WINNER OF THE WEEK: Bilbo Baggins. You know, most people won’t admit to being Tolkien geeks. Yet we spent billions of dollars watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy a decade ago, and now we’ve made The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey the top movie for three straight weeks. We spent an estimated $32.9 million on Hobbit tickets this weekend, down a negligible 11 percent from last week, for a three-week total of $222.7 million domestic and another $400.0 million from overseas. It can’t just be hardcore Middle-earth aficionados. There’s a lot of secret Hobbitheads out there. C’mon, fess up, you furtive, furry-footed film fanatics.
LOSERS OF THE WEEK: Movie theater employees. Most people got Christmas Day off, but not the poor wage-slaves at the multiplex, who had to spend December 25th sweeping up spilled popcorn like it was any other busy weekend day. That’s because three new movies opened wide that day and did stellar business: Les Miserables (whose $18.1 million debut on Tuesday marked the second-biggest Christmas Day opening ever, exceeded only by the $24.6 million Sherlock Holmes earned in 2009), Django Unchained (whose $15 million Christmas Day opening was outstanding for an ultraviolent, R-rated film), and Parental Guidance (which premiered with $6.3 million on December 25th). Those three continued to excel over the weekend, with Django unchaining an estimated $30.7 (for a six-day total of $64.0 million) to finish in second place for the weekend, followed closely by Les Mis, with an estimated $28.0 million from Friday to Sunday and $67.5 million overall. Family comedy Parental Guidance did better than expected, finishing fourth for the weekend with an estimated $14.8 million and $29.6 million to date.
Even the holdovers did well. Fifth-place Jack Reacher was just a hair behind Guidance, with an estimated $14.0 million from Friday to Sunday and a two-weekend total of $44.6 million. The next four movies on the chart (This Is 40, Lincoln, The Guilt Trip, and Monsters, Inc.) all saw business boosted well above last week’s totals. (Lincoln was especially impressive, posting a 35 percent gain even though it’s been playing for two months and just lost 17 percent of its screens.) Overall, box office was up 66 percent over last weekend, keeping your local Slurpee-moppers on their toes over the holiday.
A BLOCKBUSTER YEAR: That vaguely applause-like thumping noise you hear is Hollywood patting itself on the back for selling $10.8 billion worth of tickets in North America this year, beating the record of $10.6 billion set three years ago. Of course, tickets are more expensive now, and the really important figure, the number of tickets sold, has been trending downward for at least decade. Yet even that figure was up 5.6 percent this year, marking the first uptick in three years, to 1.36 billion tickets. The lesson Hollywood will probably take is the obvious one: its business strategy of betting everything on huge blockbusters and sequels (and neglecting pretty much every other kind of movie) is working. Something pulled people off their couches and away from their home theater systems for several special events this year, from The Avengers (the year’s top-grossing film with $623.4 million) to The Dark Knight Rises (Number 2 with $448.1 million) to The Hunger Games (Number 3, $408.0 million) to Skyfall (Number 4, $289.6 million) to The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (Number 5, $286.1 million). Altogether, there were 11 films that made more than $200 million, with only two of them (Brave and Ted) not based on familiar, pre-sold properties. But maybe there’s another lesson for Hollywood: the blockbusters and expensive retreads that worked were the ones that were actually, you know, good. The ones that weren’t (John Carter, Battleship) justifiably fell by the wayside. Saturation marketing alone isn’t enough; the film actually has to live up to the hype to lure moviegoers out of their cozy hobbit-holes.