Tangled and Harry Potter 7 face off over crowded Thanksgiving

By Scott Mendelson

hollywoodnews.com: Like a combination of Thanksgiving holidays past, it was a combination of Harry Potter holding down the fort against all newcomers, while a Disney animated property broke out of the gate. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I still won the three-day and five-day weekend derby, but Disney’s Tangled had a smashing debut that set a record for a three-day opening weekend for a standard Disney cartoon (IE – not Pixar). The Disney fairy-tale scored $49 million over the Fri-Sun portion of the weekend and amassed a whopping $69 million since opening on Wednesday. Inflation and 3D price-bump aside (56% of ticket sales were for the 3D version), this best the $42 million opening of The Lion King way back in summer 1994 (which was one of the top-five opening weekends ever at the time). It’s also the second-largest Thanksgiving opening weekend in history, behind the $80 million five-day and $59 million three-day opening weekend of Toy Story 2 back in 1999 (that $57 million debut was the third-biggest ever at the time). The lesson here is a simple one: Disney REALLY should have opened The Princess and the Frog in wide release over Thanksgiving last year.

Considering that Disney’s most recent animated features (Meet the Robinsons, Bolt, The Princess and the Frog) had opening weekends of around $25 million, the opening sprint for Tangled is all the more impressive. I took issue earlier in the year with Disney’s marketing campaign, which tried to make the film look less like a princess empowerment adventure and more like a boy-friendly action picture involving a roguish thief who sweeps Rapunzel off of her feet, but something obviously worked. I don’t have age or gender demo stats yet, but the film scored a very rare ‘A+’ from Cinemascore. That’s genuinely refreshing as A) the film is pretty darn good and B) it is indeed a ‘chick flick’ false advertising be damned.

I still contend that part of the success was about the release date, as Disney was in a better position to treat their 50th cartoon as a prime attraction of the holiday season. They shot themselves in the foot last year, opening A Christmas Carol at the beginning of November, thus causing them to put off the wide opening of The Princess and the Frog until December 12th. Frankly, most of the press attention for The Princess and the Frog occurred on Thanksgiving weekend, when the film was playing in just four theaters. By the time the film went wide, everyone was talking about Avatar.

Tangled opened on Wednesday with $11 million, giving the film a solid 6x five-day weekend multiplier. The legs on this picture are going to be about as long as Rapunzel’s hair (sorry…), and it has a solid chance of becoming Disney’s first traditional cartoon to cross $200 million since The Lion King. And yes, the film looks gorgeous in 2D, so the eventual loss of 3D theaters to The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Yogi Bear, and Disney’s Tron: Legacy shouldn’t be too much of an issue. With numbers like this, I seriously doubt that this is the last we see of the princess/fairy tale genre from the Mouse House.

The actual number-one film of the long weekend was still Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I, which scored another $76.5 million over the long weekend. With $50.3 million of that coming from the Fri-Sun portion (a reasonable for Harry Potter 59% drop), the film scored the second-biggest Thanksgiving holiday weekend ever, behind Toy Story 2 ($80 million), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ($81 million), and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone ($82 million). At ten days, the seventh Harry Potter picture has amassed $220.4 million, which makes it (so far) the fastest-grossing Harry Potter film yet (the sixth picture had $222 million in twelve days). While the film still trails the 10-day total of Twilight: New Moon ($230 million), it has already begun to outpace the Twilight sequel on a day-to-day basis. That’s not to say that the film will make it much farther than the $302 million earned by Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but it’s not going to completely collapse either, which was the fear following its severely front-loaded opening weekend.

The three remaining wide-openers had middling-to-weak debuts. Burlesque, a musical variation on All About Eve/Showgirls opened with $11.8 million over the Fri-Sun weekend and $17.2 million since opening on Wednesday. It’s not a terrible number, and it’s about in line with low-end expectations, but the Christina Aguilera/Cher melodrama cost $55 million to make (does Stanley Tucci get $20 million a picture now?), so this soft opening means that the film has to play overseas to avoid financial failure. This was an oddly costly project for the usually cheap Screen Gems, and as such will be the rare commercial misfire. Love and Other Drugs inexplicably opened on Thanksgiving weekend and paid dearly for it. The $30 million would-be Oscar bait Ed Zwick romantic dramady (starring Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal) opened with just $9.6 million over three days and $14 million over five. Fox sold this one pretty hard, with much free press regarding Hathaway’s plentiful nudity while carefully hiding the fact that she plays someone afflicted with Parkinson’s. It’s not a terrible opening, but surely the film would have been better served going out wide next weekend, with a single new wide release (The Warrior’s Way) rather than trying to be a date night/girl’s night out option on a family-centered holiday weekend. The film scored only 42% on Rotten Tomatoes and B- from Cinemascore, so prospects are pretty grim unless Anne Hathaway gets that much sought-after Oscar nomination

There has been an unofficial tradition of releasing lower-budget action pictures as counter-programming over the holiday (Ninja Assassin, Hitman, etc), and this year’s entry was Dyawne Johnson’s Faster. Sold as both a lean and mean R-rated action picture and The Rock’s return to pure action after spending his time making family entertainment like The Game Plan and The Tooth Fairy, the surprisingly thoughtful little movie opened with just $8.7 million over three days and $12 million over five. To be fair, in a crowded weekend such as this, Faster was all but guaranteed to get the smallest auditoriums amongst new releases, and CBS Films hasn’t exactly been a marketing powerhouse. Budgeted at just $24 million, the George Tillman Jr. picture should squeak to around $25 million and have a healthy life as a rental and/or cable curiosity.

There were two limited release openings, and they were a study in contrast. The King’s Speech opened on just four screens, and ended up with a stunning $87,000 per-screen average (the 17th-biggest ever and the 4th-biggest for four or more theaters). The Colin Firth vehicle/Oscar front-runner will expand over the next couple weeks. The last new release was The Nutcracker 3D, a Freestyle release that spawned some funny (and somewhat unfair) pans this weekend. The revisionist Nutcracker musical, which cast the classic ballet as a Holocaust parable set in 1920s Vienna, debuted on 42 screens and grossed just $68,000 three-day and $89,000 five day take. That’s a miserable $1,600 per-screen average. This one is supposed to go wide next weekend, so we’ll see if that actually happens. There has been talk that the picture (filmed in 2007 and held back for a mediocre 3D conversion) cost around $90 million. If that’s true, then this could be one of the biggest money losers in cinema history.

To read more about this article go to Mendelson’s Memos

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