Holiday Movies Try to Reclaim Lost Riches

By Lang, Brent | Variety, October 14, 2014 | Go to article overview

Holiday Movies Try to Reclaim Lost Riches


Lang, Brent, Variety


HOLLYWOOD WILL SPEND the rest of 2014 trying to dig itself out of a very deep box office hole, with ticket sales sputtering behind last year's windfall.

The difficulty is that the upcoming holiday season isn't just battling the ghosts of Christmases and Thanksgivings past. The studios are trying to recover from the worst summer moviegoing season in nearly a decade - one that left overall revenue down nearly 5% and admissions down more than 5% from last year. In order to make up that ground, the fourth quarter will have to exceed last year's $2.7 billion haul by more than $400 million.

"It's not very likely that we'll catch up with last year unless we have some knock-it-out-of-the-park hit," says Bruce Nash, founder of box office tracking site the Numbers. "A movie like 'Interstellar' wouldn't just have to be huge - it needs to be gigantic if it's going to do anything to save us."

Christopher Nolan's pricey space adventure, which arrives shrouded in mystery, is one of the high-profile pictures that the film business is counting on to power the remainder of the year. Ridley Scott's biblical epic "Exodus: Gods and Kings," starring Christian Bale as Moses, is a risky bet that also has tremendous upside potential.

Helping with the rescue effort are Hollywood's more reliable franchise installments, including Peter Jackson's final chapter of "The Hobbit" trilogy, the penultimate edition of "The Hunger Games" and a "Madagascar" spinoff. Also for the family crowd, Disney is releasing the animated robots comedy "Big Hero 6" on Nov. 7.

"It feels like a strong fall and Christmas season," says Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount Pictures. "You have a number of big players in it, and a number of original movies that have the potential to be global performers."

Of all of the pictures set to soar across bigscreens, perhaps none has the potential to fly higher than "Interstellar," which Paramount will release domestically Nov. 5, and Warner Bros, will bow internationally in most major territories at essentially the same time.

Nolan's reputation is gold among fanboys weaned on his "Dark Knight" films and "Inception." And the picture's star, Matthew McConaughey, is in the throes of his McConaissance.

"That's the wild card," says Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com, essentially in lock-step with Nash's assessment. "It has huge breakout potential."

On paper, many of these movies look like they have what it takes to draw crowds, but past years also have boasted impressive firepower.

The 2013 holiday season got a boost from "Hunger Games" and "Hobbit" sequels while benefitting from two other blockbusters that shattered expectations - "Gravity" and "Frozen," which made $716 million and $1.3 billion, respectively. Matching their worldwide box office bounties will be nearly impossible.

Last year's awards contenders also seemed more commercially viable, with "The Wolf of Wall Street," "American Hustle" and "Captain Phillips" all topping $100 million Stateside. It's hard to imagine the current quirkier crop of Oscar hopefuls such as "Birdman," "Foxcatcher" and "The Theory of Everything" rivaling those results.

When January rolls around, box office watchers expect ticket sales will end up roughly 3% off last year's record-breaking result of $10. …

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