Another Horrible Weekend at the Box Office

Hollywood’s a little shell-shocked this morning. Not only was this the worst weekend of the year, it was worse than the post-September 11th Christmas season. The year-to-date news isn’t much better either. With only a few weeks left in 2011, revenues are down a total of 4% over last year. “Sherlock Holmes 2,” “MI:4,” and “Chipmunks 3,” “Tintin,” and “War Horse,” should help, but they will have to keep up with “True Grit” ($171M), “Little Fockers” ($148), and “Tron Legacy” ($172M).

On paper, this year’s closers might look more formidable, but who knows anymore? No one predicted the bottom falling out of the sequels to “Valentine’s Day” and “Happy Feet.”

Here are the numbers:

1. New Year’s Eve: $13.7M — This is director Garry Marshall’s sequel to his “Valentine’s Day,” which opened in 2010 to a mammoth $56M. The concept seemed fool-proof: place a ton of stars around a beloved holiday and knit them together with a loosely plotted romantic comedy.

There are, however, five very good reasons “New Years Eve” flopped.

1. After his breakup with Demi Moore, women aren’t finding Ashton Kutcher all that adorable anymore, though you have to wonder what they saw in the marginally-talented metrosexual in the first place.

2. The sequel is populated with a whole lot more celebrities than stars.

3. “Valentine’s Day” wasn’t a big hit. Granted, the opening was spectacular, but so was the subsequent drop off. In the end, it only ended up grossing $110M. Which brings me to…

4. “Valentine’s Day” was awful. Hollywood might have been able to put a dozen famous faces in the trailer to fool enough people into 3600 theatres on opening weekend, but after word got out, it crashed and became an advertisement for why no one should see the sequel.

5. Even if “New Year’s Eve” starred someone people care about like Halle Berry or Robert DeNiro, they also know from their “Valentine’s Day” experience that other than Kutcher, everyone else only shows up for a few scenes.

2. The Sitter: $10M — Jonah Hill is nothing close to a star and what made Hollywood think they could release an R-rated comedy into the middle of the Christmas season? Especially one with a trailer proud of the fact that the comedy revolves around a babysitter stripping young kids of their innocence? “Adventures in Babysitting” and “Uncle Buck” this ain’t.

3. Breaking Dawn Part 1: $7.9M — With a total haul of $260M, there’s no doubt this is a hit. However, with the closing chapter set for release next year, “Breaking Dawn” is not keeping pace with its predecessor. Summit Entertainment might be disappointed, but that’s what you call a luxury problem.

4. The Muppets: $7M — Kermit and company had enough problems without the left-wing entertainment media piling on. More about that here.

5. Arthur Christmas: $6.6M — A drop of only 11% over last week is the only good news for Sony. Three weeks in release and a $33.4M haul is bad news no matter how you spin it.

6. Hugo: $6.1M — Paramount added 768 screens and Scorsese’s 3D epic still dropped almost 20% over last weekend. Any hope word-of-mouth would break this out is fading fast.

7. The Descendants: $4.8M — No doubt this well-reviewed George Clooney drama is an indie hit, but after adding 302 screens for a total of 876, the box office only increased 1%. The plan is to take it even wider next weekend, and if the per screen ($5500) holds up that could prove to be a wise move.

8. Happy Feet Two: $3.7M — $56.8M after four weeks, about $80M behind its predecessor at this same time.

9. Jack and Jill: $3.2M — Did anyone think that after four weeks in release, a goofy Sandler comedy would be $12M ahead of “Happy Feet Two?”

10. The Immortals: $2.4M — $80M domestic plus another $102M overseas equals a profitability possibility on home video. With no big names, this is doing better than I expected.

This Friday will see the release of “Chipmunks 3,” “MI:4” (on 400 IMAX screens), and “Sherlock Holmes 2.” As a 20th Century Fox exec told the AP:

“I still want to think that our business is product driven, but we’re about to find out, because we’ve got some major films coming,” said Chris Aronson, head of distribution at 20th Century Fox, the studio behind “The Sitter” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks.” “There’s a lot of good stuff coming, and I think audiences are going to be primed.”

Hard to disagree with that. Every instinct tells me Hollywood will close strong.

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