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Why Are There Fewer Presents Under the Tree at the Box Office This Christmas?

Why Are There Fewer Presents Under the Tree at the Box Office This Christmas?

When the year comes to a close, it will have been a record-breaking year at the box office. Four wide studio releases and a fifth initial expansion follow on Wednesday with “Sing” (Universal), “Assassin’s Creed” (20th Century Fox), and “Passengers” (Sony), Friday with “Why Him?” (20th Century Fox), and Christmas Day with the national release of “Fences” (Paramount).

Why Are There Fewer Presents Under the Tree at the Box Office This Christmas?

They’ll all follow in the footsteps of Disney’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” which is expected to linger at the top through the holidays. Meanwhile, Disney’s “Moana” and Warner Bros.’ “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” will continue to be successful, as will the more recent “Office Christmas Party” (Paramount) Christmas is no longer the most popular time to debut a product. Starting with the “Lord of the Rings” and subsequently the “Hobbit,” it has been customary to release sure-fire series films earlier in the month. Last year’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” broke the rules about how enormous a movie can be. In the shadow of “Rogue One,” though, nothing can bloom. “Unbroken,” “Les Miserables,” “Django Unchained,” and “Into the Woods” have all been box office hits in recent years, but the 2016 slate appears like it could have been released on any given weekend. Because of the nature of holiday play, determining success can take up to two weeks. During the rush of holiday gatherings, in-person word of mouth can have an impact equal to or greater than social media. As a result, the results are less predictable than in almost any other season.

“Sing” appears to be the safest bet. It comes from Universal’s Illumination animation studio, which supplied the only title (“The Secret Life of Pets”) to challenge Disney’s reign over the year’s top grossing films. It features a slew of animals, this time in a continuous musical format, and a marketing budget that rivals “Rogue One.” What it lacks in critical acclaim (and a high likelihood at an Oscar nomination), however, will have little bearing on its success. It has the most challenge from the ongoing buzz surrounding “Moana.” On paper, “Passengers” appears to be a strong contender for success, if not a sure bet. The science-fiction romance stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt and is directed by Morten Tyldum, a Norwegian who made a name for himself with his film “The Imitation Game.” Sony may have hoped for a success like “Gravity,” “Interstellar,” “The Martian,” and, most recently, “Arrival” with its blend of intellectual sci-fi, a top director, and younger stars. However, “Passengers” has received mixed to poor reviews. Bringing together the stars of the “Hunger Games” movies

Despite the fact that “Jurassic World” has given it traction, neither Lawrence nor Pratt have yet demonstrated the capacity to carry a film that is neither a franchise nor an ensemble. “Assassin’s Creed” is doing much worse in the early reviews. Australian director Justin Kurzel reunites with his “Macbeth” co-stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard for this film based on a popular computer game (neither guaranteed to draw in the masses). The game’s global appeal may compensate for the cast, which is no minor matter given the game’s budget of more than $100 million. How about this for a unique idea? In “Why Him,” a wealthy young entrepreneur rubs his prospective father-in-law the wrong way during a holiday visit, resulting in hilarious outcomes, with James Franco and Bryan Cranston playing the characters in mortal conflict. Cedric the Entertainer and others have been added to the R-rated humour in the hopes of broadening the appeal and making the season less dismal. It’s worked previously, at least in the short term; Will Farrell’s comeback film “Daddy’s Home” grossed roughly $150 million last year.

With its Christmas Day opening, Denzel Washington’s “Fences” is the last out of the gate. Its $32,000 per-theater average in four New York/Los Angeles theatres this past weekend was disappointing, but it may not have represented its attraction to African-American and/or older moviegoers. It could be compared to “The Butler,” which, despite its later success, may not have done as well as a platform film. Even more unpredictable is where “La La Land” will land after it expands to 750 locations next Sunday. Despite the usual low attendance right before Christmas, Damien Chazelle’s original musical ranked #7 in only 200 cinemas this past weekend. Because of its sustained success, a full nationwide release of 2,000-4,000 theatres is possible. Christmas week would have been ideal, if not for the fact that the presumptive Oscar leader has another opportunity coming up. Its chances will improve if it stays in the Top 10, and a long-term reward rather than an immediate gross is a critical strategy. “Manchester by the Sea” has already played in over 1,000 theatres and finished sixth last weekend. It is likely to remain stable at this level, and it may even increase its gross while losing its position. Again, Amazon and Roadside’s strategy is to demonstrate that it has not only critical but also popular appeal.

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