There’s not much dignity in being the first wide release out of the gate in any given year. Two things are certain: The studio does not see you as an Oscar contender, and it doesn’t have much confidence you can perform terribly well in a more desirable slot later in the year. In all likelihood, you’re a horror film, positioned as a grubby piece of counter-programming for audiences who’d rather not sit through some snooty awards contender. You’re probably not screening for critics, and if you are, you’re getting a terrible drubbing. But screw the critics: You’re the best movie of the year! And a likely moneymaker, too, given the trend suggested by the last five years:
2014: Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones ($22.2 million)
2013: Texas Chainsaw 3D ($25.6 million)
2012: The Devil Inside ($38.3 million)
2011: Season Of The Witch ($13.5 million)
2010: Daybreakers ($19.1 million)
For fans of the storied British horror label Hammer Films, The Woman In Black was a disappointing comeback after a long hibernation period, but the film was a huge (albeit quiet) success, earning $20 million in U.S. box office on opening weekend and a staggering $127.7 worldwide. So while it may have seemed like The Women In Black 2: The Angel Of Death was a sequel nobody asked for—at least to me, your humble box-office reporter, who confused it with that other Hammer thing with the Mad Men guy—the first-of-the-year cash-in plan has paid off in $15.1 million in receipts, which may be short of the original film and of early January horror films generally, but enough to justify its existence.
With The Woman In Black 2 landing at No. 4, the rest of the field fell mostly in line with what they were making over the Christmas season. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, Into The Woods, and Unbroken finished 1-2-3 for the second weekend straight, even though Peter Jackson’s conclusion to his three-part J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation had a week’s head start on the other two. The Battle Of The Five Armies soared past the $200 million mark with $21.9 million for first, leaving Into The Woods and Unbroken trailing just behind with $19 million and $18.35 million, respectively. Both should pass into nine-figure territory next weekend.
Also performing well is The Imitation Game, which crept into seventh place despite being on only 754 screens. The Alan Turing biopic, which won TIFF’s coveted People’s Choice Award, had the highest per-screen average of any wide(ish) release, with $10,757. American Sniper also cleaned up in limited release, with a staggering $160,000 per screen (on four screens) in its second weekend, suggesting big numbers when it finally goes wide on January 16.
As for the smattering of other new releases, A Most Violent Year rode good reviews to a more-than-solid box-office take, earning $47,000 per screen on four screens. J.C. Chandor’s follow-up to Margin Call and All Is Lost hasn’t gotten much attention from awards guilds or year-end lists, however, so it remains to be seen how well it will do as it continues to expand against tough competition. As for The Search For General Tso, a documentary about the origins of General Tso’s chicken, it turns out indie audiences would rather eat out than watch in. The film posted just $9,600 on two screens.