Three "franchise" movies opened this weekend, and the two that were in wide release disappointed.  Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows easily took the box office crown, but its estimated $40 million take was less that two-thirds of amount earned by the original Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes reboot in its debut during 2009 holiday season.  The #2 film Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked fared even worse with an estimated $23.5 million bow, which was less that half of the last Chipmunks movie’s $48.9 million opening.  The best news for Hollywood came from Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol, the fourth film in the espionage series, which brought in an estimated $13 million from just 425 locations.  Overall the box office was down a significant 13% from the same frame last year when Tron: Legacy opened with $44 million.

Weekend Box Office (Studio Estimates): December 16 - 18, 2011



Weekend Gross




Total Gross



Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows







Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked







Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol







New Year's Eve







The Sitter







The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1







Young Adult














Arthur Christmas







The Muppets






The comparison between the openings of the first Sherlock Holmes movie and A Game of Shadows aren’t totally fair since the first film opened during Christmas week in 2009, but the sequel’s drop is still troubling.  Ritchie’s first film successfully turned Conan Doyle’s super sleuth into an action movie hero, and leavened the proceedings with a good deal of tongue-in-cheek humor, most of which arose from the byplay and banter between the film’s likeable stars Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law.  The problem with the first film was its overblown action sequences and its ridiculous James Bond/steam punk plotline.  The new film adds Conan Doyle’s master villain Moriarty to the mix, though the super villain character was not featured prominently in the advertising for the movie, which made the Sherlock Holmes sequel look like more of the same.  Still the film did manage to earn a satisfactory rating from the critics (61% positive on Rotten Tomatoes), and the opening weekend audience, which skewed male (59%) and older (50% over 35), gave the movie a solid “A-“ CinemaScore—a rating that holds some promise that Warners’ Sherlock sequel could make up some ground in the coming weeks.
The future of Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked is a little harder to predict.  It could be that with a number of other family films available, parents have tired of the squeaky-voice rodents, though the first two films in the live-action/animated franchise were extremely popular.  Chipwrecked attracted an audience that was slightly female (54%) and predictably young (53% under 25). Its rather average CinemaScore rating of “B+” also doesn’t provide a lot of clues about the film’s future performance.
Ironically, the best performance of the three new films was turned in by Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol, which came in third with an estimated $13 million from just 425 locations (300 of which were IMAX venues).  The film opens wide next weekend, but it’s off to a solid start.  Reviews have been excellent (95% positive on Rotten Tomatoes), especially for an action film, and they represent the best notices for any film in the series to date.  Ghost Protocol’s financial performance was aided by the showing of a six-minute prologue to The Dark Knight Rises at 42 IMAX locations (see “Want to See the Dark Knight Rises Prologue?”), but it is extremely difficult to tell how much of a role the Batman footage played in the success of Ghost Protocol, though it’s safe to say that while it definitely didn’t hurt, it probably wasn’t a major factor.
Last week’s new entries took the fourth and fifth spots with the ensemble comedy New Year’s Eve faring better (down just 43%) than the R-rated comedy, The Sitter, which plummeted 54.5%.  The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 remained solidly ensconced in the top ten at number sixth after its fifth weekend in theaters, while three “family films,” Hugo, Arthur Christmas, and The Muppets took the last three spots in the top ten.
Check back next weekend when Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol goes wide and The Adventures of Tintin, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and We Bought a Zoo all open during what is typically considered one of the better weekends of the movie-going year.