Most tentpole releases burn brightly but extinguish quickly. The bet when it comes to the animated film and the space epic is that they offer something stickier. They may not open as big as an X-Men sequel, a James Bond adventure or the latest “Despicable Me,” but they’re not just built to run — they’re hopefully made to last.
“We’ve got something that’s high quality and that resonates with all audiences,” said Dave Hollis, Walt Disney Studios’ executive vice president of theatrical distribution. “That’s the big tool we’re going to use to keep us in as many theaters going forward as we can.”
The calendar will help in that effort. Last year, 12 movies opened in wide release in the month of November. This year, despite heavy hitters such as “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” and “Horrible Bosses 2,” that number stands at seven.
“Usually there’s a rush in the holidays to cram in as many movies as you can, but this year there’s enough spacing and there won’t be as much overcrowding,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com.
It’s not just a dearth of competition. A lack of new releases means exhibitors won’t need to usher out holdover movies from theaters as quickly as they would in the summer, when real estate is at a premium and there are more big movies than screens.
The extra breathing room is important. This weekend, “Big Hero 6” opened to an impressive $56.2 million while “Interstellar” debuted to a hefty $50 million, but with price tags of $165 million, the two films will need to keep packing in crowds in order to make a profit.
Of the two films, the initial response to “Big Hero 6” was more promising than the one that greeted “Interstellar.” The animated film picked up an A CinemaScore rating from audiences, while the space odyssey earned a B+ ranking and received a more divided critical opinion.
Paramount, which is handling “Interstellar’s” domestic release, thinks the mixed response shows that the film is sparking a passionate debate, one that will entice people to see it lest they miss out on the watercooler chatter. It notes that hits such as “Gone Girl” and “Inception” received CinemaScore ratings in the B range, but also enjoyed impressive multiples on their opening weekends.
“This is a unique movie and that’s the kind of movie that people want to talk about,” said Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount Pictures. “It’s compelling, it’s emotional and it’s exciting, and people will want to see this movie on the big screen.”
Moore said he hopes the film’s story of a man (Matthew McConaughey) desperate to get back to Earth to reunite with his daughter will broaden its appeal beyond fanboys and fangirls to families. The opening weekend crowd was 75% over the age of 25, signaling that younger audiences are a key area of potential growth.
There’s another factor that could keep the film chugging along — Imax. Because Christopher Nolan shot much of the film with Imax cameras, the widescreen company has committed to keep “Interstellar” on its screens until “The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies” debuts on Dec. 17. Given that a quarter of “Interstellar’s” $50 million domestic debut came from Imax screens, that could be a huge financial boon to the picture.
There are also elements aligning in “Big Hero 6’s” favor. For now, it’s the only game in town – there isn’t another major family release until “Penguins of Madagascar” lands on Nov. 26.
It also helps that Disney has guided this kind of ship before. Both “Wreck-it Ralph” and “Frozen” opened in November and stuck around through the Christmas holidays. The studio said it is committed to continue advertising on “Big Hero 6’s” behalf beyond its opening weekend.
“We always approach every opening the same way,” said Hollis. “In success, we spend money to continue to make it successful.”