2011 Preview: December

Well... game over. At the beginning of November, 2011's total box office was $340 million behind 2010's pace. We needed that gap to be closed significantly by the end of the month, but it actually grew wider. So now that there's virtually no chance that 2011 will avoid a year-over-year decline at the box office, not unless there's a surprise Avatar coming out this month. But is there at least some hope for the next four weeks? Last December six films reach $100 million, including one that opened in limited release and expanded wide, but none reached $200 million. This year, four are practically sure bets at $100 million, including one or two that could reach $200 million. Plus, there are four others that should make between $75 million and $100 million. I doubt all of them will reach the century mark, but if one did, it wouldn't be a shock. Then there's a couple of limited releases that should expand wide and, maybe, if one of them becomes the big play during Awards Season, it could reach $100 million as well. Even if every film beat expectations, 2011 won't come out ahead. But maybe if enough do, we can at least end the year on a high note. Unfortunately it has come down to that. Instead of talking about the box office record being broken, we are hoping 2011 doesn't end on yet another sour note.

Weekend of December 2nd, 2011

There are a few points during the year that historically are dead zones as far as box office numbers are concerned. The second weekend in May is usually the weakest weekend during the summer blockbuster season. The weekend after labor day is often the slowest weekend in the year. If Halloween lands on a weekend, that's a disaster in terms of box office numbers. The weekend immediately after the Thanksgiving long weekend is one such dead zone. This weekend last year the only wide release was The Warrior's Way and it didn't open truly wide and it bombed at the box office. This time there are no films that are expected to do that well at the box office during this weekend, because there are no wide releases. Even for a dead zone, this is deader than average. Maybe Shame will do well enough with critics and moviegoers alike to expand truly wide, but that's asking a lot of a limited release.

Weekend of December 9th, 2011

The second weekend of December is when the month actually gets started, but even then it doesn't get off to a great start. There are two wide releases debuting this weekend, New Year's Eve and The Sitter. Neither one is guaranteed to reach $100 million, but the former at least has a shot at that milestone. There are also two limited releases that should expand wide, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Young Adult. There is a slim chance one of these will become a major player during Awards Season and will be this year's Black Swan. As for last year, both of the wide releases missed expectations. Hopefully that won't be the case this year and we can squeeze out a win.

New Year's Eve

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: NewYearsEve-Movie.com
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Release Date: December 9th, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language including some sexual references.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Romantic Comedy
Keywords: Romance, Ensemble, Coming of Age, and more
Directed By: Gary Marshall
Starring: Every single actor around
Production Budget: Estimated at $50 million to $70 million
Box Office Potential: $105 million

A Romantic Comedy starring every actor / actress who has made at least one movie in the past twenty years. It's directed by Gary Marshall, whose previous film was Valentine's Day. That film was a Romantic Comedy starring every actor / actress who has made at least one movie in the past twenty years. It earned awful reviews, but made more than $100 million at the box office. Hopefully this film will earn better reviews; realistically it would be hard to earn weaker reviews. If it does, it could earn even more at the box office. $100 million is the goal, but anything close to that should make the studio happy.

The Sitter

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: TheSitterMovie.com
Distributor: Fox
Release Date: December 9th, 2011
MPAA Rating: R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and some violence.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Comedy
Keywords: Delayed Adulthood, Coming of Age, Bad Role Models, and more
Directed By: David Gordon Green
Starring: Jonah Hill, Landry Bender, Kevin Hernandez, Max Records, and more
Production Budget: Estimated at $30 million to $50 million
Box Office Potential: $45 million

Jonah Hill tries his hand at being the leading man. He's been in a number of very, very funny films and shined in most of them, but this is the first time he's the number one draw, as his three co-stars are kids. The buzz surrounding this film has been good and there should be a receptive target audience for this movie. However, there is some uncertainty. It is being advertised as from the same director who made Pineapple Express, which was a solid hit earning $87 million on a $25 million budget. On the other hand, his most recent film was Your Highness, which made just $21 million on a $50 million budget. This film should finish somewhere between those two extremes, but unfortunately, the lower end is slightly more likely.

Young Adult

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: YoungAdultMovie.com
Distributor: Paramount
Release Date: December 9th, 2011 (limited)
Release Date: December 16th, 2011 (expands wide)
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Comedy
Keywords: Divorcee Romance, Relationship Gone Wrong, Addiction, Romance, You Can't Go Home Again, Mid-Life Crisis, Delayed Adulthood, and more
Directed By: Jason Reitman
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patrick Oswalt, and more
Production Budget: Estimated at $20 million to $40 million
Box Office Potential: $50 million

In the movie, Charlize Theron plays a drunk divorcee who returns to her home town in order to win back her high school sweetheart, Patrick Wilson, who is now married with a kid. Patrick Oswalt plays another former classmate she reconnects with.

It's very hard for a limited release to expand wide enough to earn some measure of mainstream success. Jason Reitman has done that three times in a row with his first three films. The film is written by Diablo Cody, who has also had success with growing a limited release film into a mainstream hit. This does set up some pretty high expectations. There are only three reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, so it is impossible to know where it will end up. I choose to remain cautiously optimistic.

Weekend of December 16th, 2011

The third weekend in December is the weekend the box office finally kicks it into high gear. There are two wide releases, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, plus a film that previously opened in limited release that is expanding wide, Young Adult. And finally a film that is scheduled to expand wide, but is getting a prestige release this week, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. This weekend last year, there were three wide releases and a wide expansion. However, all four of these films missed expectations, some by pretty large margins. It is possible this year will be worse, but it is highly unlikely, so we might get a burst of good news after an extended drought at the box office.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: MunkYourself.com/
Distributor: Fox
Release Date: December 16th, 2011
MPAA Rating: G for General Admissions
Source: Sequel / Based on a TV Show
Major Genre: Adventure
Keywords: Talking Animals, Animal Leads, Live Action Cartoons, Marooned, and more
Directed By: Mike Mitchell
Starring: Jason Lee and a bunch of CG Chipmunks
Production Budget: Estimated at $80 million to $100 million
Box Office Potential: $190 million

This is the third film in the franchise, so there's not a lot that needs to be said. The first two films earned bad reviews, but both earned more than $200 million at the box office. I think this film will do about as well with critics, but the box office numbers will likely start to sag, because there has been many similar shows released since the first film came out. This includes Yogi Bear, which came out this time last year and missed expectations dramatically.

Worst case scenario has the film struggling to top $100 million. Best case, it becomes the biggest film in the franchise so far and a fourth film is quickly put into production. Given the reliability of the first two films, the latter is more likely than the former, but I think it will miss the $200 million milestone.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: MissionImpossible.com
Distributor: Paramount
Release Date: December 16, 2011 (IMAX)
Release Date: December 21, 2011 (Expands Wide)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence.
Source: Sequel / Based on a TV Show
Major Genre: Action
Keywords: Secret Agents, Terrorism, Undercover, Secret Identity, Framed, and more
Directed By: Brad Bird
Starring: Tom Cruise, and others
Production Budget: Estimated at $100 million to $150 million
Box Office Potential: $175 million

This franchise started in 1996 and has lasted four installments over those 15 years. That's a long lifespan, but it hasn't been very active and I'm a little worried that audiences have moved on. Case in point, the last film was a disappointment at the box office, even though it was arguably the best film in the franchise up to that point. I'm cautiously optimistic that this film will be even better and bounce back at the box office. One of the reasons I'm optimistic is the director, Brad Bird, who has never made a bad movie. I'm cautious because Tom Cruise's sell-by-date as an action star may have come and gone already. Also, the competition is much stronger this time around.

There is an outside chance the film will reach $200 million at the box office, but there's also a chance it will be the weakest installment in the franchise.

Sherlock Holmes 2

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: SherlockHolmes2.WarnerBros.com
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Release Date: December 16, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some drug material.
Source: Sequel / Based on a Book
Major Genre: Action
Keywords: Terrorism, Undercover, Secret Identity, Private Investigator, Costume Drama, and more
Directed By: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace, and others
Production Budget: Estimated at $100 million to $125 million
Box Office Potential: $225 million

The first film was a surprise hit beating expectations by about $85 million. This time around, things look even better. First of all, it's a known commodity and since the first film earned good reviews as well as more than $200 million at the box office, the majority of the people who saw the first film will want to come back for more. Secondly, this time around the competition is much, much weaker, as there's no Avatar to siphon up all the box office dollars. In fact, it will likely be the biggest hit of the month.

Weekend of December 23rd, 2011

There are only eleven films that are scheduled to open wide or expand wide during December. Six of those get their wide release over five days during the third week of the month. It's like they are trying to screw up. There's simply too much competition here to think all of these films will reach their potential. This weekend last year there were only three films that opened wide and even then one of them was squeezed out at the box office. Both The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn and Mission: Impossible - The Ghost Protocol (which opens in limited release the previous weekend) should have no trouble getting to $100 million, perhaps one of them might even get to $200 million. On the other hand, The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo, We Bought a Zoo and War Horse are films that could have reached $100 million, if there weren't so many other films opening at the same time. Hopefully one of them will still manage to reach that milestone. The Darkest Hour, on the other, other hand, is destined to struggle at the box office no matter what the competition was like. If all six films find a way to connect with their target audiences, then the year might end on an amazing note. However, it's more likely one or two will succeed and the rest will be mostly ignored. There's even a chance the audience will be divided so much that none of the films will become a real hit. On a side note, three of the five films opening wide this week were directed by Oscar winners. One of the others was directed by a two-time Oscar nominee. It should be a great week of Awards Season aficionados.

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: Us.Movie.Tintin.com/
Distributor: Disney
Release Date: December 21st, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG for adventure action violence, some drunkenness and brief smoking.
Source: Based on a Comic
Major Genre: Adventure
Keywords: Treasure Hunter, Pirates, Same Actor / Different Roles, Animal Lead, Addiction, 3D, and more
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and others
Production Budget: $130 million
Box Office Potential: $155 million

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn is already a hit earning more than $200 million internationally, with release dates in Japan, Australia, Brazil and other markets yet to go. Even with a $130 million production budget, it might break even before its debut here. On the other hand, it might not do nearly as well here as it did internationally, as the original comic book is much more popular in certain European markets than it is here. Back to the original hand, it is directed by Steven Spielbergy and his track record at the box office is amazing. Even on the low end, the film should match its production budget domestically. While on the high end, its reviews could help it become one of the biggest hits of the holiday season, earning more than $200 million.

The Darkest Hour

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: TheDarkestHourMovie.com
Distributor: Summit
Release Date: December 25th, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some language.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Thriller / Suspense
Keywords: 3-D, Alien Invasion, Visual Effects, and more
Directed By: Chris Gorak
Starring: Olivia Thirlby, Emile Hirsch, Rachael Taylor, Max Minghella, Joel Kinnaman, and others
Production Budget: $33.8 million
Box Office Potential: $25 million

The Christmas weekend is usually filled with big-budget action films, family films and those looking to grab Award Season glory. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for there to be a horror / suspense film as counter-programming. This year, The Darkest Hour fills that role. It tells the story of five tourists in Moscow who have to try and survive an alien invasion. The big difference between this film and most alien invasion films is that the aliens are invisible. Is this a great idea that will add to the mood and tension in the movie? Or is this just going to look silly? There are no early reviews, so it is impossible to tell at the moment, but the buzz has been pretty good. That said, these counter-programming films rarely succeed at the box office.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: DragonTattoo.com
Distributor: Sony
Release Date: December 21, 2011
MPAA Rating: R for brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language.
Source: Remake / Based on a Book
Major Genre: Thriller
Keywords: Foreign Language Remake, Private Investigator, New, Dysfunctional Family, and more
Directed By: David Fincher
Starring: Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig
Production Budget: Reported at $100 million
Box Office Potential: $100 million

A remake of the Swedish film of the same name. That film earned excellent reviews and did extremely well for a foreign language film and it instantly created speculation over who would remake it for North American audiences. A lot of people were worried Hollywood would ruin the movie, but when David Fincher was hired to direct the film, a lot of those worries went away. It's been a long time since he's made a movie that was bad; in fact, he is overdue for an Oscar win. (The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Zodiac, Fight Club and Se7en were all Oscar-worthy films.) It is still way too early to tell if this film will be added to that list or if it will be the film that gets him his first Oscar, but the buzz is very strong. That said, his films rarely hit $100 million and the competition is intense. I think it will get to the century mark, barely, but I might be a little too bullish here. I'm certainly more bullish than most.

War Horse

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: WarHorseMovie.com
Distributor: Disney
Release Date: December 25, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of war violence.
Source: Based on a Book
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: World War I, Animal Lead, War, Ensemble, and more
Directed By: Steven Spielbergy
Starring: A horse and a huge cast of humans
Production Budget: $90 million
Box Office Potential: $75 million

The second Steven Spielberg film opening this week. This one is the more obvious Oscar-bait movie, although Adventures of Tintin is practically assured a nomination for Best Feature-Length Animated Film. This film will have a lot of competition and might struggle just to get noticed. There could be anywhere from five to ten Best Picture Oscar nominees this year and there are already ten or more films with Tomatometer Scores above 90% positive that could be nominated ahead of this film. Granted, some of these didn't do well enough at the box office to get noticed (Win Win) and others are just the wrong genre (The Muppets). Even so, the film will likely need at least 90% positive reviews to earn a Best Picture nod and his last film to do that was Catch Me If You Can.

Not only does it have a lot of competition for awards, it also has a lot of competition for box office dollars. By the time it opens on Christmas Day, there will have been four other wide releases, three of which are earning more buzz. I just have this feeling it will be the odd man out for the box office race and it might not even reach the top five during its debut.

We Bought A Zoo

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: WeBoughtAZoo.com
Distributor: Fox
Release Date: December 23rd, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG for language and some thematic elements.
Source: Based on Real Life Events
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Animal Leads, Dysfunctional Family, Romance, Mid-Life Crisis, and more
Directed By: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Matt Damon, Colin Ford, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Thomas Haden Church, Scarlett Johansson, Elle Fanning, and others
Production Budget: $50 million
Box Office Potential: $75 million

In the movie, Matt Damon stars as a single dad to Colin Ford and Maggie Elizabeth Jones, but he's struggling to connect with his kids. He needs a major change so he quits his job in the city and buys a house in the country. But he doesn't just buy a house, but a fully operating zoo, complete with staff and 47 species of animals. Of course, he has zero experience running a zoo, but he has heart.

Cameron Crowe has been nominated three times for Oscars, winning one of them for Best Original Screenplay. And some people think this film will add to those numbers. The early reviews don't quite match the high level of buzz, but it does have a sort of The Blind Side / The Help feel to it. It's an inspirational story based on real life events, and these tend to play well with voters, even if a certain segment of movie critics will be less impressed.

As for its box office chances, it does have opening day to itself, but it is still a very busy week and reaching the top five might be a challenge.

Weekend of December 30th, 2011

I talked about box office dead zones earlier and one of the strangest dead zones of the year is the weekend after Christmas. Despite being one of the most lucrative of the entire year, normally there are no wide releases that open during this weekend. The only new releases of note are Oscar Bait films trying to open at the last possible moment to qualify for this year's Oscar competition. This is the case this year, as Iron Lady debuts. Early word has Meryl Streep earning her seventeenth Oscar nomination. It's not the only Awards Season hopeful opening this week and A Separation and Pariah might also do well.


- C.S.Strowbridge


Date posted: 2011-12-01