While Yuletime traditionally is a box office bonanza, not everyone is celebrating this year. Some pricey films are foundering, and even some of the season’s more successful titles may fall short of the benchmark $100 million domestic level.
Probably the biggest holiday disappointment so far has been Universal’s “Daylight.” But Warner Bros.’ “Mars Attacks!” and 20th Century Fox’s “Jingle All the Way” are not meeting hoped-for box office, either. And even WB’s “Space Jam” and Paramount’s “Star Trek: First Contact,” after huge openings, have leveled off.
“Daylight,” which reportedly cost more than $80 million to make, had a sturdy opening weekend at $10 million, but collapsed in its sophomore frame, sinking a hefty 59%; the tunnel disaster pic fell 41% more in its third weekend.
With a cume of $20.3 million as of Sunday, the Sylvester Stallone starrer now appears likely to dig up a dim $30 million or so domestically.
“Mars Attacks!” landed an OK $9.4 million opening weekend despite mixed reviews, probably on the strength of director Tim Burton’s following. Still, the campy sci-fi sendup fell 50% in its second weekend, with only $16.6 million in its first 10 days.
With production costs of between $70 million and $80 million and the $25 million-plus expense of marketing a picture during the holidays, the film has a long way to fly before it’s on terra firma.
“Jingle All the Way” also is reported to have a pricetag in the $80 million neighborhood. The film cumed $47.4 million in its first 31 days, and probably will top out at around $60 million.
While that’s better than the $36.7 million of “Junior,” Schwarzenegger’s other recent non-action outing, it’s a far cry from the performer’s comedy hits such as “Twins” (which grossed $112 million for Universal in 1988) or U’s “Kindergarten Cop” (which collected $92 million in 1990).
Hefty foreign box office for many expensive underperformers – especially the Schwarzenegger and Stallone films – will make up for domestic shortfalls. But all underscore the larger problems of skyrocketing production and marketing costs, which over the past two years have far outstripped B.O. gains.
Look on the bright side
However, there is an upside for the studios. The two-week period starting Dec. 20 traditionally is one of the busiest times of the moviegoing year and there are some clear winners already this season.
Paramount’s “Beavis and Butt-head Do America” exceeded everyone’s expectations by debuting to $20.1 million last weekend. TriStar’s “Jerry Maguire,” with $36.2 million in 10 days, looks to easily pass the $100 mil mark, as does Buena Vista’s “101 Dalmatians,” which hit $84.7 million after only 26 days.
Movie ticket sales for the period from Veterans Day through Dec. 15 were up more than 8% from the equivalent dates last year. And despite the usual hand-wringing about a market glut, the number of wide releases is down compared with each of the prior two years.
So far, between Veterans Day (Nov. 8) and Dec. 15, overall box office has totaled $647 million, 8.5 % ahead of the comparable period in 1995 ($596 million); in ’94 the tally for the period was $583 million.
On the other hand, the total number of wide releases so far this holiday season has been 12, fewer than last year’s 14 and 1994’s 16. The projected total of holiday wide releases is 20, compared with 21 last year and 24 in 1994.
Critical time frame
But these two weeks – which could account for more than a third of the holiday season total – are critical.
“The real challenge will be if we can keep up the kind of heat we had last year at the end of the year,” said Tom Borys, senior VP of development for B.O. tracking service Entertainment Data Inc.
Last year, theaters collected a whopping $361 million over the 14 days, an average of almost $26 million per day. In 1994, the number was $301 million. However, in 1993, when Christmas fell on a weekend, the total was just $258 million.
So, with Christmas falling on a Wednesday this year, there is one more reason for movie moguls to be merry.
On the opening strength of “Ransom,” “Space Jam,” “Star Trek: First Contact” and “101 Dalmatians,” November’s B.O. reached record levels. However, “Space Jam,” which scored a respectable $76.6 million in its first 31 days of release, is hardly a runaway hit.
The film reportedly cost a high-flying $90 million to make and some have questioned the overseas playability of a film featuring a Stateside basketball star.
On the upside, the film – like Buena Vista’s “101 Dalmatians” – is generating substantial merchandising revenue for the studio.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether Buena Vista’s “The Preacher’s Wife” can cross over to mainstream audiences the way “Waiting to Exhale” did last year.
Director Penny Marshall’s remake of “The Bishop’s Wife,” which stars Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston, opened to $7.6 million – about half of “Waiting’s” $14.1 million Christmas week bow. The pic fell 32% in its second weekend, with a 10-day total of $15.2 million.