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Weekend Box Office: MI4 Tops and War Horse Makes Strong Xmas Day Show

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 Oh god, what a crowded and complicated weekend this was.  You had three major movies opening on Wednesday, one of which had been in IMAX release five days earlier and one had been racking up bucks all over Europe since October.  You had one major release on Friday and two biggies right on Christmas Day, plus a smattering of limited releases and wide expansions all throughout the weekend.  Topping the box office was the wide release of Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol (review), which earned $29 million over the Friday-to-Sunday portion, with $61.3 million between the Wedneday-Monday six-day wide opening.  Combined with five days of IMAX-exclusive grosses ($17 million), and the fourth entry in the franchise has a solid $78 million all-told.  Those aren't insane numbers, especially when you consider that the original Mission: Impossible grossed a then-record $74 million in six days way back in 1996 and the next two sequels did $91 million and $57 million (the latter off a normal non-holiday weekend) in their first six days, but Paramount knew it was sacrificing opening weekend might in exchange for long-term play-ability.  It should be noted that aside from a few outliers (Interview With the VampireMinority Report, and War of the Worlds) and the first three Mission: Impossible films, Cruise's opening weekends generally fall in the $25 million range, whereby they usually slowly crawl to $100-130 million.  So while the pure $29 million Fri-Sun number is a bit below the prior M:I entries, it's actually at the high-end of Cruise's opening weekend scale.

By debuting the film in IMAX first, Paramount correctly assured itself that Mission Impossible IV would be the film that everyone was talking about going into the Christmas break, and now it will be the one everyone talks about heading into New Year's and the relatively dead January as well.  The film was also a monster overseas, earning $140 million (which is about what the film cost to make, natch), for a robust $218 million worldwide total in just over a week in play.  It is a strange thing to refer to a film earning $80 million in 11 days as 'slow but steady', but that is the play here.  The film earned far more on Sunday ($13 million) and Monday ($16 million) than it did throughout the last several days of the week, meaning it is indeed earning strong word of mouth and should easily top the next two frames.  The Brad Bird action thriller was arguably an experiment in actually platforming a wide-release would-be blockbuster, and so far the results are an unmitigated success.  We are sure to see a flurry of 'Tom Cruise is BACK!' articles, but the truth is that he never left.  Valkyrie and Knight and Day should never have been expected to do blockbuster numbers (no matter how over budget they were), and Lions For Lambs was a would-be prestige picture.  Tom Cruise films have always made money based on the promise that Tom Cruise movies are generally of a certain high quality.  In short, if he runs, they will come.  

The next big, high-profile release was Sony's $90 million remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (review).  This one also dropped on Wednesday, and it has earned $27 million since then.  It's not a horrible debut, although the pure Fri-Sun number ($12 million) is pretty weak when you factor in the alleged interest factor.  Like so many overpriced would-be franchise starters, this one will need foreign grosses to save its butt and/or justify a sequel.  The David Fincher film was ambitious in theory, the first R-rated 'by adults and for adults' franchise-starter since at least The Matrix, the film may have merely fallen victim to audiences not wanting to spend 160 minutes (!!!) in a theater seeing a very similar remake of a foreign film they watched at home just last year.  I'm sure the press lavishing attention on the alleged ultra-violence (not so) and moments of explicit sexual violence (yeah, that part's true) didn't help either.  As I've said before, if you're targeting adults, especially adult women (many of whom read the original books), try not to schedule your film on a very family centric holiday weekend.  How many busy mothers really had time over the Christmas break to take in a 2.5 hour thriller that was advertised as being 'the feel bad film of Christmas' (also not true, that honor goes to In the Land of Blood and Honey).

Where the film goes from here is an open question.  Sony will tell you that adults will slowly come out of the woodwork over the next 10 days or so, and that could very-well be true.  Despite my misgivings about the picture, I would love for their to be a breakout genre franchise that is purely for adults, so I have been rooting for its box office success.  But again, this is as clear a case against 'unnecessary remakes' as we've seen in recent years, at a cost of $90 million to remake a film that cost $13 million the first time.  And it's yet another strike against Daniel Craig, who has seen one expensive and high-profile project after another flop on his watch in the last three years. A fine actor he may be, but at some point studios will have to realize that he holds about as much drawing power as would-be 007 Clive Owen.  Oh wait... my mistake, the relative apparent failure of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is obviously the fault of newcomer Mara Rooney (who is the only thing worth seeing in the film, natch).  Because it's always the girl's fault, right?  Anyway, point being, this was supposed to be one of the big films of the season, and if not for the film's ill-advised Oscar hopes, it would have absolutely killed in mid-February, such as Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and Shutter Island.  Aside from perhaps Mara, the film was never going to be an Oscar film, so scheduling it as such may have killed the franchise.
Next up is The Adventures of Tintin (review) which opened on Wednesday with a $24 million six-day gross.  That's actually pretty decent, especially when you consider that the film made a whopping $2.3 million on Wednesday.  The $130 million motion-capture adventure picture is based on a very popular European comic book series dating way back to 1929.  The character is relatively unknown in America, which is why the film has been in wide release in Europe since October.  And how is it doing there?  Oh, it did about $200 million before it opened in America, giving it a current worldwide total of $263 million.  So yeah, Paramount would have liked some U.S. dollars here, but domestic is just icing on the cake for this one.  The only Friday wide release was Cameron Crowe's would-be comeback vehicle We Bought A Zoo.  The Matt Damon family drama grossed $15.6 million over its first four days.  That's not spectacular, but A) the film cost just $50 million, B) it's already halfway to out-grossing every prior Cameron Crowe film save for its two Tom Cruise vehicles (Vanilla Sky at $100 million and Jerry Maguire at $153 million), and C) it's a Fox film, meaning it will probably do $80 million overseas when all is said and done.

Now we get to Christmas day, where the real sensation of the weekend debuted, as The Darkest Hour shocked America by grossing $20 million in one day and nearly taking the weekend crow... sorry, I can't finish that with a straight face.  Summit Entertainment's 3D aliens invade Russia thriller seemed like counter-programming, but it's really just the kind of thing you save for January or anytime when there really isn't anything better to see.  The $30 million film earned $5.5 million in two days, and I imagine much of that came from professional critics who had to see the picture on Christmas day due to it being withheld from press.  The real news was the $15 million two-day gross of Steven Spielberg's War Horse (review).  The would-be Oscar contender and the second of two Spielberg films to open over Christmas weekend (what did YOU do with your holiday weekend?) earned enough in two days to come in seventh over the four-day weekend.  War Horse is shaping up to be the family film of choice over the end of the year and, at a cost of just $70 million, should be a pretty big hit for Disney/Dreamworks and yet another feather in the cap of Mr. Spielberg.

For limited debut grosses and holdover box office, go to Mendelson's Memos.

Around the Web

Christmas Weekend Box Office: 'War Horse' Strong, 'Mission ...

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