Will 2013 Break the Domestic Box Office Record? All Hope Lies With the Holidays

“The Hunger Games” and “The Hobbit” should deliver, and here’s betting on more hits than misses at Christmas

Last Updated: July 10, 2014 @ 8:08 PM

Hollywood should have another record-breaking year at the box office, but it’s going to take a Thanksgiving bounty, a healthy Hobbit and a very merry Christmas to pull it off.

Currently, the overall domestic box office is at $9.31 billion. That’s down roughly 1 percent from last year, which was at $9.39 billion at this point. Even though George Clooney‘s “Monuments Men,” Chris Pine‘s “Jack Ryan” and Tom Cruise‘s “Jack Reacher” have shifted to next year, there’s still a very good chance the box office can move ahead of 2012 — which stands as a record at $10.8 billion — in the six weeks left in the year.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” which opens Friday on a whopping 4,100 screens, should take care of the Thanksgiving part. The original brought in $408 million after opening to an eye-popping $152 million in March 2012, both staggering numbers for a non-sequel.

It’s not easy topping a first act like that. Only 22 original movies have earned more than $350 million domestically and, according to Box Office Mojo, eight have had direct sequels – none of which has matched their predecessor’s grosses.

But here’s betting that “Catching Fire” can pull it off.

It’s a known commodity now, and the success of the first film – even for those who only saw it at home — had to expand its fan base. Distributor Lionsgate knows what demographics and markets were strong or soft and can refine its marketing, which has been very aggressive so far. Social media is through the roof, pacing well ahead of the original film’s. And the release date – just prior to the holiday – could hardly be better.

Also read: Why ‘Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ Merchandising Is Tricky as Katniss’ Fight for Her Life

Also in the Thanksgiving mix will be Disney Animation’s “Frozen,” which opens the Wednesday before the holiday. It may not match the grosses of 2011’s “Tangled” – the last Disney Animation entry to debut in this holiday slot – but it should have the family field to itself through Christmas, and could approach $200 million.

It’s worth noting too, that movies like this weekend’s breakout hit “The Best Man Holiday” and “Last Vegas” have drawn older crowds and should play well through the holidays.

The bridge to Christmas will be Warner Bros.’ “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” which opens Dec. 13.

The first part of the Middle Earth trilogy opened to $85 million on the same weekend last year and went on to take in $303 million domestically for Warner Bros.

Also read: ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ Available for Early Download with Advance Tickets – and $20

That will be a tough number to match, but the film’s fan base is huge — and betting against Peter Jackson isn’t smart. Look for a similar opening, and a slightly lower domestic total. The first film made it to $1.01 billion worldwide with 70 percent of that coming from overseas, and it will be more of the same this time around.

On Dec. 18, Sony expands David O. Russell’s star-studded Oscar drama “American Hustle,” which stars Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper.

Paramount’s “Anchorman: The Legend Continues” lands on Dec. 20 and is also looking very strong. Will Ferrell’s not-yet-rated sequel (the original was PG-13) could be just the thing to counter the season’s sweeter fare, and an opening north of $50 million seems likely. On that same day, Disney goes wide with “Saving Mr. Banks,” the Tom Hanks-Emma Thompson tale of the making of “Mary Poppins.”

After that, it’s Christmas week, which is very, very crowded. There will be hits, but that means there are going to be some high-profile casualties, too.

Also read: Crazy-Crowded Christmas at Box Office: Will Hollywood Ever Learn?

On Christmas Day, Paramount is rolling out the Martin Scorsese-directed Leonardo DiCaprio drama “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Fox has set “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” with Ben Stiller, Universal’s debuts its Keanu Reeves’ thriller “47 Ronin” and Warner Bros. will open the Sly Stallone-Robert De Niro boxing comedy “Grudge Match.”

On that same day, the Weinstein Company’s “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” expands nationwide, as does the Justin Bieber concert documentary “Believe.” And the Meryl Streep-Julia Roberts dramedy “August: Osage County” gets a limited release.

That’s a lot of movies in the marketplace – and we’re betting enough will click to put 2013 over the top at the box office.