Delivering £11m between them, top titles The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Life of Pi both posted sensational holds, helping UK box office overall to achieve its fifth biggest weekend haul of 2012.
With Friday-to-Sunday takings of £6.85m, The Hobbit rose by 15% over the previous frame, and is one of only two films in 2012 (the other is Skyfall) to gross £5m-plus in its third weekend of wide play. Life of Pi rose a startling 48% from its debut weekend, and has achieved a robust £10.7m after 11 days of release. Based on the impressive increase, it's reasonable to conclude that Ang Lee's 3D literary spectacle is enjoying strong word-of-mouth from audiences.
Life of Pi has already grossed more than all but one of the major contenders from last year's awards race: best picture Oscar-winner The Artist maxed out in the UK at £9.8m; The Descendants got to £8.2m; and best actress champ The Iron Lady also fell just short of eight figures, with £9.9m. Among the nine best picture Oscar nominees from 2012, only War Horse, which managed a more impressive £18.7m, has yet to be overtaken by Life of Pi. Comparisons with the 2011 Oscar contenders are also encouraging for Life of Pi. The King's Speech, which went on to achieve an amazing £45.7m, stood at £10.8m after two weekends of play, almost identical to the Pi result, while Black Swan, which got to £16.2m, had reached £7.3m at the same stage of its run. Thanks to its holiday-season release date, Life of Pi has enjoyed the benefit of a highly available audience throughout its run so far, and its box-office might now be expected to decline sharply. Even so, it has made a racing start, and significant nominations and wins could sustain the film through January and February.
After 18 days of play, The Hobbit has reached a hefty £35.85m, overtaking The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 to become the fourth biggest hit of 2012, behind just Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises and Avengers Assemble. Despite this success, Peter Jackson's latest Tolkien adaptation is slightly behind the pace set by his Lord of the Rings sequels. Nine years ago, Return of the King stood at £41.8m at the same stage of its run, while The Two Towers was a bit less robust, with £38.4m after three weekends of play. Only franchise kickstarter Fellowship of the Ring was slower out of the gate, with £35m at this juncture. Factoring in inflation and the 3D ticket price premium, audience numbers are, of course, lower this time around.
Despite having its weekend takings swelled by two days of previews last Wednesday (Boxing Day) and Thursday, Jack Reacher, from producer-star Tom Cruise, had to settle for third place in the chart. A gross of £3.58m, including previews of £1.24m, compares with the more impressive numbers posted by Cruise's Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol exactly a year ago: £8.19m, including several days of previews totaling £5.48m. The comparison is not wholly apt. Although Jack Reacher benefits from the existing fanbase for Lee Child's crime fiction, that's not equivalent to the loyal and proven audience established by the Mission: Impossible movies. Outside the M:I franchise, and not counting ensemble Rock of Ages, Cruise's last lead roles were in Knight and Day (debut of £2.40m) and Valkyrie (£1.85m).
Family comedy Parental Guidance, starring Billy Crystal and Bette Midler as a couple pushed out of their comfort zone when they agree to look after their three grandchildren, overcame lack of buzz to post a decent debut of £1.29m including £357,000 in previews. The film was well-positioned to capitalise on the multi-generational cinema visits that can occur over the holiday season.
The record holder
As has already been widely reported and tweeted, Skyfall cracked £100m at the weekend, the first film ever to do so at the UK and Ireland box office. The latest Bond flick had already overtaken Avatar (£94m) to be the biggest-ever hit at UK cinemas. To appreciate what an outlier the film is, it's worth considering that of the many thousand films released since accurate box office reporting began, only 20 have achieved takings above £50m, and Skyfall has reached double that amount. Hitherto the biggest Bond movie was Casino Royale, with £55.6m. Skyfall's weekend box office went up an impressive 60% compared with the previous frame, presumably as audiences made one last effort to catch it before the holidays ended, and possibly also buoyed by Sony's TV advertising for the DVD release (out 18 February).
The £100.46m contributed by Skyfall since its 26 October release is a huge factor in the 11-week unbroken run of UK weekend box office being ahead of its year-prior equivalents. The last time cinema takings lagged behind the equivalent frame from the previous year, it was back in mid-October, and Taken 2 topped the chart. Cinema owners had always banked on a strong fourth quarter of 2012, thanks to Skyfall, The Hobbit and the final Twilight movie, but it's fair to say that the long unbroken run of rich pickings has been beyond their wildest dreams. With 17.64m admissions, November proved the best month for UK cinemagoing in 2012. During the years 2006-2011, the best month for cinemagoing was either July or August, the traditionally robust period jammed with summer blockbusters.
The festive battle: final round
Homegrown hit Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger! fought a close battle with DreamWorks Animation's pricey Rise of the Guardians throughout the festive season, and on Christmas Eve the cumulative tallies stood at £7.37m to Nativity v £7.48m to the Guardians. However, with the words "Nativity" and "Manger" in the title, Debbie Isitt's kid-powered comedy was always set to slide as soon as presents were unwrapped, and so it has proved, with a 67% drop at the weekend from the previous frame. Although Rise of the Guardians features Santa Claus as a major character, the film's association with Christmas is not so embedded, resulting in a much more modest decline from the previous weekend of just 16%. Totals stand at £9.50m for Guardians and £8.64m for Nativity 2. Disney's Tinker Bell and the Secret of the Wings rose a nifty 33% at the weekend, and has reached £2.21m so far.
For the first time since August, six films managed weekend takings in excess of £1m, delivering some welcome strength in depth, in addition to stellar results from top titles The Hobbit and Life of Pi. Now cinemas are pausing slightly for breath in the week before the 11 January arrival of surefire winner Les Miserables. However, Quartet, directed by Dustin Hoffman, is aimed squarely at the older audience that helped The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel become a £20m UK hit. Harder to predict are outcomes for spectacular true-disaster weepie The Impossible, starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, and Gerard Butler genre-straddler Playing for Keeps. All three titles arrived in cinemas on New Year's Day, and will be joined on Friday by the 18-certificate Texas Chainsaw 3D.
Top 10 films
1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, £6,850,728 from 596 sites. Total: £35,851,158
2. Life of Pi, £4,180,308 from 550 sites. Total: £10,710,057
3. Jack Reacher, £3,575,066 from 448 sites (New)
4. Pitch Perfect, £1,295,355 from 366 sites. Total: £2,941,127
5. Parental Guidance, £1,293,400 from 439 sites (New)
6. Rise of the Guardians, £1,022,539 from 504 sites. Total: £9,501,553
7. Skyfall, £890,022 from 339 sites. Total: £100,460,679
8. Tinker Bell and the Secret of the Wings, £623,067 from 411 sites. Total: £2,210,986
9. Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger!, £386,248 from 388 sites. Total: £8,641,687
10. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, £386,248 from 159 sites. Total: £35,405,174
Midnight's Children, 57 sites, £101,725
Safety Not Guaranteed, £25,199 (+ £7,829 previews) from 22 sites
F Type, £3,341
Zaytoun, £893 (+ £1,469 previews) from two sites
Grabbers, £47 from six sites
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image: © Justin Sewell