Several new films hit U.S. theaters over the Christmas weekend, but The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies managed to hold on to the top spot for the second weekend in a row.
Studio estimates had the conclusion of Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy taking in $54.5 million over the four-day Christmas weekend. The Angelina Jolie-directed wartime drama Unbroken took second place with a very respectable $47.3 million, providing a good initial return on the film’s large advertising and public-relations blitz which foregrounded the movie’s emphasis on inspirational feelings evoked by the protagonist’s display of courage and strength of character.
The ambitious Disney adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical Into the Woods came in third at $46.1 million. This film had a strong advertising and PR effort behind it, and it was surely necessary given that Sondheim’s work is ambitious and intentionally iconoclastic. It will be interesting to see whether the film keeps doing well once audiences begin to tell their friends what they thought of it, but a Christmas musical doesn’t have to be bright and cheery to succeed with audiences, as the success of Les Miserables make clear, and Into the Woods has a much lighter tone than that.
Tim Burton’s quirky Big Eyes did not get a big advertising push, and it was crashed on arrival in theaters, taking in just $4.4 million over the four days. Undoubtedly the Weinstein company hopes the film will pick up ticket sales based on audience word of mouth, but that seems a forlorn hope.
The biggest real-life movie story of the year—which will undoubtedly be made into a film of its own soon enough—was of course the saga of The Interview. The film took in about $2.8 million over the four-day period, plus a reported $15 million in online video rentals and sales. The film cost $44 million to make, and all movies have substantial additional costs for distribution, promotion, and the like. It seems it has a decent chance of at least breaking even.
The simultaneous release of The Interview in theaters and on video just one week after it had been cancelled does make one thing clear: the delivery system for movies and videos is much smarter and more flexible and agile than it used to be. The digital revolution has already reached movie theaters behind the scenes, as digital projection speeds the process, and with The Interview the integration of theaters into the digital revolution may have taken an important new step.
Two biopics given limited releases for Academy Award consideration got off to good starts: Selma and The Imitation Game. The big winner, however, was Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, which brought in $152,510 per theater, according to estimates, which is the second-highest of all time (behind the $202,792 per theater taken in by The Grand Babylon Hotel in its four-theater release this past March).
Those three biopics plus Unbroken suggest that audiences are far from tired of this type of film. Audiences are indicating a hunger for films that show characters they judge to be courageous. Add the non-biopics The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 to that list (and even Into the Woods, for that matter), and it’s easy to see a rebellious streak in recent movie successes. Thomas Jefferson would probably approve.