'Rogue One' and 'Sing' top weekend holiday box office as 'La La Land' goes wide and comes on strong

Call it the Force. Call it moviegoers hungry for a sassy robot and some daring acts of galactic rebellion. For the second Christmas movie season in a row a “Star Wars” franchise film has dominated the holiday box office.

Also for the second year in a row, North American ticket sales are projected to exceed $11 billion, according to the entertainment data firm ComScore. And as the year comes to a close, 2016 is expected to see a 1.5% increase in ticket sales over 2015 ($11.3 billion versus $11.1 billion).

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” vanquished all others in its second week of wide release, hauling in $96.1 million over the four-day holiday weekend — with an additional $237.4 million from international screens.  

That puts the Gareth Edwards-directed action flick, set just before the events of George Lucas’ 1970s trilogy, well above the Disney film’s approximately $200-million production budget.

Coming in at No.  2 for the 2016 holiday weekend was Illumination and Universal’s “Sing.” An animated musical comedy about the adventures of a singing pig named Rosita (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) and a koala who is in over his head (Matthew McConaughey), it pulled in $56.1 million in domestic box office over the four-day weekend.

That puts “Sing’s” domestic box office at a highly respectable $76.7 million within one week of opening, ahead of its estimated production budget of $75 million.

Nick Carpou, who oversees domestic distribution for Universal, says “Sing,” whose soundtrack includes tunes from the likes of Queen and Stevie Wonder, has proved sticky with viewers young and old.

“From the standpoint of the story, the voice cast, the characters, the concept is extraordinarily satisfying to audiences,” he says. “Harkening back to our premiere, which was at the Toronto Film Festival. That’s a tough crowd and it’s usually laden with dramas. And there we were in the middle of the program and the reaction of the audience was unbelievable great.” 

Despite the strength of the year-to-date box office, the holiday weekend’s take might have been larger if not for the timing of this year’s Christmas holiday, with Christmas Eve landing on a Saturday. 

Moviegoing generally declines on Christmas Eve, when many people are in transit and some theaters shut down early in advance of the holiday. It then rebounds dramatically on Christmas Day, one of the most important moviegoing days of the year. Last year, Christmas Day landed on a Friday, which gave the movie studios a solid three days, from Friday through Sunday, over which to draw audiences.

Last year, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” drew $131 million from Christmas Eve through Boxing Day (Dec. 26). This year, “Rogue One” will generate roughly half that. (Though it’s worth noting they are quite different films: “Force Awakens” arrived after a 10-year absence from theaters for the “Star Wars” franchise and had a significantly larger budget.)

This year, studios opening films had to choose whether to open well in advance of the holiday or on Christmas Day itself. Sony’s “Passengers” opted to open wide on Wednesday, while others, such as 20th Century Fox’s “Hidden Figures” held off until Sunday. And Paramount’s “Fences” went wide on Christmas Day. 

How those strategies pan out remains to be seen.

“Passengers,” a sci-fi drama starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt as a pair of lonely travelers on a hurtling spaceship, came in third over the four-day weekend with $23.1 million and a respectable $30.4 million including its Wednesday and Thursday take. 

“It was a way to get the word out,” says Rory Breuer, president of Worldwide Distribution at Sony, of the film’s release at midweek. “And it’s playing quite adult. Family films, because the kids are all out of school, they immediately get that audience. But your adult audience has so much going on all the way through Christmas Eve. But then the market expands for adult films on Christmas Day.”

He expected that “Passengers” would continue to draw adult viewers over the Christmas holiday week.

“Fences” also broke the top 10  — earning $6.6 million in its first day in wide release and was expected to generate an additional $4.7 million on Monday. The film, directed by and starring Denzel Washington, is based on the play of the same name by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson and cost about $20 million to make.

Neck and neck at fourth and fifth place are two Fox releases: the Bryan Cranston/James Franco comedy “Why Him?” and the video-game-inspired action movie “Assassin’s Creed,” starring Michael Fassbender, which drew $16.7 million and $15 million in domestic box office, respectively, over the four-day holiday weekend.

In addition to “Fences” there was other enticing non-action fare for holiday audiences. 

The critically well-received Lionsgate musical “La La Land,” which had been playing in limited release since early December, expanded to 734 theaters nationwide on Sunday and landed at No. 8, earning an estimated $9.7 million over the four-day holiday weekend for a total domestic box-office gross of $17.6 million.

UPDATES:

5:50 p.m.: This story has been updated with projections of North American ticket sales for the year and with comments from some distributors. This article was originally published at 11 a.m.

An earlier version of this story said that "La La Land" so far had accumulated a total domestic box-office gross of $13.6 million. The correct figure is $17.6 million.

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