Limited Release Films Hustle to the Top, But the Wide Releases Fall Short

Scott looks at a weekend where the wide release debuts were a disappointment but the limited release films hit the jackpot to kick off their campaigns for expansion.


We are now halfway through the final month of the year, and the last of the anticipated movies are preparing to roll out. This past weekend was host to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which is the second in The Hobbit trilogy and is based off of the book The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. Last year gave birth to the first of the trilogy (which was originally supposed to be only two movies) which took in $84 million during its opening weekend. While The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey had the best opening weekend for a movie from the Middle Earth franchise, it fell incredibly short with critics and had the worst overall outing in the domestic market with $303 million.

The Desolation of Smaug, while it has had somewhat better critical response, was unable to meet the opening weekend mark of An Unexpected Journey as it came in 13% lower at $73 million. While some reasoning for this drop is given to the extreme winter conditions over the past weekend, I think the bigger reason is the lackluster, bloated first film of a trilogy that in actuality should only be one movie, which took a lot of wind out of the sales of the audience. While The Desolation of Smaug was considered a step in the right direction, it primarily still felt like a rehashed Lord of the Rings film and not something that stands on its own with distinct character and personality. That’s just my simple reasoning, however.

Opening weekends for big budget movies are very important as the market quickly becomes crowded and it is hard for a film to sustain solid performances in theatres. Luckily for The Hobbit, there is nothing on the immediate landscape that offers a similar style of adventure. The only looming beast that stands in its way is the monstrous budget, which is reported at $250 million (two of the LOTR movies had $95 million budgets, and Return of the King had a budget of $109 million) and is a large jump from the originals. I have read some rumours that the actual budgets for the first two Hobbit movies are actually closer to $315 million, which means the folks at Warner Bros. could really be hoping that this movie does not take the normal drastic dip in its second weekend that is typical of high performing films.

While I do take some pride in predicting that The Hobbit was going to underperform this weekend, I should man up and admit that I was way off when it came to Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas. Tyler Perry’s movies, especially the ones that feature his Madea character, are extremely consistent and reliable in the box office. If you add onto all of that the appropriately timed and themed Christmas element, it seemed an easier than ever prediction that it would land between $25 and $30 million, with some predictions floating around as high as $35 million.

What we got, however, was an underwhelming performance of $16 million that may indicate that the cross dressing performance of Perry as the sharp mouthed Madea may be losing some traction in the box office. One article I had read pointed out that perhaps it was Best Man Holiday that filled the void in the market place for and African American Christmas comedy, and left little reason for people to see Madea save the holiday. Whatever the reason is, and especially after the poor performance of the Perry produced Peeples earlier this year, it could be time for a bit of re-tooling from Tyler Perry. He has proven to be box office gold in the past, so I will not be surprised if he gets there again in the near future.

Speaking of being incredibly off on predictions, the performance of David O. Russell’s American Hustle saw an incredible opening weekend as it averaged $123,000 per theatre over 6 theatres. I had predicted in the ball park of $55,000 per theatre and was shocked at how it took off, and has gained one of the best averages of 2013 (I think it may actually only be second to Frozen). I am incredibly happy to see this, as this movie has been my most anticipated movie of the year for the past ten months, and I am realizing that perhaps the awareness of this film was the factor that I underestimated the most.

For one thing, one day before it opened it was nominated for seven Golden Globes, making it tied with 12 Years a Slave for most nominations. As well, they have done a great job marketing this movie, making intriguing theatrical trailers as well as engaging television commercials. Add on the huge names involved (Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner) and an incredible critical reception, and there is plenty of positive going for this film. While the name of David O. Russell is one that I do not often hear floating around the lips of the public as a great director, it is quite possible that this movie (whose promotions ensure you see his name) could begin to establish him as a household name.

Also opening in limited release is the Oscar hopeful, Saving Mr. Banks, a Disney movie about Walt Disney and his attempts to get Marry Poppins made into a movie. It may seem a bit like pure Oscar bait, but backing up the film are sure to be strong performances by Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P. L. Travers. Saving Mr. Banks opened in 15 locations this weekend and averaged $27,000 per theatre and is set to expand to nationwide release this upcoming weekend.