Box-Office Feasts and Turkeys: Thanksgiving Widens Hollywood's Divide
Domestic revenue hit $10 billion faster than any other year in history, but only a lucky few are participating in the boom as major studio films from the likes of Ang Lee and Warren Beatty vanish without a trace.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, filmmaker Ang Lee's Billy Lynn's Halftime Walk fell 77 percent in its sophomore outing to $210,000 for a disastrous North American total of $1.6 million. Warren Beatty's Rules Don't Apply was another Thanksgiving turkey when it opened to just $2.2 million.
The two movies are hardly alone in their misery as the divide worsens between films that work and those that don't — and that's also contributed to a dramatic disparity among the major studios.
Overall domestic box-office revenue for the year hit $10 billion on Nov. 25, earlier than it has in any previous year thanks in large measure to Disney, home of 2016 hits Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, Zootopia and The Jungle Book. The studio continued to feast over Thanksgiving, between the $81.1 million debut of Moana and the staying power of Doctor Strange.
Disney's movies account for nearly a fourth of all 2016 domestic revenue, or $2.5 billion, an unprecedented leading share. The next closest is Warner Bros. at roughly 18 percent, or more than $1.8 billion. Combined, their titles account for 43 percent of the $10.1 billion in ticket sales year to date. At the other end of the spectrum, Paramount ranks last among the six major studios with seven percent market share, or roughly $755 million. Sony follows at eight percent with $860 million.
"This year has been a confounding roller-coaster ride," says box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of comScore. "The sobering realization that social media has the power to impact box-office revenue served as a wake-up call to the industry that quality always wins and that in today's world, you can’t hide a bad movie. Conversely, social media can be your best friend and champion films including Finding Dory, Civil War or The Secret Life of Pets to even greater box-office heights."
Hollywood's haves and have-nots became a major storyline last year when Universal's domestic market share clocked in at 21.3 percent, an industry record. The year before painted a far more more typical picture when Fox led with 16.5 percent, followed by Disney (14.9 percent), Warners (14.4 percent), Sony (11.6 percent) and Paramount (9.7 percent).
Warner Bros. has rebounded this year, boasting a year-over-year uptick of nearly 19 percent in terms of domestic earnings, led by Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. The studio scored the No. 2 grossing film of Thanksgiving with its Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which earned $65.8 million over the five-day holiday frame.
In terms of Thanksgiving losers occupying the other end of the holiday table, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is the latest in a string of misses for Sony. The studio's film studio chairman, Tom Rothman, teamed with Lee to make the modern-day war drama when Rothman was running TriStar Productions, approving a net budget of at least $40 million that allowed Lee to use groundbreaking technology that was ultimately rejected by critics and that virtually no theater could play without new equipment.
At this pace, Billy Lynn is unlikely to earn more than $1.8 million domestically, making it one of the lowest-grossing wide releases in modern history for Sony and TriStar. It's far worse than last year's The Walk from Robert Zemeckis, another Rothman/TriStar film that bombed, topping out at $10 million domestically.
Beatty's Rules Don't Apply was backed by New Regency, with Fox handling distribution deals. Its five-day holiday debut of $2.2 million included a three-day take of $1.6 million, the sixth-worst launch of all time for a movie debuting in more than 2,000 theaters, according to Box Office Mojo. (Fox is No. 3 in domestic market share with $1.4 billion, or 14 percent.)
Universal, whose market share to date is 12.5 percent ($1.2 billion), stayed away from the Thanksgiving corridor this year, while Paramount opened Robert Zemeckis' Allied, a World War II spy thriller starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. The adult-skewing movie opened to a muted $18 million after costing at least $85 million to make.
Among independent holiday offerings, Billy Bob Thornton's sequel Bad Santa 2 came in well behind expectations with a $9 million start, almost half as much as the original film. Broad Green Pictures and Miramax teamed on the $26 million black comedy.
One common thread: Except for Moana, the Thanksgiving holiday's new wide offerings all failed to wow critics or snag a CinemaScore above some variation of a B (Bad Santa 2 was stuck with a dismal C+ CinemaScore).
By contrast, "Moana has a 98 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and got an A CinemaScore. The storytelling is relatable, resonant and emotional," said Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis, adding that voice star Dwayne Johnson and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who co-wrote the music, also helped to make Moana a social media phenomenon.