Why ‘Les Misérables’ Looks Like a Holiday Box-Office Smash

"Les Misérables" is trampling the competition when it comes to advance ticket sales; Fandango says it may be the biggest Christmas Day release pre-seller in its history

Last Updated: December 20, 2012 @ 9:08 AM

Moviegoers are storming online ticketing sites in advance of the Christmas release of "Les Misérables," and the big-screen adaptation of the Broadway musical has all the makings of a holiday smash.

With a cast that includes Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman, expectations are enormous, but based on advance tracking, so is the box-office potential.

The film, made for a reported $61 million, is poised to gross as much as $26 million over its opening weekend, according to Boxoffice.com.

The site predicts that the movie should pick up multiple Oscar nominations and that awards attention combined with a rabid fan base of musical theater lovers will have it beguiling moviegoers well into the new year.

Also read: 'Les Misérables' Review: I Dreamed a Nightmare

Ultimately, it estimates that "Les Misérables" will rack up as much as $136 million at the domestic box office.

It's well on its way. Early ticket sales at Fandango indicate that "Les Misérables" has the potential to be this holiday's breakout smash, despite stiff competition from the likes of Tom Cruise's "Jack Reacher" and Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," both of which open over the next seven days.

Fandango also reports that the film has smashed records to become the company’s top advance-ticket seller among all Christmas Day releases, surpassing its previous record-holder, 2009’s “Sherlock Holmes”

It is also the largest advance-ticket seller among movie musicals in its history, supplanting 2006’s “Dreamgirls." By mid-day Wednesday, "Les Misérables" was outpacing all other films, even current releases like "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,"  and was responsible for 40 percent of ticket sales at Fandango.

"There’s such a history and good will surrounding the stage musical and this is a film version people have been anticipating for such a long time, that it has turned into the movie event of the holiday season," Dave Karger, Fandango's chief correspondent, told TheWrap.

"We're bullish on it," added Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at Boxoffice.com. "Based on all the early reviews, this sounds like a crowd-pleaser. When a musical hits, it becomes a beast at the box office."

He noted that  "Mamma Mia!," which arrived with less awards pedigree and was derived from a more dimly known stage show, grossed $609.8 million globally, because audiences loved the music.

Movietickets.com did not release any pre-sales information for holiday releases. However, recent surveys it performed of more than 4,000 customers indicate that there is a great deal of enthusiasm for the musical. 

Of the major holiday releases, 52 percent of those polled said they were most excited to see "Les Misérables." That was followed by 24 percent for "Django Unchained," 16.5 percent for "Jack Reacher" and 7.5 percent for "The Guilt Trip."

To be sure, not all of the "Les Misérables" reviews have been kind. In TheWrap, Alonso Duralde faulted the wobbly vocal talents of the leads and the director's penchant for close-ups of his emoting stars.

"Director Tom Hooper ('The King’s Speech') piles one terrible decision upon another, with the result being a movie so overbearingly maudlin and distorted that it’s one of 2012’s most excruciating film experiences," Duralde wrote.

Yet, audiences at screenings have been nearly rapturous in their response. Fandango's Karger notes that at a recent screening for members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that he attended, the crowd broke into applause at four different points during the film and gave Jackman and Hooper lusty ovations.

Given that "Les Misérables" tackles such topics as revolution, poverty and prostitution it seems like dark fare for the season, but Karger argues that the film provides enough uplift to appeal to moviegoers looking to get into the yuletide spirit.

"There are scenes of such intense suffering and despair in the movie, but at the end you are left with a profound feeling of love and that gives it a holiday feel," Karger said. "It's a slog through the mud to get there, but when the movie’s over you leave the theater with a wonderful sense of hope."

If Karger is right then Universal, which is distributing "Les Misérables," will be feeling very festive when Christmas rolls around next week.