North American box office: ‘A Christmas Carol’ generates little holiday cheer

But Precious is precious indeed:

1. A Christmas Carol: $30 million (NEW)
2. Michael Jackson’s This Is It: $13.2 million (2nd week; drops 43%)
3. The Men Who Stare at Goats: $12.7 million (NEW)
4. The Fourth Kind: $12.2 million (NEW)
5. Paranormal Activity: $8.3 million (4th week in wide release; drops 50%)

actual numbers, not estimates
“That’s opening already?” someone asked me incredulously when I mentioned A Christmas Carol, and as I explained to him: Disney knows it’ll play at least middling well through the entire holiday season, particularly with no Harry Potter movie to contend with (though it will have another Disney toon, The Princess and the Frog, as competition). And Disney will have to milk it for all it’s worth — it cost $200 million to make; whether it’s worth that is your call — because a $30 million opening is not great. Nine Novembers ago, Jim Carrey delivered another kiddie Christmas flick, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, to an opening of $55 million… though Robert Zemeckis’s The Polar Express didn’t do quite so well when it opened in November 2004: $23 million. Then again, as Box Office Mojo notes:

a whopping 74 percent of its gross came from its 2,045 3D presentations, which included $4.2 million at 181 IMAX sites.

Which means that far fewer people bought far more expensive tickets than for Polar Express, when there were nowhere near as many 3D-capable screens as there are now. Can enough families afford today to cough up the premium prices for the ticket sales that Carol will need to stay afloat? I paid $18 for a 3D IMAX showing (and a $2 surcharge for buying my ticket online in advance, which turned out to be a waste, since the theater was mostly empty)… which is a lot of money for a movie.

The big news of the weekend is Precious: it took in almost $1.9 million from only 18 screens: a per-screen average of an enormous $104,025. That’s the 11th best per-screen ever… and seven of the ten films above it are animated Disney flicks (an eighth is a Fox toon). Most of the films among the top 25 best per-screen averages debuted on only one or two screens; the “widest” release below Precious in this tally was on eight screens. Which means Precious’s per-screen opening is the best ever for a film playing on more than eight screens. In total takings, Precious’s opening is the second best ever for films on 18 screens or less — only Pocahontas’s is better: $2.7 million on six screens; The Lion King is a close third: $1.6 million on two screens.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that perhaps there’s an audience that feels underserved by typical multiplex fare that flocked to this movie, and indeed, Lionsgate reports that 68 percent of the audience was female and 50 percent was black (via Box Office Mojo). (It’s interesting to note that the No. 10 film in this per-screen ranking is Brokeback Mountain, which could be explained by gay audiences hungry to see a gay-themed film rushing to see that film as soon as they could.) Certainly, Precious did not have a saturation Disney marketing campaign behind it like most of the other films in this ranking did.

Overall business was down 16 percent over the same weekend last year, and with nary a potential blockbuster on the horizon, that does not bode well for the holiday season.

[numbers via Box Office Mojo]

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Tue, Nov 10, 2009 4:28am

I think maybe one reason Precious opened so well is that it was covered on one of Oprah’s shows last week – and her audience is pretty much the target audience for this movie. Oprah had an interview with Mo’Nique and showed some clips from the show – it made the movie look really interesting and I think they said Mo’Nique was getting early Oscar buzz for her performance.

xmas gifts
Tue, Nov 10, 2009 5:12am

I think its the best way earn money and this Christmas might be profitable to Hollywood.

Tue, Nov 10, 2009 5:25pm

“…and with nary a potential blockbuster on the horizon, that does not bode well for the holiday season.”

What do you mean, MaryAnn?

2012, New Moon and Avatar are guranteed to all make at least $200 million. I think the holliday season’s shaping up okay.