Friday, December 18, 2009

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Dec 18 - 20)

Movie
Predicted Gross (m)
Change
1. Avatar
76.0
$22,000 average
2. The Princess and the Frog
16.5
-31.8%
3. The Blind Side
10.5
-30.3%
4. Invictus
5.7
-33.8%
5. A Christmas Carol
5.1
-25.3%
6. Did You Hear About the Morgans?
4.7
$1,730 average
7. The Twilight Saga: New Moon
4.6
-42.2%
8. Up in the Air
4.0
+67.4%
9. 2012
2.8
-35.6%
10. Old Dogs
2.8
-36.5%

Avatar, Avatar, Avatar. We first heard it is supposed to be revolutionary. Then we read it is supposed to be very good. Now we will see if it is going to be record breaking. From the very beginning, the buzz for the film had been almost exclusively online driven, from fans who have been religiously following Cameron's decade-long endeavor, until the first trailer was shown on the big screen. General public started to murmur, but most were unsure what to make of all the blue characters and the plot. A month later a longer trailer came out, and media coverage began to rise; more people were converted. Still, except for the segments some had the early opportunity to watch, mystery remained on how the final product would look. Finally the full version was screened to critics a couple of weeks, but with an embargo on publishing reviews, making one wonder if Fox was concerned about the quality. Then last Thursday came the sudden decision of lifting the embargo, and the buzz has simply skyrocketed exponentially. The movie has always had a core audience that would have allowed it to open in the $40-50m range regardless with all the IMAX and 3D screen it plans to occupy, but now with phrases of "revolutionizing the medium", "breathtakingly futuristic", and "a landmark film" being thrown around by critics from major publications, with Best Picture and Best Director nominations from Golden Globe and Broadcast Film Critics Association, it is reaching a much broader audience. Young males will still represent its biggest audience, at least initially, but female and older demographics are becoming interested as well. The word-of-mouth, by all acounts, is going to be splendid, not just because of its technical virtuoso, but because it appears to have a story that could make people's heart weep, and we all know how far that combination propelled Titanic to. Not saying Avatar will reach that far, but I will be surprised stunned if it does not have at least a 4.0 multiplier. In fact, 4.5+ seems very realistic. However, first things first, the present question is if it could break I Am Legend's December opening weekend record of $77m. I'd give it close to a 50/50 chance of doing just that.

Sony intended Did You Hear About the Morgans? to be the counter-programming choice opposite of Avatar, but as the release is approaching, the film has generated no buzz even with its two well-known leads, Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker. It began on the wrong foot right off the bat this week when Major Theater Chain tracking puts its opening number at $6m on Monday, and by today, both # of tweets and Box Office Mojo polls also showed alarming similarity to what Everybody's Fine and Love Happens had on the week of their releases. Another major issue for Morgans is females over 25, their key demographics, could be busy shopping for Christmas and are more willing to wait before catching up on films they are interested. It will also not benefit from spillover business from Avatar as the male audience will choose 2012 or a number of other films over it as their second choice. Combining all those factors paints a terribly gloomy picture, even though it might feel inconceivable for such a movie to open below $5m.

Over the years, the performance of holdovers on this equivalent weekend has fluctuated greatly. In 2007 when I Am Legend opened, the top 5 holdovers dropped an average of 50%, but they also had to face another $44m opener in Alvin & Chipmunks. If we go back two years further, we would see that the top 5 holdovers dropped an average of 42% when facing King Kong, while two more years back, the average decline was even smaller at 28% even though Return of the King and Mona Lisa Smile accounted for $84m total. Normally when only one blockbuster opens, regardless how big it could get, it is more likely to be beneficial to the overall market by generating interests in going to theaters and creating spillover business; it only becomes more negative to the existing films when there are two or more major releases on the same week which could cover a much wider range of population. So for this weekend, I expect most holdovers to stabilize quite nicely, especially we are closer to Christmas this time than the past few years. The ones to get hurt the most will be the male-oriented, R-rated films, e.g. Brothers and Ninja Assassin.

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