Christmas Forecast: 'Star Wars' Second Weekend Faces Five New Wide Releases
Once again Star Wars: The Force Awakens is poised to break even more box office records over Christmas weekend. However, after five days of record-breaking activity it's this holiday season's new wide, expanding and limited releases that could prove equally interesting. Four new films are releasing in 2,800+ theaters this weekend with Daddy's Home the widest release of the lot at 3,271 theaters. Looking back over the years this has been a prime weekend for new releases, begging the question as to whether Star Wars steals eyeballs or if it simply does its thing while the other titles play as they normally would.

Star Wars will most certainly take the weekend top spot with a second weekend well above $100 million. We've been tracking it's daily performance in comparison to Avatar as its 33.8% Monday drop matched that of the domestic and worldwide box office champ. Tuesday's 6.85% drop was a little higher than Avatar's 1.83% drop, but Wednesday got things back on track with a 1.7% increase compared to Avatar's 2.23% increase on its first Wednesday, which keeps the comparison alive heading into the weekend.

In an attempt to be thorough, along with Avatar, additional titles researched for comparison included the daily results for the first week's for Jurassic World, The Avengers, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 and The Dark Knight. Looking at the "pure" Friday for each film by factoring out Thursday preshow and midnight numbers, and then comparing the Friday drop to opening day, Avatar is the lone standout with a mere 0.52% drop once you remove the $3.5 million it took in from midnight screenings. All the other films had a "pure" Friday drop anywhere from 52.26% (The Dark Knight) to 69.41% (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2).

Most likely, Star Wars will drop around 55% compared to last Friday, before removing the $57 million in Thursday previews. Removing Thursday previews we're talking about something closer to a 14-15% drop and a Friday in the $53-55 million range. This would lead to a second weekend around $175+ million and a domestic cumulative total around $565 million by Sunday. It took Jurassic World 24 days to cross $550 million, it will take Star Wars around ten. For added perspective, the record for the largest second weekend is $106.5 million, set by Jurassic World earlier this year.

Moving to the newcomers things get incredibly difficult. In an effort to begin with some semblance of normalcy to set a baseline for comparison we'll start with the largest all-time weekends and work backward. Last weekend was the largest weekend of all time with the top twelve films grossing a combined $305.5 million, Star Wars accounting for 81.2% of that number. We'll call this the ceiling as it's hard to expect this weekend to go any higher, that is unless each of this weekend's new and expanding releases defy the Star Wars-sized elephant in the room.

We'll consider our floor the $259.9 million grossed by the top twelve in 2009 when Avatar topped the box office in its second weekend. Looking a bit closer at that weekend, as impressive as Avatar's $75.6 million second weekend is, you can't overlook the fact Sherlock Holmes opened with $62.3 million, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel opened with $48.8 million and It's Complicated opened with $22.1 million. Adjusted for inflation that's $284.8 million for the top twelve, which just might be the sweet spot for this weekend.

With that out of the way, looking to play second to Star Wars is the Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg comedy Daddy's Home. Recent precedence for comedies on (or around) Christmas weekend include Parental Guidance (2012) opening with $14.5 million and Little Fockers (2010) opening with $30.8 million. However, Anchorman 2's $19.6 million second weekend in 2013 might be the best indicator we have along with the $35.5 million opening of Ferrell and Wahlberg's 2010 comedy The Other Guys. With a PG-13 rating Daddy's Home should play somewhere around $20.4 million this weekend, though anything higher wouldn't be the least bit surprising.

Moving to the new David O. Russell film, Joy, the writer/director has gotten the gang back together as he's made yet another film with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. Reviews aren't as solid for this one as they were for the likes of American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook, which does make a prediction a little more difficult. As noted above, It's Complicated made over $20 million in the face of Avatar's second weekend and it was rated R compared to Joy's PG-13 rating, which should help the film a bit, making a $16.2 million opening seem quite doable.

Reviews have also been weak for Will Smith's Concussion. At one of the highest points in the actor's career he headlined I Am Legend when it broke the December opening weekend record in 2007, but he's struggled a bit as of late with the likes of Focus, After Earth and Seven Pounds not exactly busting the box office bank. The timely nature of Concussion certainly helps as the NFL and talk of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is all over the place, and the Golden Globe nomination for Smith doesn't hurt either, but the buzz seems to be non-existent for this title making a prediction above $11 million difficult.

Paramount's The Big Short began its theatrical expansion on Wednesday. Adding 1,577 theaters, the film is now playing in 1,585 locations and it brought in an estimated $2.3 million on Wednesday alone. The Wolf of Wall Street is the most obvious comparison, but buzz doesn't seem quite as high and Big Short is playing in 952 fewer theaters than Wolf when it opened in 2013 and brought in $18.3 million in its first weekend following its Wednesday opening.

Paramount was originally going to expand Big Short into 2,200+ theaters this weekend and the lower theater count could indicate a smart movie, slow-playing this one a little longer and letting the Star Wars storm die down a bit so as to not get lost in the shuffle. That said, a weekend around $10.5 million or so would seem to be a baseline with a huge opportunity to surprise with much higher totals and a strong hold next week.

From a wide release perspective, the one likely flame out would seem to be Point Break, an unnecessary remake that plays like a direct-to-video release. Reviews have been embargoed until Christmas Day with only the trades going live so far and it isn't pretty. Our prediction of a $7.1 million opening could be low, but it's hard to expect this will cross $10 million.

Also difficult to predict is the much ballyhooed, 70mm release of Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. Opening in 100 theaters this weekend before going wide starting on December 31, the three hour roadshow screenings are something of a special occasion in an era where digital has taken over, causing an understandable interest from filmgoers. The question is, how much will it take in from those 100 theaters?

A couple comparisons to take into consideration include Paranormal Activity's $49,379 per theater average (PTA) from 160 theaters, the $45,561 PTA for Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour from 683 theaters and Zero Dark Thirty's $44,933 PTA in January 2013, which itself wasn't an opening weekend and neither was the Paranormal Activity number. This begs the question, could Hateful Eight go higher? Is the Tarantino fanbase large enough to generate an opening weekend average above $45k?

If you're willing to go that high, kudos on being a risk taker... you should have been an extra in Point Break. We're going a bit lower and a $38,000 per theater average for a $3.8 million opening. Word of mouth on this one will be something to keep an eye on as Hateful Eight is a serious slow play, leading to a fifth(?) act bloodbath full of broken teeth, spit and swearing. Tarantino's Django Unchained was his largest domestic release so far, grossing more than $162 million. It will be interesting to see how this one ends up and especially interesting to see how it does once it expands and the running time is trimmed by about 20 minutes.

In limited release Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's wonderful, wilderness epic The Revenant begins playing in four theaters and the much buzzed performance from Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years can now be seen in three theaters. Both films will expand in the coming weeks.

This weekend's predictions can be found below.

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (4,134 theaters) - $178.54 M
  • Daddy's Home (3,271 theaters) - $20.44 M
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks The Road Chip (3,705 theaters) - $17.14 M
  • Joy (2,896 theaters) - $16.22 M
  • Concussion (2,841 theaters) - $11.08 M
  • The Big Short (1,585 theaters) - $10.7 M
  • Sisters (2,962 theaters) - $10.02 M
  • Point Break (2,910 theaters) - $7.13 M
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (1,813 theaters) - $4.99 M
  • The Hateful Eight (100 theaters) - $3.8 M

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