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Mockingjay, Good Dinosaur, Creed & Frankenstein: 4 Key Takewaways from the Thanksgiving Box Office

Posted on the 30 November 2015 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

Mockingjay was #1, The Good Dinosaur was good, but not great, Creed exceeded expectations, much like its titular character.  Victor Frankenstein had technically one of the worst openings of all time.  Those are the bullet points from the Thanksgiving weekend box office, and the exact totals are included in the table at the bottom of this article.

Here are 4 key takeaways:

1. Lionsgate Was Right to Split Mockingjay In Half

the-hunger-games-mockingjay-part-1-reviewWhen you look at BoxOfficeMojo’s home page right now there is a chart keeping track of Mockingjay-Part 2‘s box office totals ($198m after 10 days) in comparison to Mockingjay-Part 1‘s ($225m after 10 days).  Those are the domestic totals.  If you look a little closer you’ll see that Part 2 is also trailing Part 1 worldwide ($440.7m compared to $474m).  Such comparisons frame Part 2 in a negative light.  Look!  It can’t even keep up with Part 1, which was already the franchise’s low point, financially.

Yeah, um, screw that.  Instead, look at all the money Lionsgate would have simply been left on the table if they had never split Mockingjay in half.  If they hadn’t chopped Suzanne Collin’s last book up into two movies they would have inevitably, in order to fit everything in, ended up making a very long movie thus creating a running time which would have likely dampened enjoyment and limited the number of screenings theaters could schedule in a day.  Or not.  Maybe they hack the last book to hell to fit it into a single movie and create something which is more pleasing to the general audience but infuriates the hardcore, not a wise move if you want that same audience to trust your brand as you look for your next big franchise.

Either way, it seems indisputable (despite what I said last week) that from a bottom line perspective splitting Mockingjay in half is clearly paying off for Lionsgate.  It’s not exactly like they are now enjoying a second year of box office profits cost-free.  Mockingjay Part 2 cost a franchise record $160m to produce and who knows how much to market.  However, they kept the train moving for one more year, and even if the end result is that both Mockingjay films set franchise lows individually they’ll probably end up combining to gross nearly $2 billion worldwide.

2. The Good Dinosaur Performed More Like a DreamWorks Movie than Pixar, But Is That Really So Bad?

disney-pixar-the-good-dinosaur-2015-finding-dory-2016It wasn’t supposed to go down like this.  The Good Dinosaur, which debuted to $55.5m over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend, wasn’t even supposed to come out this year.  It was supposed to come out last year but troubles behind the scenes forced a delay thus turning 2015 into the first year Pixar has ever released more than one movie in a single year.  Of course, the first movie out of the gate, Inside Out, is so good it’s arguably a dark-horse contender for a Best Picture nomination.  Audiences adored it as much as critics, and it grossed an astonishing $356m domestic over the summer, the second largest domestic haul in Pixar’s history behind Toy Story 3.

The Good Dinosaur was never going to equal that.  The reaction to the early trailers was muted. The buzz coming out of Disney’s D23 was mostly “The visuals are breathtaking!” and “No, we swear, the story’s actually a lot better than the trailers let on.”  The premise of the film seems easy to explain (What if the asteroid missed and the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct?) yet beyond that premise the film’s advertising didn’t do much to really explain the story beyond “It’s a talking dinosaur and his pet human having an adventure,” possibly holding back because that particular story is so keyed off of a surprising character death.  The choice to set particularly cartoonish dinosaurs and humans against the backdrop of nearly photorealistic backgrounds was offputting to some people.  Plus, while The Peanuts Movie hasn’t exactly been a smash it’s done well enough to potentially siphon away some potential family viewers who may be all dinosaur’ed out after Jurassic World.

The result is one of Pixar’s worst Fri-Sun openings of all time, third lowest in actual numbers but absolute lowest after adjusting for inflation.  Instead, The Good Dinosaur oddly profiles more like a vaguely high-end DreamWorks Animation project, as Forbes pointed out:

A $175-$200 million animated feature opening with $55.57m in five days, with relative history pointing towards a domestic total of $160m and $220m, with the middle ground being $195m.  While that’s fine, especially if it does well overseas, these are still the kinds of numbers for which DreamWorks Animation tends to get crucified. The studio’s Kung Fu Panda 2 got pansted in 2011 for pulling in a similar $60 million Thurs-to-Mon Memorial Day weekend debut. That film went on to earn $165m in America (flop!) but $665m worldwide (nevermind!). Same thing with How to Train Your Dragon 2, which opened in June of 2014 to $49m (horror!) and went on to earn $179m domestic (terror!), but then earned $621m worldwide (nevermind!). Should we be nicer about this Pixar entry because it’s an original, it was a famously troubled production or most of you like Pixar more than DWA?

3. Creed’s Success Should Teach Hollywood a Valuable Lesson

Creed MovieLet’s get the obvious out of the way right now: There’s no point in comparing Creed‘s $30m Fri-Sun/$42.6m Wed-Sun debut to any of the prior Rocky movies.  The way Hollywood opens and promotes movies and the way audiences prioritize what to watch when and where is completely different now than it was in 1976 (Rocky), 1979 (Rocky II), 1982 (Rocky III), 1985 (Rocky IV) or 1990 (Rocky V).  Officially, Creed just set the franchise record for an opening weekend, although Rocky III and Rocky IV technically sold more tickets (at a much cheaper cost) and Rocky V wasn’t far behind.  Things have even drastically changed since 2006 when Rocky Balboa debuted to $12m on the way to a total domestic/worldwide split of $70m/$155m.  The first Iron Man hadn’t even come out yet at that point.

You might be better off comparing Creed to more recent boxing movies, like this year’s Southpaw ($16m debut/$52m domestic total) or 2013’s Grudge Match ($7m debut/$29m domestic total), as clear proof that Creed obliterated what would normally be expected from a modern boxing movie.  You can try to place it into some historical context among Thanksgiving openings, arguing that if you ignore animated features Creed‘s $42.6m Thanksgiving bow is the fourth best all time behind Back to the Future II ($43m), Unbreakabale ($46m) and Four Christmases ($46m).  You can point out how absolutely everyone on social media, myself included, seems to adore this film, and speculate that this could have a shot at passing $100m domestic, possibly beating all of next week’s newcomers.

However, ultimately, Vulture had the best take on it, lumping Creed together with Mad Max: Fury Road :

Both Creed and Mad Max should be instructive to studios: if you are planning to resurrect a franchise, that new entry should be able to stand on its own. Max Max essentially has no exposition, and Coogler’s deft Creed script, written with Aaron Covington, covers what you need to know about Creed and Rocky’s past in the minimum amount of time necessary. But even more important is the filmmaker, serving as a welcome corrective to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s uniformity of vision across its properties. George Miller was given the resources he needed to revisit his own world, and he delivered. With Creed, Coogler proves that he’s as talented a young director as Hollywood has right now. New Mad Max and Rocky movies, as we knew them, would mean little in 2015. These new Mad Max and Rocky movies, though, serve as an essential roadmap. Audiences are following it. Let’s hope Hollywood, does, too.

4. Victor Frankenstein Is Merely the Latest in 2015’s Alarming Trend of All-Time Worst Performers

Pity poor Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy.  They finished Victor Frankenstein, a re-telling of the familiar story but form Igor’s point of view, a long time ago.  Then Fox pushed back the release date multiple times, ultimately swapping it with The Martian, giving that Ridley Scott gem the entire month of October to itself and burying Victor Frankenstein over Thanksgiving.  Radcliffe and McAvoy have been gamely making the promotional rounds, putting in a particularly memorable appearance on The Graham Norton Show, yet they had to know their movie was toast.  It seemed like everyone knew it was going to be bomb, but, wow, it even exceeded those already low expectations, making a practically microscopic $3.4m over the five days and $2.3m over Fri-Sun, the worst opening of all time for a movie playing in at least 2,500 theaters.

Doesn’t that story sound awfully familiar this point?  2015 has been freakishly overrun with some of the all-time worst openings we’ve ever seen.

Worst Opening for a Movie in 2,000 Theaters?  Jem and the Holograms, Rock the Kasbah and We Are Your Friends are now numbers 3-6 on that list.

For movies opening in 2,500 theaters? Victor Frankenstein is the new #1.  The Walk is #8, and Blackhat is #13.

For movies in 3,000 theaters? Bradley Cooper’s Burnt is #4, and George Lucas’ animated feature Strange Magic is #8.

What the heck is going on here?  Maybe more movies than usual have opened wide this year rather than building up audiences through platform releases.  Maybe this has just truly been a down year for movies.  Maybe the blockbuster mentality has created a Best of Times, Worst of Times scenario.  Either way, Victor Frankenstein has plenty of company in record-setting worst debuts this year.  It just happens to be the worst of the bunch.  That’s not a competition it wanted to win.

Worldwide Box Office Estimates for November 27-29, 2015

Box Office Good Dinosaur Creed

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