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Disney's dream that 'Christmas Carol' will be the new 'Polar Express' coming true

November 16, 2009 |  2:54 pm

ChristmasCarolHappy When "A Christmas Carol" opened to $30 million domestically on its opening weekend -- well below what prerelease research had suggested and historically very weak for a movie that cost nearly $200 million to produce -- Walt Disney Studios' president of domestic distribution, Chuck Viane, counseled patience.

"Christmas-themed movies opening in early November tend to have a much greater multiple than others and we know [director] Bob Zemeckis always tends to over-deliver on his multiple," Viane said, pointing to Zemeckis' last 3-D, motion-capture animated Christmas movie, "The Polar Express," which ultimately collected more than seven times its opening weekend take.

As it turns out, Viane was wrong. "A Christmas Carol" isn't holding as well as "The Polar Express." It's holding even better.

U.S. and Canadian ticket sales for "A Christmas Carol" fell just 25.8% this weekend, the third smallest drop for any movie in wide release so far this year. That's substantially less than the second weekend drop for "The Polar Express" in 2004, which was 32.8%.

With its extremely strong second weekend and its healthy weekday performances, particularly last Wednesday, which was Veterans Day, "A Christmas Carol" has grossed $63.3 million. That's $11.8 million more than "The Polar Express" at the end of its second weekend, even though the 2004 movie opened on a Wednesday, giving it two extra days in theaters.

If the current trend continues, "A Christmas Carol" should be at more than $80 million by next Sunday. Thanksgiving weekend should be particularly strong for the movie, given its holiday theme and family appeal. "The Polar Express" saw its grosses rise 23.8% on Thanksgiving weekend and "A Christmas Carol" could easily do even better.

The next major release that will compete directly for the family audience of "A Christmas Carol" is Disney's "The Princess and the Frog," which starts playing nationwide Dec. 11. The following Friday, "Avatar" opens and will take virtually all of the digital 3-D screens currently playing "Christmas Carol," on which it is doing the majority of its business. That should essentially end the movie's domestic run.

Disney opened "A Christmas Carol" in early November, well before the holiday, in order to play on 3-D screens for as long as possible before "Avatar."

By the time James Cameron's hugely anticipated and costly picture debuts, "A Christmas Carol" could end up with a domestic gross of around $200 million. That would make it something of a financial success, particularly if the movie ends up doing well overseas. So far, after launching in 21 international territories, it has grossed $34.6 million overseas.

Disney probably will also be well-positioned to reopen "A Christmas Carol" in 3-D theaters for several Christmases to come, as Warner Bros. did with "The Polar Express."

In more good box-office news today, Sony reported that "2012" collected $5 million more overseas than it estimated yesterday, giving the disaster flick a final worldwide weekend gross of $230.4 million.

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: A scene from "A Christmas Carol." Credit: ImageMovers Digital

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