This weekend there aren’t any new wide releases busting past the 1,000 theater threshold, because as distributors know too well during the first weekend of December, it just ain’t worth it. Not only do ticket sales drop an average of 50% from the previous Thanksgiving FSS stretch, but the No. 1 holdovers from that period still have the upper hand. That’s why The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is set to hold on to its No. 1 spot at the box office with an estimated $20M for a third straight weekend in a row. Threequel’s stateside tally stands at $232M through Tuesday. Program a frosh wide release during this frame –even with stars — and it’s unfortunately destined to die, read such previous graveyard titles as last year’s Christian Bale/Casey Affleck thriller Out of the Furnace ($5.2M opening/$11.3M domestic B.O.), the Brad Pitt 2012 crime drama Killing Them Softly ($6.8M opening/$15M final) and the Charlize Theron 2005 sci-fi action film Aeon Flux based on the MTV animated series ($12.6M opening/final B.O. $26M, keep in mind it cost $62 million to make).
Holiday holdovers, DreamWorks Animation’s Penguins of Madagascar is looking at an estimated $14M for its sophomore weekend, while Warner Bros.’ Horrible Bosses 2 should still gain traffic with a 35-40% slip much like its predecessor, putting it somewhere in the $8-9M range per industry projections. The domestic B.O. for Penguins is $37.2M through Tuesday while Horrible Bosses 2 is counting $19.1M through Wednesday.
Given the sluggish nature of the marketplace, 20th Century Fox isn’t looking to shake up the top 10 this weekend with its limited release of its Fox International Pictures title The Pyramid in 589 locations, rather it is specifically targeting men under-25 who are looking for a horror fix. The film could do about $1 million over three days. As is the philo of F.I.P. The Pyramid was built to cater to an overseas audience, and will bow in 18 territories this weekend including the U.K., Russia and Vietnam. The film, which marks the directorial debut of French horror scribe Gregory Levasseur, follows a group of archelogists who find horrors inside an ancient pyramid, and are ultimately chased by an ancient creature. Pic was produced by Alexandre Aja, who directed the 2006 reboot of The Hills Have Eyes.
While this post-holiday weekend isn’t as dead as the post-Labor Day frame in terms of pure B.O. figures (The 10-year average for the first weekend of December is $91M vs. post Labor Day’s $79M), the period does provide some opportunity, in particular for arthouse/award contending films. In the past, such films as Mike Nichols’ Closer, Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, and Steve McQueen’s Shame have launched their awards season run during this period with a limited number of runs. Likewise, Fox Searchlight is opening its big screen adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild starring Reese Witherspoon. Wild bowed in five theaters yesterday — three in Los Angeles at such theaters as the Hollywood Arclight and the Landmark on Pico and two in New York — and it will expand tomorrow to Chicago, San Francisco, Washington D.C. Phoenix and Toronto for a 20 hub count. Industry expectations for the first frame of Wild is a healthy per screen of $25K. UPDATE: Wild made $25,931 at its five locations Wednesday. In addition, Open Road is also expanding Nightcrawler in its sixth weekend, which has earned Jake Gyllenhaal high critical praise for his turn as a chilling crime TV journo, from 570 theaters to 1,257. The Dan Gilroy-directed film originally bowed in 2,766 theaters. Its domestic B.O. through Wednesday is $28.9M.
Among other prolific arthouse films, Weinstein Co.’s The Imitation Game will add theaters in LA this weekend for a total count of eight. On Dec. 12, the Benedict Cumberbatch-Keira Knightley World War II period drama expands to 25 runs in six additional markets before going nationwide on Dec. 25. In its first five days, Imitation Game counts $548K stateside. Brian Brooks will weigh in with a full arthouse preview later today.