'In the Heart of the Sea' Goes Hunting for #1 Before 'Star Wars' Arrives

by Brad Brevet

December 10, 2015

UPDATE: In the Heart of the Sea brought in $575,000 from Thursday night preshows. For the sake of comparison, Bridge of Spies brought in $500,000 from preshows in mid-October before opening with $15.3 million and, back in 2013, Captain Phillips kicked off on Thursday with $600,000 before opening with $25.7 million. In the Heart of the Sea is opening in a few more theaters than Captain Phillips did, but it does have 3D and IMAX ticket prices that must be taken into consideration. All told, these numbers don't really tell us much and it's still looking like an opening in the $15 million range. The original weekend forecast follows...

FORECAST: Does it say anything about the prospects for this weekend's box office that, instead of excitement over the release of Ron Howard's seafaring epic In the Heart of the Sea, the majority of the talk centers on countdowns for next week's premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Traditionally this weekend isn't necessarily a poor weekend—often rebounding, or improving, from the post-Thanksgiving weekend—but this fiftieth weekend of 2015 might prove to be the worst we've seen in several years. Last year the top twelve tallied $76.1 million, the worst this weekend had seen since the top twelve grossed $70.5 million in 1999, and this weekend could prove worse.

This week's only new wide release is the aforementioned In the Heart of the Sea, which sees Ron Howard re-teaming with his Rush star Chris Hemsworth alongside the newly anointed Spider-Man, Tom Holland. The film opened in 38 territories internationally just last weekend to the tune of $18.5 million and in some territories (Russia, South Korea) it showed improvement over Rush while in others (Italy, Germany) it wasn't able to match the performance.

Rush might not be a perfect comparison, but that film's strong reviews along with the fact it starred Hemsworth in the lead role, just one year after the success of The Avengers and shortly before the release of Thor: The Dark World, definitely upped the film's profile. Universal opted for a limited release following Rush's festival premieres and when it went wide a week later it could only muster $10 million. WB is going straight to a wide release with In the Heart of the Sea, and a few factors will allow it to climb a bit higher than Rush, though there are also a few hurdles in its way.

The film is being released in 3,103 theaters, including 3D and IMAX, which should help bolster box office due to higher ticket prices. Heart of the Sea is also more of an effects feature than Rush was, which should help generate more interest among younger audiences. However, reviews haven't been all that great as it has a score of 51 on Metacritic at the time of publication. That low tally could affect interest from an older demographic that often needs critical praise to get them up off the couch. Then there's the matter of the Dark Side...

Star Wars fever is at an all-time high, subconsciously diminishing enthusiasm some may have otherwise had in seeing a giant whale take out his frustrations on a crew of New England whalers in the winter of 1820. In order to capture that lost attention, Warner Bros. should have attached something along the lines of a Batman v Superman prologue or extended trailer in front of IMAX showings to entice younger audience members. Because as it stands, In the Heart of the Sea is fighting for interest in a marketing space where droids and Wookiees are capturing audience attention of all ages, and it's likely to have a significant impact.

Last year Exodus: Gods and Kings, a big effects-heavy feature from Ridley Scott, opened on this same weekend and managed $24.1 million. It then faced last year's big, holiday tentpole, WB's final installment in the Hobbit series, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Exodus ended up dropping 66% its second week and it wasn't even facing a healthy franchise.

By 2014 the Hobbit franchise wasn't the juggernaut it was when The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opened in 2012 and set the current December opening weekend record of $84.6 million, which counted for 65% of the weekend's top twelve gross. By comparison, Five Armies amassed only $54.7 million, 43% of its opening weekend's top twelve gross. The drop-off is significant and it showed one week before the first Hobbit's release, which saw Skyfall top the box office in its fifth weekend with $10.7 million. So how will Heart of the Sea fair, opening one week before one of the most highly anticipated resurrections in the last three years?

All things considered, In the Heart of the Sea will be looking at somewhere around a $14-15 million opening. Reports have the film costing just under $100 million to produce and it looks like it could be another struggle for Warner Bros., which has already endured its share of lackluster performances this year such as Jupiter Ascending and Pan.

As for the rest of the top ten, notable mentions include Creed expanding for the third weekend in a row, this time adding 78 more theaters, bringing the total to 3,502. Last weekend the Ryan Coogler-directed crowdpleaser dropped only 49.4% and this weekend should drop even less as it will likely take fourth behind Pixar's The Good Dinosaur, which, by Pixar standards, is struggling to keep its head above water.

Krampus should be an interesting title to look at following its impressive, $16.2 million debut last weekend. The film scored a "B-" CinemaScore, which typically means a 50+% second weekend dropoff. Expect that to hold true here, somewhere around 52% and a $7.8 million weekend.

Both Brooklyn and Spotlight are continuing their slow expansions this weekend. Spotlight is now playing in over one thousand theaters and Brooklyn just shy at 947. Expect both to remain in the top ten with Spotlight in particular gaining a lot of attention with the recent Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nominations as it has become the presumptive front-runner for Oscar's Best Picture award.

In limited release this weekend, Paramount is ushering Adam McKay's The Big Short into eight theaters, similar to the strategy employed by Sony with American Hustle in 2013. That film ended up opening in six theaters, enjoying a $123,409 average per before going wide the following weekend. The Big Short arrives with a media bump after receiving four Golden Globe nominations just this morning, including Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy) as well as acting nominations for stars Steve Carell and Christian Bale. Co-star Ryan Gosling's "Saturday Night Live" appearance has also helped the film remain in the media spotlight all week. It's difficult to gauge how a film will do in limited release such as this but anywhere between $100,000-125,000 per theater will be looked at as a very strong start. Just this year we saw Steve Jobs kick off its limited run with a per theater average of $130,381, though that, unfortunately, didn't translate into subsequent weekend riches.

Predictions for this weekend are below and for you Star Wars fans, The Force Awakens will be opening in approximately 3,900 theaters next weekend. That number will likely go up a bit, but it will also likely end up below the 4,045 theaters The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey played in in 2012 when it set the December opening weekend record. Otherwise, the Force Awakens theater count should end up with the second most theaters compared to all previous, top December openers. How many of those will be 3D and/or IMAX is yet to be revealed. As for that December record, it will be broken, but by how much?

  • In the Heart of the Sea (3,103 theaters) - $15,050,000
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (3,651 theaters) - $10,370,000
  • The Good Dinosaur (3,749 theaters) - $9,500,000
  • Creed (3,502 theaters) - $8,990,000
  • Krampus (2,919 theaters) - $7,820,000
  • Spectre (2,640 theaters) - $3,200,000
  • The Night Before (2,674 theaters) - $2,720,000
  • The Peanuts Movie (2,653 theaters) - $2,070,000
  • Spotlight (1,089 theaters) - $1,900,000
  • Brooklyn (947 theaters) - $1,630,000

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