Not even Santa Claus will be able to get every Hollywood movie studio what it wants this Christmas: a big slice of the lucrative holiday box office pie.
Christmas week is always one of the five highest-grossing weeks of the year at the box office, bringing in more than $300 million in US and Canada. On Christmas Day alone last year, films grossed a whopping $74.9 million domestically (led by Les Misérables, which earned $18.1 million).
So each December, the studios line up a sizable number of new releases, hoping to capitalize on the hordes of moviegoers who descend on multiplexes during the holidays. But this season, they may have pushed things too far: a dozen movies are opening in at least 500 theaters in the two weeks leading up to Christmas, up from an average of under 10 films during the same two-week period over the past decade.
This year, there are six new films debuting on Dec. 25 alone: Leonardo DiCaprio’s black comedy The Wolf of Wall Street, Ben Stiller’s fantasy The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Keanu Reeves’ samurai thriller 47 Ronin, Sylvester Stallone and Robert DeNiro’s boxing comedy Grudge Match, the Justin Bieber concert documentary Believe and an expansion of the Nelson Mandela biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Plus, Christmas audiences will still be flocking to just-released blockbusters like The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.
But with so many movies flooding the marketplace at once, especially this year, it’s inevitable that a few of those films will get left out in the cold. “The holiday season is almost always the heaviest movie-going time of the year, but there are limits, and we’re pushing them this year,” Exhibitor Relations vice president and senior analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap. One early candidate to fall through the cracks: 47 Ronin, which cost at least $175 million and has been battled negative buzz throughout production. Earlier this month, it grossed a paltry $1.3 million during its opening weekend in Japan, where the film was expected to do much better.
Another red flag in the Christmas box office glut: a large number of these new films are serious dramas — released just in time for Oscar/Golden Globe/Screen Actors Guild awards consideration — aimed at the same segment of the movie-going population: adults who tend to be overlooked for most of the year in favor of superhero and other popcorn fare. That audience often finds it difficult to take in multiple films in such a condensed period. “There are only so many nights you can get a babysitter,” Ben Carlson, president of the social media research firm Fizziology, told TheWrap.
One Oscar hopeful has already cried uncle: the Meryl Streep/Julia Roberts drama August: Osage County, which was scheduled for a limited release Dec. 25, just last week announced a two-day delay, in part to avoid the Christmas Day onslaught and give itself a tiny bit of breathing room. It was probably a smart move, because with so many new films in the marketplace, several of these holiday releases are going to find themselves stuck with coal for Christmas.