Going into this weekend's box office battle, pundits thought it might be a close one, with returning champion "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" racing neck and neck against "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" for box office supremacy. After all, in its second week, "Hobbit" was widely expected to fall to about $32 million, while long-awaited comedy sequel "Anchorman 2" was expected to earn $40 million from Friday to Sunday and more than $50 million from its debut on Wednesday through Sunday.
When the smoke cleared, however, "Hobbit" had performed exactly as expected, but "Anchorman 2" had underperformed by a wide margin. Estimates had it opening with just $26.8 million over the three-day weekend and $40.0 million throughout its first five days of release. So, "The Hobbit" lost 57 percent of its opening-week business, as expected, and still beat the brawling Channel 4 news team without lifting a finger (much less wielding a trident).
By the hymen of Olivia Newton-John, what went wrong? Here are some possible answers.
That Wednesday Opening
The movie was initially scheduled to open Friday, December 22, but, at the last minute, Paramount moved the opening forward two days to the 20th. Fans seem to have gotten the message, but while the crush of viewers on Wednesday and Thursday will help the film's overall bottom line, they may have stolen the thunder from the weekend, resulting in a poor Friday-to-Sunday showing.
If you wanted to see an energetic, funny, occasionally jaw-dropping film about scoundrels with bad 1970s hairdos, "Anchorman 2" wasn't your only option this weekend. "American Hustle" offered all that, plus star-of-the-moment Jennifer Lawrence, plus tons of Oscar buzz, plus almost universally positive reviews. The David O. Russell movie, which expanded in its second weekend from six screens to 2,507 screens, ended the weekend in a virtual tie for third place with still-mighty family film "Frozen," at an estimated $19.1 million. From the young and hip audience that "Anchorman 2" sought, "American Hustle" must have taken a healthy bite.
All the Hype
In the month preceding the film's release, it seemed like Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, and the rest of the Channel 4 team popped up everywhere in character, from viral videos to actual local newscasts, which they hijacked to deliver their own idiotic spin on the news. The intent (besides to remind you of the imminent opening of "Anchorman 2") was to make clear how moronic these guys are compared to real newscasters, but they may have had the opposite effect. Not only did they remind you how little difference there is between your local talking heads and the likes of Ron Burgundy and Brick Tamland, but they also made you tired of these characters weeks before the movie opened.
The film got mixed reviews from critics and even less support from audiences. It earned a B grade at CinemaScore, which indicates lackluster word-of-mouth. And the reason for that may be...
The original was so beloved, and the nine-year wait so long, that it was almost inevitable that "Anchorman 2" would be a disappointment. There was no way it could be as funny as we hoped, nor as lucrative.
Here's how unreasonably high the expectations were: After five days, "Anchorman 2" has grossed $40 million, so it's well on the way to profitability (it cost a reported $50 million to make, not to mention the untold millions spent on all the promotional stunts). Its estimated $26.8 million Friday-to-Sunday opening is a debut most movies would envy. And yet we're talking about the movie as if it were "The Lone Ranger."
In truth, there's no reason why "Anchorman 2" shouldn't have long legs, both over the next few weeks in theaters and over the long haul later (remember what an enormous shelf life "Anchorman" has had). There's no reason to think "Anchorman 2" won't earn enough to keep Will Ferrell in mustache trimmers for a long time to come.