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Moviegoers Say Hold On, Holidays

Another attempt at a ‘Nutcracker’ movie bites the dust as Queen beats a Disney princess at the box office.
Helen Mirren In The Nutcracker
By  · Published on November 5th, 2018

Giving Freddie Mercury and Queen another hit, the biopic Bohemian Rhapsody landed at number one on the box office chart over the weekend. While the placement isn’t a surprise, the movie did blow past expectations to sell about 5.8 million tickets in North America alone — the second-best opening for a music biopic after Straight Outta Compton and, according to Box Office Mojo, the second-best opening for a movie with an LGBTQ protagonist after Interview with a Vampire.

In line with the impressive Live Aid sequence in Bohemian Rhapsody, I have to quote the title of a song recorded for the same cause and performed at the concert: do they know it’s Christmas? The question is for moviegoers, who mostly ignored Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Not that the fantasy family film underperformed against what was forecast, but for a release that reportedly cost more than $120 million, its 2.3 million tickets sold domestically is a disappointment.

Similar to the summer movie season, the holiday movie season is apparently starting earlier and earlier every year — coinciding with the general holiday season, which now begins the day after Halloween per the Christmas songs on the radio and decorations out on the shelves. But while it may be time for stores to be the spirit already, moviegoers aren’t ready for something like a Nutcracker film on the big screen just yet. And I wonder if Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch will fare much better next week.

Well, that one is animated and has a more popular property. Let’s not forget that Ron Howard’s live-action Grinch remains the record-holder for the best opening ever for a Christmas movie. The adaptation didn’t open until the 17th of November, though. Still, Christmas movies have debuted earlier in the month and done well enough, namely The Santa Clause 2, which opened on November 1st in 2002. Last year’s A Bad Moms Christmas, however, arrived too soon with the same date and was quickly forgotten.

The Nutcracker as source material for movies has never been lucrative. Moving down the Christmas movie chart, we see that 1985’s Nutcracker: The Motion Picture, a Thanksgiving week release, only drew a total domestic audience of 210,700. Four years later, the animated feature The Nutcracker Prince had double the draw with a total domestic audience of 421,200. And three more years later, Chrismas movie star Macaulay Culkin wasn’t able to help much with the appeal of Warner Bros.’ live-action The Nutcracker, which had a worse opening than the animated version but went on to sell just 512,100 tickets.

The last major adaptation, albeit one that does away with the ballet and much of the original story, was 2010’s The Nutcracker in 3D, and that was a big-budget flop, one of its year’s worst box office bombs. Why would anyone think they could find success in the property that’s best relegated to local dance school productions and Radio City Music Hall? Disney’s own Fantasia, which features a Nutcracker sequence, was one of its biggest early failures.

If The Nutcracker and the Four Realms was in fact meant to tie-in to Fantasia as part of Disney’s current practice of producing live-action adaptations of its animated features, then the movie gave the trend its worst opening yet, with only the studio’s earlier 1994 live-action version of The Jungle Book having a lower-grossing debut (except when considering their respective screen counts, in which case The Jungle Book performed better). Given that the Nic Cage-led The Sorcerer’s Apprentice wasn’t a notable success, maybe Disney should lay off Fantasia for a while — if they can put the Night on Bald Mountain one they have in the works on hold.

Disney has had a bad year with its non-Marvel live-action offerings this year, too. Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time adaptation didn’t perform as well at the box office as the studio had hoped, even while breaking records, and Solo: As Star Wars Story was a shocking slight on the Star Wars franchise, enough to get Disney and Lucasfilm to reconsider their overall plans with the brand. This year’s Disneynature effort, Expedition China, didn’t even bother with a theatrical release here. And while Christopher Robin did about what should be expected for a Winnie the Pooh movie, it also opened low before making up for that somewhat with a leggy run.

Still, Disney oughta spin some magic spells to guarantee Mary Poppins Returns is the massive success they’re anticipating. Fortunately for them, they’ll probably have more room at the multiplex for the sequel considering The Nutcracker and the Four Realms probably won’t even still be in theaters come Christmastime. That’s one of the awkward possibilities when you release a holiday movie too early, and given the movie’s poor reviews and so-so audience reception (‘B+’ grade via CinemaScore polling), there’s no way it’s going to have legs.

In other box office news, Nobody’s Fool gave Tyler Perry one of his lowest debuts yet, A Boy Erased had the best per-screen average of the weekend, debuting in just five theaters, and despite the challenge of a new musical drama, A Star is Born kept on chugging along. The movie is about to cross the $300 million mark for worldwide gross as it looks to pass Chicago in its rise within the top 10 for live-action musicals. Soon, the movie will also pass Crazy Rich Asians on the domestic chart to make it the highest-grossing Best Picture hopeful that isn’t Black Panther.

Here are the weekend’s top 10 titles by the number of tickets sold with new and newly wide titles in bold and totals in parentheses:

1. Bohemian Rhapsody – 5.8 million (5.8 million)
2. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms – 2.3 million (2.3 million)
3. Nobody’s Fool – 1.6 million (1.6 million)
4. A Star is Born – 1.25 million (18.7 million)
5. Halloween – 1.23 million (17 million)
6. Venom – 0.9 million (22.5 million)
7. Smallfoot – 0.44 million (8.8 million)
8. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween – 0.43 million (5 million)
9. Hunter Killer – 0.40 million (1.5 million)
10. The Hate U Give – 0.38 million (2.7 million)

All non-forecast box office figures via Box Office Mojo.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.