While franchise titles did claim the top three spots at the box office this weekend, it wound up being a very mixed frame for sequels. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked both tallied solid grosses, though they were notably down from their predecessors. On the other hand, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol had a robust start in limited release. Even with all of these established brands entering the marketplace, overall box office ended up down around 12 percent from the same frame last year.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows opened to $39.6 million, which is way down from the original Sherlock Holmes's $62.3 million over Christmas weekend in 2009. In what could be an even more concerning comparison, the movie wound up lower than Tron Legacy's $44 million start at the same time last year. That's particularly shocking considering Game of Shadows opened just two years after a well-received original while Tron hit theaters 28 years after a first movie that wasn't even widely available on DVD or Blu-ray until after Legacy's release. Distributor Warner Bros. Pictures is reporting that the audience was 59 percent male and 50 percent under the age of 35, and that it received an "A-" CinemaScore.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked debuted to $23.25 million, or less than half of The Squeakquel's $48.9 million. It was also significantly off from the first Alvin's $44.3 million. Distributor 20th Century Fox reports that the audience was 54 percent female and 53 percent under the age of 25. The movie earned a "B+" CinemaScore.
Both Sherlock and Alvin struggled to live up to franchise standards this weekend, albeit for different reasons. The marketing for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows never sufficiently differentiated the movie from its predecessor. While the ads did often briefly mention Holmes's conflict with Professor Moriarty, the focus was mainly put on the slow-motion action and Holmes-Watson banter that were trademarks of the first movie. While that movie is generally well-liked, it probably doesn't have the sort of rabid fan base that will eagerly turn out for more of same, which seemed to bear out this weekend.
In comparison, 20th Century Fox did a great job showing that Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked had a unique premise (the Chipmunks get stranded on a desert island) in comparison to the first two movies. Regardless of how interesting the premise is, though, the Alvin and the Chipmunks series probably isn't looked upon fondly by most adults. While usually this wouldn't be a huge problem, the generally poor performance of family movies lately indicates that parents are probably being far more judicious in deciding what movies they will take their children to.
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol was the one bright spot at the box office this weekend. Opening at just 425 locations, Ghost Protocol earned $12.8 million for an impressive per-theater average of $30,083. That tops Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason ($8.7 million) for highest-grossing limited debut ever (fewer than 600 theaters). Ghost Protocol's 300 IMAX locations contributed $10/5 million, and its $35,000 average was slightly behind that of Inception ($36,548) but ahead of Fast Five ($32,787). Of course both of those movies were in nationwide and IMAX release simultaneously, though it still serves to highlight the strong numbers from the fourth Mission: Impossible movie.
By releasing the movie five days early in IMAX and consistently pushing the format's immersive benefits, distributor Paramount Pictures managed to at least initially turn Ghost Protocol in to an event movie that demands to be seen on the big screen. It probably didn't hurt that a six-minute prologue for The Dark Knight Rises was attached at around 42 locations, though that also isn't a large-enough sample to solely account for the above-average performance. It's tough to say for sure if Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol's success will continue when it makes its nationwide expansion on Wednesday, but for the time being the movie appears to be in very good shape.
Last weekend's leaders didn't fare too well in their second outing. New Year's Eve dropped 44 percent to $7.3 million for a 10-day total of $24.7 million, while The Sitter plummeted 53 percent to $4.6 million for a total of $17.9 million.
After a decent week in limited release, Young Adult expanded to 986 locations and earned $3.4 million. That's not a very encouraging figure, but Young Adult also isn't the type of movie that's designed to open big anyway. A solid long-run target now looks to be director Jason Reitman's first movie, Thank You for Smoking, which wound up with $24.8 million in 2006.