Sunday, December 28, 2014

by Ray Subers

Opening at 3,131 theaters, Angelina Jolie's Unbroken took second place with an estimated $31.7 million. Including Christmas Day, the movie has so far earned $47.3 million.

Those numbers are comparable to Django Unchained, which earned $30.1 million on its first weekend in late December 2012. Among World War II movies, the three-day debut ranks fourth all-time, and is noticeably higher than fellow 2014 entries Fury (2014) ($23.7 million) and The Monuments Men ($22 million). This is even more impressive when taking in to account the fact that Unbroken doesn't really have any recognizable on-screen talent.

's strong debut can be attributed to a few factors. The source material—Laura Hillenbrand's bestselling novel of the same name—has been widely read in the past few years. As has been reinforced time and time again, popular books often translate in to popular movies (see Gone Girl, The Fault in our Stars, etc.). Also, while the movie didn't have any on-camera stars, it did have a huge presence in the director's chair. Angelina Jolie is one of the biggest stars in movies today, and she has worked tirelessly over the past few months to get the message out about this movie.

It also helps that the material itself was quite appealing, particularly for holiday moviegoers. Universal did a great job positioning this as an inspirational true story about American war hero Louis Zamperini, who recently passed away at the age of 97. The marketing campaign emphasized the redemptive elements of the story, which likely connected with Christian moviegoers.

This is the eighth $25-million-plus debut for Universal Pictures this year (second only to 20th Century Fox). More impressively, this is their fifth $30-million-plus debut for an "original" movie following Lone Survivor, Ride Along, Neighbors and Lucy.

's audience was 52 percent female and 71 percent over the age of 25. They awarded the movie an "A-" CinemaScore, which suggests word-of-mouth will be solid. The movie is poised to earn at least $130 million total, and could go quite a bit higher if it picks up a handful of Oscar nominations.

In its second weekend, The Hobbit once again placed No. 1, grossing $54.5 million for the four-day weekend, including $41.4 million for the three days. The New Line and MGM tentpole has taken in nearly $170 million domestically and a sizeable $573.6 million worldwide, ensuring that it will eventually cross $1 billion.
Unbroken and Into the Woods, both launching Christmas Day, vastly overperformed, grossing $47.3 million and $46.1 million, respectively, to land high up on the list of top holiday openings. To boot, Unbroken marks one of the best showings of all time for a WWII-themed drama, while Disney's Into the Woods marks the biggest launch ever for an adaptation of a Broadway musical after Mamma Mia! ($27.8 million).
Based on Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling biography, Unbroken stars Jack O'Connell as World War II hero Louis Zamperini. The film, nabbing an A- CinemaScore, follows Zamperini as he's stranded in the ocean after a plane crash and then captured and tortured as a prisoner of war. Universal made Unbroken for $65 million. Interestingly, the audience skewed slightly female (52 percent), while 72 percent of ticket buyers were over the age of 25.
Universal domestic distribution chief Nikki Rocco gave huge props to Jolie. "I don't like to think of this as a war film. It's much more than that. It's an amazing inspirational story, and that's why it is playing so well in middle America. I put on Fox News last night and Greta Van Susteren was doing a whole segment on Louis," Rocco said.
Thanks to strong interest among all demos, the $50 million Into the Woods continues Disney's winning streak at the box office. The adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Broadway musical stars Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Chris Pine and Johnny Depp.
"We appealed to everyone. Fifty-one percent of our business came from adults, 38 percent from families and 11 percent from teens. It's very encouraging to see that kind of balance," said Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis.

By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood December 28, 2014 at 5:28PM
Why "Unbroken" outscored last year's "Wolf of Wall Street"

Angelina Jolie's "Unbroken" has gone in just four weeks from early awards favorite to lukewarm initial response from critics and Oscar mavens to now the leader among Christmas Day wide releases.. Its $47 million four-day gross is 50% or more above any realistic expectations before its opening (and $30 million would have been considered good). The gross is $13 million better than the five day total (through the weekend last year) for "Wolf of Wall Street," which had Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio instead of Jolie and her unknown cast.
Why this success? As the film is holding steady compared to other Christmas releases, several factors come into play. A major asset was its famous hero's well-known story, even before the still-best selling biography gave it much more attention. Its military World War II plot (see "Fury" and "Monuments Men" earlier this year) continues to have appeal with men, even seven decades later. Throw in the huge interest in sophomore director Angelina Jolie (who is not only a major star but also has credibility as a world activist and humanitarian) clearly helped get attention. This tough, nearly all-male film managed a slight majority female audience. And Warner Bros. did Universal a huge favor by having Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper" open in only three cities/four theaters, so its competition was limited.
But none of that explains the huge number alone. The extra boost likely came from an element known to Universal's marketing folks, but people on the coasts might not have seen coming. The studio expended a lot of effort in reaching out to the same faith-based middle-American core that most recently "Exodus" tried to reach, which has also boosted such films as "Heaven Is for Real." The biography, in far greater emphasis than in the film, makes a central theme of (spoiler alert) Louis Zamperini's post-war religious commitment and his emphasis on forgiveness. Remind anyone of another big religious success? It looks like "Unbroken" may have more successfully managed to combine a brutality-centered depiction with (although again not foregrounded in the movie) a Christian message better than any attempt since Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ."
The other smart element? This is a chance to salute one of the mostly unknown industry figures who played a key role in all this. Pioneer Nikki Rocco, Universal's long time President of Domestic Distribution, is going out on a high that anyone would covet. She is retiring after an astounding 47 years with the company, starting while still in high school at their New York base. Heads of distribution, though usually low-profile figures with the public, are central to the success or failure of films.
Rocco, whose experience and expertise has been essential for Universal through changing leadership, would have been in the middle of two key decisions about "Unbroken": first, what day to open (along with time of year), and then whether to go limited or wide to start. This film, despite the familiarity of the book, still arguably might have been positioned as a platform release (which, with its muted reviews might have been a problem) or sent out sometime other than Christmas Day. Both decisions clearly are bullseyes, not only in term of maximized grosses but also getting the film back front and center in the awards' derby after it has been a no-show so far. Brava for a job well done to the end.
With her retirement, the only non-male head of distribution at a major leaves the game. (Last year, Sheila Deloach retired from Fox Searchlight, and Focus Features' Linda Ditrinco was displaced when the company shut down its New York operation (she is now Eastern Division manager for Twentieth Century Fox). There are a handful of important women head film buyers for mid-level chains, though none of the major national ones. But even more significant is the loss of someone who could speak with authority to studio chiefs who can seem clueless about distributor/exhibitor business dealings (see the Sony debacle over "The Interview," where until last summer Jeff Blake could stand as a near-equal with the two Sony heads). Her able second in command Nick Carpou now takes over. But a generation of able, older executives is moving on, and like Rocco, will be sorely missed.

Senior Film and Media Reporter @BrentALang

On paper, “Unbroken,” the story of a bombardier who survives a crash in the Pacific Ocean only to be tortured by his Japanese captors, doesn’t sound much like a Christmas movie.
However, by emphasizing the inspirational elements of the incredible true story and director Angelina Jolie’s work behind the camera, the account of Louis Zamperini’s travails and ultimate triumph became one of the holiday’s biggest openers.
“At this time of year stories about faith and how strong the human spirit is do huge numbers,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations.
Bock compares “Unbroken” to “The Blind Side,” which also drew crowds in the big cities and Middle America by emphasizing uplift. “Unbroken” debuted to $31.7 million over the weekend and has made $47.3 million since opening on Christmas, stunning box office prognosticators who had expected it to make $10 million less than it collected. The oft-repeated mantra in trailers and other promotional materials, “If you can take it, you can make it,” gave the film a quasi-religious, redemptive aura that made it seem seasonally appropriate.
“It’s an inspirational film that played to all the quadrants,” said Nikki Rocco, Universal’s distribution chief. “The studio did an incredible marketing job telling the story of this hero.”
But “The Blind Side” had Sandra Bullock, while “Unbroken” is grounded by newcomer Jack O’Connell. That left Jolie to do the heavy lifting when it came to promoting the picture on “Today” and on the cover of magazines such as Variety. After “Maleficent” became the third biggest film of the year on a global basis, “Unbroken’s” success helps solidify her status as one of the industry’s preeminent movie stars — something that had been questioned given her four-year absence from screens.
“Angeline Jolie, along with Louis Zamperini, is the biggest star of the movie,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with Rentrak. “Her name on the film raised awareness higher than it otherwise would have been.”
For Jolie, whose previous directing effort, 2011’s Bosnian War drama “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” sank without a trace, “Unbroken” has opened up fresh career avenues.
“Hollywood is not kind to actresses as they age,” Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at “Establishing herself as a viable director commercially and creatively is a huge thing for her career.”
Not everything broke “Unbroken’s” way. Reviews were uneven, and the picture was shut out of the Golden Globes, but the film proved critic- and awards-proof at the multiplexes.
It helped, of course, that Laura Hillenbrand’s book of the same name spent more than 180 weeks on the New York Times bestseller hardcover list — a feat that has been surpassed by only three other nonfiction titles.
Likewise, “The Interview’s” cancellation in the wake of terrorist threats and subsequent rebirth as an arthouse release freed up screens for “Unbroken” and the holiday’s other major release, “Into the Woods.” It also left the marketplace without a film geared at adults. That was good news for “Unbroken,” which had an opening weekend crowd that was 62% over the age of 30.
Then there was the nature of Zamperini’s life story. It’s one that begins with a shiftless childhood before segueing to the Olympics, daring aerial missions, a punishing ordeal floating in a life raft in the middle of the ocean and a lengthy stretch in Japanese prison camps.
“It has a bunch of different story threads and it manages to catch a lot of different people as a result,” said Contrino. “It’s like ‘Forest Gump’ in the way that it hits a lot of different story lines. There’s the World War II stuff, the prison camp element and the sports stuff. It’s like a couple of movies in one.”
Knowing the challenges it faced in marketing a film without a proven star at the height of awards season, Universal started banging the drum early. In a nice bit of corporate synergy, the studio highlighted a lengthy promo that was narrated by Tom Brokaw during sister division NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics. A month later, the studio brought Jolie to Cinemacon, the annual gathering of exhibitors, to make an extended pitch for the film to theater owners.
“Universal’s unrelenting campaign has a lot to do with its success,” said Bock. “This thing could surpass $100 million. It’s going to have a lot of playability.”

Seven major films opened in a varying number of theaters on Christmas Day, and by Sunday very different Hollywood camps were celebrating. Angelina Jolie’s war drama “Unbroken” was an unexpected hit. Disney’s adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical “Into the Woods” found a broad audience. And Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” arriving in just four theaters, delivered eye-popping returns. But no newcomer could topple the furry-footed creatures from Middle-earth.
“Unbroken” (Universal Pictures) arrived in second place by selling roughly $47.3 million in tickets — more than double prerelease analyst projections. “Unbroken,” which received sharply mixed reviews, cost an estimated $65 million to make. “Into the Woods,” directed by Rob Marshall on a budget of about $50 million (and playing in 691 fewer theaters than “Unbroken”), took in roughly $46.1 million, a total that was also much better than analysts had expected.

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