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Merry Christmas for All

December 28th, 2009

The final weekend of 2009 turned into a record-breaker with two massive new releases and a holdover that still managed to come out on top. Overall the box office pulled in an estimated $278 million over the weekend, which crushed the previous record for the biggest weekend by all movies combined. Additionally, this was 39% higher than the same weekend last year and pushed 2009's running tally to $10.38 billion. This is 9.2% higher than last year's pace and more than 7% more than the previous record, and there is another week left to go.

The comparisons to Titanic just became a little more apt as Avatar slipped a mere 1.8% to $75.62 million over the weekend for a total of $212.71 million after two. It took the previous James Cameron film 25 days to reach $200 million while this film did it in just ten. At this pace, $300 million is a mere formality, while with its reviews and potential Awards Season haul, $400 million and the number one movie of the year is not out of the question. If it does reach $400 million, it would be the first time two movies released in the same calendar year managed that feat, which is just one more record for 2009 to brag about.

Second place went to Sherlock Holmes, which nonetheless beat expectations by pulling in an estimated $65.38 million during its opening weekend. (A couple of studios have not yet released final box office numbers due to the holidays, so we are relying on estimates for a few films.) This just misses the previous record for best non-number one debut, currently held by The Day After Tomorrow at $68.74 million. It is also the second-biggest opening weekend for Robert Downey, Jr and the biggest opening weekend for Jude Law and Rachel McAdams. It's also nearly twice the total box office of all of Guy Ritchie's career. With its strong reviews and a full week of holidays ahead of it, $200 million is likely in its future. Apparently the studio was looking to start a franchise with this movie and they are in an excellent position to do just that. Given the number of short stories, novels, etc. that featured Sherlock Holmes, there's no shortage of material to draw from to create new installments for the next decade, should all parties involved agree to it.

Alvin and the Chipmunks 2: The Squeakquel opened better than expected on Wednesday with $18.80 million, held on better on Thursday, down less than 60% to $7.91 million, and exploded over the weekend with $48.88 million for a five-day total of $75.59 million. That is the best opening weekend for a third place film, just topping Madagascar's 2005 debut. Compared to the original, this one earned a little bit more during the three-day weekend, but there are mitigating circumstances that make this seem better and worse than a simple victory. On the one hand, The Squeakquel opened on Wednesday, which undoubtedly hurt the film's Friday to Sunday number, as some saw it early. This makes the victory more impressive. On the other hand, this movie had a better opening weekend, while it also had two years of inflation, so it should have earned more. With weak reviews and the Sequel Effect, its legs will likely not be as strong. That said, $100 million is guaranteed, while $200 million is not out of the question. So unless it cost an unwieldy amount to make, there will be another installment in this franchise.

It's Complicated continued the box office winning streak by topping expectations with $22.10 million. This might not seem like a lot compared to the previous three films, but it is very impressive for counter-programming. With a more mature target demographic, this Nancy Meyers film could hold on for a long time and reach $100 million. After all, Something's Gotta Give opened with just $16.06 million and it finished with $124.69 million. Granted, that film earned better reviews, but I still think $100 million is possible.

There is quite a battle for fifth place, a battle that has not yet been resolved. Neither Paramount nor Warner Bros. have released final numbers due to the holiday, and by their estimates Up in the Air and The Blind Side are in a virtual tie. The former currently leads the latter $11.76 million to $11.73 million, but that could change. For Up in the Air this is an excellent first week in wide-ish release and assuming it can continue picking nominations and awards, it could be a major hit. ($100 million, perhaps?) The Blind Side lifts its total to $184.39 million, which means it is about a week away from $200 million.

On the other hand, The Princess and the Frog fell to seventh place with the worst week-to-week drop-off in the top ten, earning $9.00 million over the weekend and $63.68 million after a month of release. Granted, for two weeks of that the film was playing in only two theaters, but this is still well below expectations and reaching $100 million in total might not be in the cards for the movie. Given its reviews, I think it will do well enough on the home market to break even, but it will not be a wildly successful film financially.

Nine had its first weekend of wide-ish release and it landed in... eighth place. So close. With an opening weekend of just $5.45 million in 1,412 theaters its per theater average is poor enough to make further expansion unlikely. Combined with mixed reviews, it will likely have weak legs and there's little hope it will be a financial success, unless it is a hit overseas.

Looking in on the Sophomore class we come to Did You Hear About the Morgans? During the past three days it made $5.00 million for a total of $15.60 million after ten. Maybe it will have an easier time finding an audience on the home market; it could hardly do worse.

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Filed under: Did You Hear About the Morgans?, Up in the Air, The Blind Side, Nine, It's Complicated, Avatar, The Princess and the Frog, Sherlock Holmes, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel