ByJerome Maida, writer at Creators.co
Writer
Jerome Maida

With "Unbroken" surprisingly leading the pack, it looks like the 2014 domestic Box-Office is set to go out with a bang - and should thankfully carry over into 2015.

Heading into the 4-day Christmas weekend, "Unbroken" surpassed expectations by finishing with the best domestic box-office for Christmas Day.

Heading into the weekend, most expects felt it was a fait accompli that "The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies" would win the Christmas weekend with $30-35 million total, with most estimates pegging "Into The Woods" at $25 million and "Unbroken" at about $20 million, at best.

Since it is late/early, depending on your point of view, I wil simply give you the raw numbers according to "Deadline" and add some brief analysis:

Word of mouth is on fire: Universal-Legendary’s Unbroken smashed through the onslaught of studio wide releases and holdovers on Christmas day and is looking to take No. 1 with $15.6M according to industry estimates, racing past Disney’s musical Into the Woods, which according to noon estimates was expected to finish first. As such, it comes as no surprise to learn that Unbroken earned an A- Cinemascore. Into the Woods, with a B, should land second with an estimated $13.6M while Warner Bros.’ The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies will settle for third with $12.7M, a 112% surge over its Christmas Eve low. A very good Christmas indeed with 25 films already expected to gross $75.9M, which is ahead of 2012’s $74.9M, but is just 2% off last Christmas’ $77.3M.

The success of "Unbroken" can be attributed in large part due to a major marketing effort that saw an appealing trailer shown on TV constantly. As a project of love by Angelina Jolie, it obviously helped that she was out there pushing the film. this included a 1-hour special on the film that aired on NBC.

Sony’s hot potato political comedy The Interview is eyeing about $1M from its 331 locations for a $3,000+ per theater. It’s a decent opening day, certainly not as jawdropping as the headlines the film has spurred from Sony hacking to 9/11 threats. Comps are spotty as limited bows in latter December are relegated to award contending titles. Not to mention, if you’re in the right arthouses, you can make $1M+ off of as little as 18 venues. The last political comedy to play the year-end holiday frame was 1997’s Wag the Dog (the film brilliantly pre-dated the 1998 Clinton sex scandal by a matter of weeks), which in its Jan. 2-4 sophomore weekend made $1.12M off 69 locations. It will be interesting to see how high Sony might expand The Interview‘s release. Such political football pics such as Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and comedies like Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat have grossed $24-26M bows off engagements in the low 800s.

I feel, given the attention this film has received, this debut is hardly surprising. In fact, I think if "The Interview" continues to perform well during it's run st the smaller theaters that chose to air it, at least one of the major chains will decide to show the film. The others will then likely follow suit - especially if Sony's other Holiday release, "Annie", continues to wither - it finished sixth on Christmas Day.

"The Interview" would also likely be considered strong counter programming to the family and :serious" fare that will dominate screens leading up to awards season.

Finally, while films like "Fahrenheit 9/11" were polarizing and considered by some to be ant--American, the odd journey of "The Interview" has made it a sign of patriotism among many to go see the film.

Unbroken‘s anticipated $30M-plus four day bow couldn’t come at a better time for the Angelina Jolie-directed World War II film as it aims to pique Oscars’ voters before nom ballots are due on Jan 8. The film was overlooked by the Golden Globes and SAG Awards (except for a stunt ensemble nom), however, the Critics Choice Awards lauded Unbroken with noms for best pic, director, adapted screenplay and cinematography. Weeks prior to its opening, faith-based film marketers told Deadline that Unbroken was clicking with Christian audiences in a way that Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings was not, giving high praise for Jolie’s finesse in portraying Louis Zamperini’s spiritual stamina.

Yes, "Unbroken" and "American Sniper" were shut out at the Golden Globes, leading some to feel the organization was against any military films that portrayed the American military in a positive light.

But Jolie, Bradley Cooper and ("American Sniper" director) Clint Eastwood carry a lot of star power and seem to be well-liked by the Academy. Stroong Christmas weekend showings by each will lead to positive press, which should generate more box-office, and so on.

Both films are also being received well by critics, with "American Sniper" even moreso.

Regarding "Unbroken", it's worth noting that it proves something Hollywood gets wrong time and time again. Christian audiences are not going to flock to films that simple tell Christian stories. They also want to see films that have Christian values.

Toss in the fact that "Unbroken" is appealing to a lot of veterans across generations, and it should do well for quite a while.

If Unbroken and Into the Woods’ opening estimates hold until tomorrow AM, they’ll respectively rank as the third and sixth highest Christmas bows of all-time. The top four currently are Sherlock Holmes ($24.6M), 2o12’s Les Miserables ($18.1M), Django Unchained ($15M) and Marley and Me ($14.4m).
Paramount’s The Gambler earned a C+ Cinemascore and is expected to bring in $4.6M. It’s a bit gritty for holiday crowds, hence the low grade. Paramount bowed the hard R-rated The Wolf of Wall Street last Christmas and wound up with a C Cinemascore and a $116.9M final domestic cume (though many will attribute that to the film’s awards traction, of which The Gambler has yet to notch).

That is still a decent start for Mark Wahlberg's picture.

Weinstein Co.’s The Imitation Game clocked into seventh place after its expansion from 34 to 747 theaters. TWC executed a similar rollout for The Imitation Game as The King’s Speech, and the Alan Turing biopic’s Christmas B.O. is 39% higher than that of the King George VI biopic. TWC’s Big Eyes looks to be opening in 11th place with approximately $1.33M off 1,307 runs. The film is just beginning its awards season run at the B.O., powered by Golden Globe music/comedy noms for Amy Adams (best actress) and Christoph Waltz (best actor) as well as a third for Lana Del Rey’s title song “Big Eyes”.

This is good news for both of these critically-acclaimed, wildly different films. Cumberbatch and Adams are both getting raves, which can only help.

Paramount’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. biopic Selma is looking to post $300K off 19 venues for a per theater of $15,789 while Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper from Warner Bros. made $200K at four theaters for a $50K per screen at the Arclight Hollywood in Los Angeles, Northpark in Dallas, the Union Square and Lincoln Square in New York City.

"Selma" should expand and resonate with many, especially with all that has gone on this year. Word is the film is excellent and could pick up significant steam. In the end, more people may buy tickets to see this in theaters than the sinking "Annie" - or even the highly touted "Birdman".

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