ZAMM.COM: December Dates

By Martin Grove,

December dates: Thanksgiving's box office leftovers should help December get off to a tasty start.

With strong ticket sales over the long Thanksgiving weekend for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the 3D animated Frozen, Hollywood should see ongoing box office action this weekend for both films. Fire took in a record setting $110.2 million for the five-day holiday period, bringing its two week cume to $296.6 million, while Frozen did $93 million and has an opening week cume of $93.4 million.

December's first week is typically one of the holiday season's quieter times. For one thing, it follows a five-day Thanksgiving holiday period when millions of people do lots of moviegoing. In fact, with about $294 million in ticket sales for the five days, this Thanksgiving had the most box office stuffing ever. The previous record was about $290 million in 2012.

Early December is also when many people, especially adult women, start their holiday shopping and, therefore, aren't available to see movies. That's why high profile films like The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Wolf of Wall Street aren't arriving until mid-month or later.

This weekend's only new wide release is the R-rated thriller Out of the Furnace, opening Wednesday at four theatres and expanding Friday to about 2,000 locations. Directed by Scott Cooper, it stars Christian Bale, Casey Affleck and Zoe Saldana. It's tracking best with 25-plus males, the audience most likely to be available to see a new movie this weekend.

In the film,  a cruel twist of fate lands Russell (Bale) in prison while his brother Rodney (Affleck) is lured into one of the Northeast's most violent crime rings--a mistake that nearly costs him everything. When Russell is released, his choice is his own freedom or risking everything to seek justice for his brother.

By mid-December, however, the competition will start heating up with two new wide releases from well known filmmakers.

Fans of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy and his 2012 blockbuster The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, will start hitting the multiplexes Dec. 13 to see Jackson's new PG-13 rated 3D fantasy adventure episode The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The franchise's male appeal will work to its benefit in mid-December when men are more available for moviegoing than women because of holiday shopping.

Smaug, the second in the trilogy of films based on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, continues the adventure of the title character Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he journeys with the Wizard Gandalf (Ian McClelland) and 13 Dwarves on an epic quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain and the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.

The first episode in The Hobbit franchise opened Dec. 14, 2012 to $84.6 million and wound up doing $303 million in domestic theaters. Jackson's Rings trilogy grossed about $1 billion domestically.

The franchise's third episode, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, is scheduled to open Dec. 17, 2014.

Dec. 13 will also see the arrival of the latest episode in another well established franchise--PG-13 comedy drama Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas, written and directed by Tyler Perry, whose five previous Madea episodes generated $323.4 million in domestic theatrical grosses. Although the film's likely core audience of women usually has gift shopping in mind in mid-December, the franchise's popularity and its seasonal storyline should work in its favor to attract adult females ready for some holiday spirit.

In the movie, Madea (Perry) is coaxed into helping a friend surprise her daughter with a visit in the country for Christmas, but the biggest surprise is what they find when they arrive. As the small, rural town prepares for its annual Christmas Carnival, new secrets are revealed and old relationships are tested while Madea provides her own brand of Christmas spirit to everyone.

By Dec. 20, competition in the movie marketplace will really heat up with four new wide releases.

The R-rated crime drama American Hustle will get a two day jump on the weekend by opening Wed., Dec. 18. Its director David O. Russell is a three time Oscar nominee--in 2013 for directing and adapted screenplay for Silver Linings Playbook, which was a Best Picture Oscar nominee; and in 2011 for directing The Fighter, which was also a Best Picture Oscar nominee. There's already a strong Oscar buzz for Hustle in key categories like picture, director, actor (Christian Bale) and supporting actress (Jennifer Lawrence).

The story revolves around a brilliant con man, Irving Rosenfeld (Bale), and his equally cunning and seductive British partner, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), who are forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who pushes them into an enchanting but highly dangerous world of powerbrokers and mafia. Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) is the passionate, volatile New Jersey political operator caught between the con-artists and the Feds. Rosenfeld's unpredictable wife, Rosalyn (Lawrence), could be the one to pull the thread that brings their entire world crashing down.

The PG-13 biographical comedy drama Saving Mr. Banks, opening wide Dec. 20 after a limited launch Dec. 13, is directed by John Lee Hancock and stars Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, both of whom have an Oscar buzz going (for Supporting Actor and Best Actress). The film's already on many Hollywood handicappers' lists as a potential Best Picture Oscar nominee.

In the film, Walt Disney promises to get the rights to his daughter's  favorite book, P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins,  never thinking it would take him 20 years. Walt (Hanks) came up against a curmudgeonly, uncompromising writer with no intention of letting her beloved magical nanny get mauled by Hollywood. But needing money, Travers (Thompson) flew to meet in L.A. where for two short weeks in 1961 Disney pulled out all the stops, reaching back into his own childhood to persuade Travers to say yes.

The comedy Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, directed by Adam McKay, opens wide Dec. 20.

In the sequel, top rated San Diego newsman Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) returns along with his co-anchor and wife Veronica (Christina Applegate), weather man (Steve Carell), man on the street (Paul Rudd) and sports guy (David Koechner) to take New York’s first 24-hour news channel by storm.

The original Anchorman opened July 9, 2004 to $28.4 million and went on to do $85.3 million domestically.

Also arriving wide Dec. 20 is the PG-rated 3D animated family action adventure Walking With Dinosaurs. Directed by Barry Cook and first-time feature director Neil Nightingale, Walking lets moviegoers see and feel what it was like when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.

With state of the art 3D, the film takes moviegoers in the middle of a thrilling and epic prehistoric world where an underdog dinosaur triumphs against all odds.

Christmas through New Year's is one of Hollywood's top grossing times of the year. Not surprisingly, four new wide releases will start competing Dec. 25 to make it a Merry Christmas at the multiplexes.

The R-rated biographical comedy The Wolf of Wall Street, reteams director Martin Scorsese with Leonardo DiCaprio, who starred in Departed. A strong Oscar buzz for Best Picture, Director and Actor is already underway for Wolf. The film is based on the true story of Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio), charting his rise as a wealthy stockbroker living the high life and his fall from crime, corruption and the federal government.

The PG-13 sports comedy Grudge Matchdirected by Peter Segal, stars Robert DeNiro and Sylvester Stallone as Billy The Kid McDonnen and Henry Razor Sharp, aging boxing rivals coaxed out of retirement for one final fight--30 years after their last match.

Also opening Christmas Day is the PG-rated comedy adventure The Secret Life of Walter Mittydirected by Ben Stiller. Mitty is also generating a potential Best Picture Oscar buzz.

In the film, Stiller brings to life James Thurber's classic story of a day-dreamer escaping his anonymous life through a fantasy world of heroism, romance and action. When Walter (Stiller) and his co-worker Cheryl's (Kristen Wiig) jobs are threatened, Walter takes action in the real world, embarking on a global journey more extraordinary than anything he could ever have imagined.

And lastly, the PG-13 fantasy action adventure 47 Ronin, directed by first-time feature director Carl Rinsch and starring Keanu Reeves and Rinko Kikuchi, opens Dec. 25. While this is the seventh retelling of the samurai story that began with 1941's Japanese action drama The 47 Ronin, it's Hollywood's first telling of the tale.

In the film, a band of samurai seek to avenge their master's death and dishonor at the hands of a ruthless shogun.

Bottom line: Santa knows what Hollywood wants--and will be working overtime in December to deliver hefty ticket sales.

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