Moviegoers will have a lot to choose from under the big box office tree this Christmas holiday -- in fact, they might even have too many choices.
Beginning next weekend with the release of Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol, and sequels to Alvin and the Chipmunks and Sherlock Holmes, an unprecedented number of big studio films will be crowding into the domestic box office at the same time.
From December 16 through Christmas Day, eight films will be released wide including two by Steven Spielberg, while about a half-dozen specialty titles will either enter the market or expand their footprint.
The major studios will be packing in these expensive films at a time when business has been weak with box office revenue down 4 percent year-to-year and attendance plunging 5 percent, according to Hollywood.com's Paul Dergarabedian.
This weekend the box office had its worst performance since September, 2008. That begs the question: Is there enough audience for all these films?
It's a crowded marketplace, and are banking on audiences being there, said Nikki Rocco, president of distribution for Universal Pictures. We'll see what the market can bear.
I have never seen so many movies going at the same weekend, ever, another distribution executive told TheWrap. Sometimes there's four and five movies. Six is an awful lot. But six of this caliber -- and at least most of them are high-caliber -- it's insane.
The box office will go into overdrive starting Wednesday December 21, with the openings of Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and We Bought a Zoo. This holiday crush will be punctuated on Christmas Day, when DreamWorks opens another Spielberg movie, War Horse.
Summit is also opening the sci-fi thriller The Darkest Hour wide that same week.
And the debuts of anticipated adult dramas Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and Albert Nobbs will only crowd the market further.
With the domestic market currently hovering at around $9.56 billion, the film industry will have to gross an additional $1 billion in the next few weeks just to match the $10.57 billion it took in last year.
These big movies certainly seem capable of moving the needle in that direction.
But many of the movies opening on Christmas weekend look to be in competition for the same audience. Several distribution executives worried that the Christmas weekend could pan out like Thanksgiving holiday, when family films Arthur Christmas, Hugo and The Muppets all competed for the same audience.
Arthur Christmas and Hugo both bombed.
Also, compare this year's Christmas week frame to last year's, when Universal's Little Fockers opened to a moderate $45.1 million while premiering wide alongside Paramount's True Grit and Fox's Gulliver's Travels.
Despite a relatively light release schedule, 2010's two-week holiday period featured notable bombs, with not only Gulliver's Travels underperforming but also James L. Brooks comedy How Do You Know?
With Christmas week a traditionally big period for moviegoing, studio executives insist the market can handle this year's cinematic bounty.
Every day is a Saturday night between Christmas and New Year's, a distribution executive told TheWrap, explaining that people have time off from work, kids are out of school, and it's cold in much of the country. Every day is off, and the theaters get jam-packed.
Another distribution executive said that the Christmastime period typically features 10 to 15 of the most prolific grossing days of the year.
That executive said that beginning Christmas Day, business just starts pouring into theaters, and that runs all the way to New Year's Eve -- and on New Year's Eve, they're there until about 6, 7 o'clock at night. And then New Years Day, they explode again.
Filmmakers like Spielberg, who has two $100 million-plus features entering the market at the same time with Tintin and War Horse, better hope this is true.
Individual studios will also be extended. Paramount, for example, is opening Tintin and Mission: Impossible over the holiday period. A week earlier, the studio plans to expand the number of theaters showing its Charlize Theron dramedy Young Adult to around 1,000.
One studio usually doesn't have three wide releases at the same time, said a rival executive.
Another distribution executive said that while the movies opening over the Christmas holiday have one thing in common -- they're big -- they have different release strategies and audience targets.
'War Horse' is one example and 'Sherlock Holmes' is the other, the executive said. 'War Horse' is going in for the long run. They're going in because they know their audience -- that audience is probably a little more intelligent, a little more patient and a little older and is going to enjoy movies throughout the entire holiday.
Sherlock Holmes, the executive predicted, will probably have a big first weekend and then see its numbers drop substantially.
Academy Award aspirations also factor into the decision to enter the crowded fray.
A studio executive noted that last year's True Grit debuted to $24.8 million over the holiday -- and went on to gross $171 million domestically, largely on the strength of its Oscar buzz.
You look at 'Dragon Tattoo,' you know that's going to do business, he said.
He added, however, that not everyone will end the year happy. There are going to be some casualties of war, this executive said.