Thursday, December 25, 2014

Holiday Box Office Preview: Santa's Long List

Today--No less than 8 high profile films are set to begin their run:

First Sony Pictures decided not to release the action comedy "" (reviews) following terrorist threats and big theater chains bolted--now that decision has been reversed-the movie has been released in a limited number of theaters online and VOD via:

Google Play:
YouTube Movies:

The film is currently available in the US only

I am interested to see how the film will do over the holiday frame--factoring in its R rating, the controversy,  the reversal, and the competition that also hits today.

If you been living under a rock the last few weeks--the movie follows a celebrity tabloid show host Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) who have scored their biggest interview yet, a one-on-one with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Preparing to leave, the CIA and ask them to assassinate Kim despite having no qualifications. They accept the assignment.

The Clint Eastwood-directed biopic "American Sniper" (reviews) is based upon U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle's autobiography--Jason Dean Hall wrote the adapted script about Texas native Kyle (Bradley Cooper) who came to record the highest number of sniper kills (255) for an American. The book is a frank first-person account and includes passages from his wife who slowly watches her husband’s affection turn from her to his job. Tragically, this true American hero was killed by a fellow veteran at a shooting range in February 2013.

The Angelina Jolie-directed biopic "Unbroken" (reviews) is based on author Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 bestselling biography, that chronicles the life of Olympic athlete Louis Zamperin ("Skins" and "Eden Lake" star Jack O'Connell). He was captured by the Japanese navy during  World War II and detained at a P.O.W. camp. That came AFTER he survived both a near-fatal plane crash and being stuck on a raft for 47 days. Zamperini died on July 2nd 2014 at the age of 97.

Tim Burton's comedic drama biopic "Big Eyes" (reviews) will tell the story of Margaret and Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams), the artists whose work, especially paintings of doe-eyed children, became a pop-culture phenomenon in the 1950s and 1960s. However their home life was anything but perfect. Margaret was the artist but her husband took all the credit. During the their divorce they fought over the rights to their work with Margaret eventually winning the dispute- painting a picture in federal court to prove she was the one responsible for the work.

The historical drama Selma (reviews)--directed by Ava DuVernay follows Martin Luther King Jr‘s (David Oyelowo) historic voting rights campaign that occurred at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

Disney's film adaptation of the classic 1980s Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical Into the Woods (reviews) tells the story of a baker (James Corden) and his wife’s (Emily Blunt) attempt to have a family, but uses several classic fairy tale characters, such as Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Rapunzel (Stage and soap actress MacKenzie Mauzy) and Little Red Riding Hood, to enhance the story. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides director Rob Marshall called action.

The  long gestating remake of the James Caan-led 1974 crime drama "The Gambler" (reviews) stars Mark Wahlberg in the title role. Martin Scorsese was once attached to call action and then "The Hangover" and "Old School" director Todd Phillips circled the picture. Now "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes" director Rupert Wyatt is in line to helm the project from a script by William Monahan ("The Departed").

A modern reworking of the Book of Job, the film Leviathan (reviews) is set on a peninsula by the Barents Sea and tells the story of a man () who struggles against a corrupt mayor who wants his piece of land.

Pamela McClintock of THR:

Now that Sony is back to releasing The Interview, at least in a limited number of theaters, an unpredictable element has been thrown into Christmas Day box-office expectations.

Sony announced Tuesday that the R-rated comedy — starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as two bumbling journalists asked by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — will be released in select theaters. The studio is also trying to put a day-and-date VOD release in place as well, although that has not yet been made official. The movie is expected to play in 200 or more theaters, a majority of which are independent.

The Interview was pulled last week after the group that claimed responsibility for hacking Sony Pictures threatened to launch 9/11-style attacks on any venue showing the movie. First, the major theater chains said they would not show the movie, and then Sony canceled the release, despite interest from indie theaters. However, things were quickly muddied on Dec. 19, when President Barack Obama said Sony made a mistake in scrapping the film's release (a White House spokesman was quick to commend Sony's current plan).

On Dec. 22, a coalition representing roughly 250 independent theaters pleaded with Sony to let them show The Interview. Tuesday morning, Sony essentially agreed to that request, saying it will make the comedy available to any theater wishing to play it.

However, the bigger theater circuits aren't likely to oblige because of the possible VOD component. Generally speaking, most theater owners have a blanket policy against carrying a movie that's being made available simultaneously on digital platforms or DVD.

Insiders say the major exhibitors are furious with Sony's revised plan for The Interview because of both the VOD element and the way Sony has handled the whole situation. Some also worry that any renewed threat by the hackers could dampen holiday moviegoing. Domestic box-office revenue is down 5 percent from last year, and no one now expects that gap to close much over the course of the holidays.

In terms of the holiday box-office chart, it's unclear where The Interview will place considering its limited footprint. It could earn $2 million or $3 million.

The two biggest Christmas winners in terms of sheer earnings are expected to be Disney's musical Into the Woods and Warners' holdover The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

With Christmas Day falling on a Thursday this year, the four-day holiday weekend should see Hobbit placing No. 1 with more than $50 million.

Into the Woods is expected to earn $27 million to $30 million. Directed by Rob Marshall, the film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Broadway musical boasts a star-studded cast that includes Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Chris Pine and Johnny Depp.

Angelina Jolie's drama Unbroken also rolls out Christmas Day and should make a strong showing with a four-day gross in the high teens, or even the $20 million range. The Universal film is based on Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling biography of World War II hero Louis Zamperini.

The two other films opening nationwide on Dec. 25 are The Gambler, starring Mark Wahlberg, and Tim Burton's Big Eyes, starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz. (Big Eyes won't be playing in as many theaters as the other Christmas Day releases).

The stretch between Christmas and New Years is considering one of the most lucrative corridors of the year in terms of moviegoing, with December titles enjoying strong multiples. That's why family films Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb and Annie, both of which debuted last weekend, could do as much business over Christmas weekend as they did in their opening weekends (or $17.1 million and $15.9 million, respectively).

At the specialty box office, awards contenders Selma and American Sniper both roll out Christmas Day in select theaters and are expected to make a strong play.

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