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Weekend box office: Why 'In the Heart of the Sea' won't stay afloat

The Ron Howard film 'Heart of the Sea' debuted this past weekend but didn't make a splash. The final 'Hunger Games' movie topped the box office once again. Why was 'Sea''s opening so mediocre? 

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    'In the Heart of the Sea' stars Chris Hemsworth (r.) and Cillian Murphy (l.).
    Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
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Director Ron Howard’s drama “In the Heart of the Sea” did not set sail auspiciously this past weekend, with “Sea” placing second at the box office with a domestic gross of $11 million, coming in second to the final installment of “Hunger Games.” 

That's not a bad first weekend for most films. But it's weak for an expensive Ron Howard film. 

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” grossed more than $11 million this past weekend, which was enough to give it a victory. Coming in third was the Pixar movie “The Good Dinosaur,” which, like "Mockingjay," opened over Thanksgiving weekend. "Dinosaur" took in more than $10 million this past weekend. 

The “Rocky” movie “Creed” came in fourth with more than $10 million after having opened in late November. The horror movie “Krampus,” which opened in early December, grossed $8 million, placing fifth.

This is, of course, the weekend before the new “Star Wars” movie “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is being released and so that most likely explains why “Sea” was one of the few "big" films to released this weekend ahead of the juggernaut.

December is usually a crowded time for high-profile releases. Last year, such movies as the Ridley Scott movie “Exodus: Gods and Kings," the final “Hobbit” movie “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” and the musical “Annie” all bowed before Christmas.

This year, Thanksgiving was a busy time, with “Hunger,” “Dinosaur,” and “Creed” debuting. But studios have mostly stayed away from the weeks before and after the “Star Wars” arrival. “Sea” opened this weekend and the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler comedy “Sisters” and the animated film “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip” will be opening next weekend. But apart from awards season fare, many of which are in limited release, there are few new movies. 

Studios are mostly waiting until Dec. 25, the week after “Star Wars” comes out. That’s when such films as the new David O. Russell movie “Joy,” the Will Ferrell comedy “Daddy’s Home,” and the sports drama “Concussion” will debut. 

As for the fortunes of “Sea,” “Star Wars” debuting later this week will most likely not do it any favors at the box office in the coming weekends.

"There's no question that this weekend was affected by the anticipation of 'Star Wars,'" senior media analyst for box office data firm Rentrak Paul Dergarabedian said in an interview. "You have countless moviegoers poised and ready to hit the multiplex later this week. We're on the cusp of an earth-shattering weekend at the box office."

But why did “Sea” not make much of a financial wave this weekend, even though “Star Wars” hasn't arrived yet? Negative reviews for the movie, which tells the story of a whaling ship that is destroyed by a whale in the nineteenth century and stars Chris Hemsworth, probably didn’t help. Monitor film critic Peter Rainer wrote that the movie is "serviceable but mostly unstirring."

The fact that it had a low opening also gets more attention because anyone who saw previews saw that "Sea" is filled with costly effects. Such movies need to gross more than, say, a quiet drama to succeed.

Expectations are also higher for veteran Howard than they would be for another director. He’s previously been behind such box office successes as “Apollo 13,” “A Beautiful Mind,” and “The Da Vinci Code,” though that last movie most likely benefited from anticipation for the adaptation of a popular book.

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