With the marketplace in a bit of a box office lull for the last couple of weeks, with neither Brad Pit's Killing Them Softly able to upend the Twilight gang, nor Gerard Butler's Playing For Keeps able to knock Bond out of his Aston-Martin, the holdovers have had a virtual strangle hold on the nation’s theaters since Thanksgiving. Even Rise of The Guardians, which opened rather soft over the aforementioned T-day weekend, has had a come from behind run and has rallied to become the number one choice for families and their kids at the multiplex.
Of course all of that is about to change when the much-anticipated and long-awaited prequel to the decade old and massively successful Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens this Friday in over 4,000 theaters in various formats including 3D, IMAX, the highly divisive, technologically-innovative HFR (High Frame Rate) version and, of course, traditional 2D presentations. The is no controversy over the fact that director Peter Jackson has secured his place in the pantheon of legendary film directors by virtue of his singular vision in meeting the incredible challenge of bringing the Tolkien masterworks to the big screen.
This brings us to the lofty box office expectations that are generally applied to great filmmakers, specifically ones with the unenviable task of trying to top their previous efforts, and the pressures, both real and imagined, that are exerted by pundits, analysts, critics and audiences alike. If this is the case then all eyes will be on the opening weekend performance of The Hobbit and whether or not the film can live up to the legacy firmly established by the original three Lord of the Rings films released in mid-December 2001, 2002 and 2003. With nearly $3 billion in worldwide box office, numerous awards and nominations including winning 17 out of 30 Academy Awards nominated in total, this will be no easy task.
What are we to expect from this weekend’s dollar figure total from The Hobbit? $100 million plus, right? This is after all one of the most anticipated movies of the year and should easily post one of the biggest opening weekends of the year. But the answer is yes and no. Let’s look at a box office fun fact to put this in perspective: not a single $100 million plus opener has ever sprung forth from the month of December. In fact, not a single film has ever opened to over $80 million in its opening weekend in December. The highest December debut is Will Smith in I Am Legend which opened December 14, 2007 with $77.2 million and in second place is of course Avatar which started its marathon run on December 18, 2009 with just $77.025 million. Even the Lord of the Rings Trilogy had modest debuts by summer blockbuster standards with $47.2 million (the 9th best Dec. debut) for The Fellowship of the Ring, $62.0 million (the 6th best Dec. debut) for The Two Towers and $72.6 million (the 3rd best Dec. debut) for Return of the King.
December is the month of modest weekend debut followed by long and successful theatrical runs that are encouraged by the less competitive box office environment of the early January playing time that most mid-December releases encounter. The text book case of this is 1997’s Titanic which opened with a mere $28.6 million on December 19 and held the number one spot for an unimaginable 15 weeks up to and through the last weekend in March of 1998! Cameron’s follow-up, Avatar, held the number one spot for its first seven weekends and became the highest grossing film of all-time supplanting (after more than decade long reign as the champion) the director’s own Titanic (with $600.8 million in its first run) and a total North American gross of $760.5 million. Last year’s savior of the slow late-2011 box office, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol opened wide after an IMAX preview week with only $29.556 million, but played strongly into the first part of 2012 and wound up with nearly $210 million in total North American box office.
We think The Hobbit has a real shot at posting the biggest December opening weekend of all-time and could perhaps for the first time break the $80 million mark with the combination of higher ticket prices and fan fervor paving the way. What do you think? Are we over or under? It looks like we will find out when Warner Bros. The Hobbit unleashes Bilbo Baggins and his compatriots into cinemas this Friday.
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[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]