On two weekends, a month apart, much of the U.S. was hobbled by subfreezing temperatures and megatons of snow. And on both those weekends, the No. 1 movie at the North American box office was Frozen, the Disney animated feature about a sorceress-princess who casts her kingdom into an eternal winter. That could be a weird coincidence, or proof that the Walt Disney Co. has truly supernatural powers.
Traditionally, the first weekend of January offers moviegoers two things: one new, cheap horror film and the chance to catch up with the big pictures released in December. Same deal this time. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, an offshoot of the found-footage scare franchise, recorded an $18.2 million opening at North American theaters, according to preliminary reports. That’s the lowest wide-release opening weekend for any film in the series, and just under a third of the $52.6 million debut gross of PA 3 in October 2011. (The first four Paranormals, whose total production budgets amounted to a pinchpenny $13 million, have earned $720 million at the global box office.) The Marked Ones received a C-minus rating from first-night attendees polled by CinemaScore, which suggests that word of mouth will be next to nada. Since the new picture cost only about $5 million to make, it’s already in profit — just not the astounding profits of its predecessors.
Otherwise, inclement conditions didn’t stop the weekend from equaling the total revenue of the same frame last year, customers were content to sample the presents left over from Christmas. For Disney, Frozen is the gift that keeps on giving. Earning $20.7 million this weekend, it will cross the $300 million mark in the next day or so. It has amassed a $640 million haul globally, making it the studio’s biggest animated earner (not including the Pixar movies Disney releases) since The Lion King in 1994.
The Mouse House could also find warmth in the tensile strength of Saving Mr. Banks, a dewy fictionalization of Walt Disney’s 1961 encounter with P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins books. Starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, Banks cost a modest $35 million to produce, and has now earned nearly $60 million. With Thompson a likely Oscar nominee for Best Actress, Disney could parlay its feature-length commercial for its founder into a $100 million domestic payday.
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Among year-end blockbuster franchises, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug dropped to third place after three weeks at No. 1 — Smaug and Frozen are the only two films to occupy the top slot since early December — but has earned more than $750 million worldwide, not far behind the first Hobbit installment. (The final film in the trilogy opens next December.) In its seventh week, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire remained sturdily in the top 10. The second of at least four movies based on Suzanne Collins’ young-adult best sellers, Catching Fire has earned $407.5 million in North America — plus another $423.4 million abroad — and by midweek will sneak past Iron Man 3 to become the top-grossing domestic movie released in 2013. May we now call Jennifer Lawrence the year’s most shining star?
Just behind Smaug were three adult-skewing “comedies.” Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the felonious stockbroker Jordan Belfort, rang up $13.4 million, a drop of only 27% from its opening last weekend, when every day was a holiday. The controversial, hard-R-rated movie is up to $63.3 million in just 12 days, and looks a good gamble to win back its $100 million production cost. Another scam film, American Hustle, held firm with $13.2 million and a modest 29% drop. Pulling in $88.7 million in 17 days of wide release, on a thrifty $40 million budget, Hustle may well become director David O. Russell’s biggest hit, exceeding the $132.1 million that his Silver Linings Playbook made a year ago. The third comedy, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, with $11.1 million this weekend, has registered $109.2 million in three weekends, nearly $25 million more than the total gross of the 2004 comedy that inspired it.
On the flop front, 47 Ronin, starring Keanu Reeves as a “half-breed” involved in a revolt of vengeful samurai, spiraled ever downward: after two weeks, the picture has earned just $32.6 million in North America and another $51.3 million abroad — hara-kiri numbers for a film that cost at least $175 million to produce. Walking With Dinosaurs has almost the same domestic and foreign tallies as 47 Ronin, which is bad news for an $80 million animated feature that saw its prehistoric monsters outdrawn by Disney’s princess cartoon. And Grudge Match, which lured Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro back into a boxing ring, is shy of $25 million in its first fortnight.
Several Oscar hopefuls are still in limited release of fewer than 700 theaters, before expanding when the Academy announces its nominations later this month. Philomena (607 screens), which may see a Best Actress nomination for Judi Dench, is nearing $20 million in its seventh week. The Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis (156), which the National Society of Film Critics named the year’s best film Saturday, has earned $7 million in five weeks. Alexander Payne’s Nebraska (240) has a Best Actor nomination for Bruce Dern in the offing; it, too, is at $7 million. Spike Jonze’s Her (47), starring Joaquin Phoenix as a lonely guy and Scarlett Johansson as the O.S. voice he falls in love with, has won more best-film citations from critics’ groups than any movie except for 12 Years a Slave. It has earned $3 million so far and opens wide next weekend.
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Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Frozen, $20.7 million; $297.8 million, seventh week
2. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, $18.2 million, first weekend
3. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, $16.25 million; $229.6 million, fourth week
4. The Wolf of Wall Street, $13.4 million; $63.3 million, second week
5. American Hustle, $13.2 million; $88.7 million, fourth week
6. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, $11.1 million; $109.2 million, third week
7. Saving Mr. Banks, $9.1 million; $59.3 million, fourth week
8. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, $8.2 million; $45.7 million, second week
9. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, $7.4 million; $407.5 million, seventh week
10. Grudge Match, $5.4 million; $24.9 million, second week