film managed just over $44 million during its opening weekend, which should be matched by this film. However, this film should also make about $13 million tonight, which will help its bottom line. As for what it will make on Thursday... Christmas Eve is historically one of the worst days at the box office and it could fall 80%, maybe even 90% from its opening day. If it follows this pattern, it will pull in $60 million during its first five days, which could be a fast enough start to match the original's domestic total.

Nancy Meyers hopes to rebound after The Holiday stumbled at the box office in 2006. That movie wasn't a box office failure by any stretch of the imagination, but it also didn't match expectations either. Expectations for It's Complicated vary widely, with some thinking it could be the counter-programming hit of the winter and earn as much as Something's Gotta Give did back in 2003. On the other hand, others think it won't make as much as The Holiday did in 2006. Its reviews suggest it will land somewhere in between with a $18 million opening over the weekend. The stellar legs enjoyed by most holiday films could help it reach $80 million or so. On a side note, the studio was not able to successfully appeal the movie's R rating. This was partially due to the drug use in the movie, which will result in an R-rating a lot of the time, as the MPAA deems that material unsuited for kids. Personally, I think the best way to get kids to not smoke pot is to show a bunch of 60-year olds smoking it...

We have two films battling for fifth place, but going in opposite directions. Up in the Air is expanding into nearly 2,000 theaters. It has made nearly $10 million in limited release, buoyed by its amazing reviews and its award season performance. On the high end, it could battle for fourth place, but fifth place with just over $13 million should still please the studio and encourage at least a few more theater owners to add the film over the coming weeks. And if it turns those nominations into wins, it could remain in theaters for quite a while longer.

On the other hand, The Princess and the Frog is not living up to expectations and will need a strong performance this weekend if it is to maintain any chance to reach $100 million in total. On the positive side, it is a family film playing during Christmas and its reviews place it among the elite films of the year. On the other hand, it does have direct competition opening on Wednesday. If it suffers another 50% drop-off, it's done. On the other hand, some think it could see growth over the coming weekend to $14 or $15 million. I'm going with a more modest hold of $12 million, which would give it $66 million in total. Will that be enough to reach $100 million in the end? Maybe.

The final wide release of the week is Nine, which is actually expanding from just 4 theaters to just over 1,400 theaters. This should be enough to reach the top ten, but with mixed reviews, I don't think it will match Rob Marshall's last musical, Chicago. It might not make as much as his last film, Memoirs of a Geisha, which was considered a box office and critical disappointment. It appears to be tracking for just under $9 million during the weekend, which I'm hesitant to predict, simply because it feels too coincidental. But that looks like the most likely outcome.


Filed under: Up in the Air, Nine, It's Complicated, Avatar, The Princess and the Frog, Sherlock Holmes, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel