‘Hugo’ faces box office competition from Oscar rivals ‘The Descendants’ & ‘The Artist’

While “Hugo” is a frontrunner to win the Oscar for Best Picture, it is losing a majority of its venues this weekend. Those theaters that are still screening the film are doing so on a reduced schedule and in 2D only. The period between Christmas and New Year’s weekend is a key time on the calendar as major new releases and more free time — particularly on weekdays — means a surge in moviegoing. Paramount has three other films competing for screens this weekend — “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” “Tintin” (also in 3D) and “Young Adult.” 


Most November wide releases aren’t expected to “turn the corner” and play through the end of the year. However, Paramount took a chance with how they released “Hugo.” Knowing that they had a film with Oscar potential but without a clearly defined audience, they opened in only one-third of the normal number of theaters for a wide release, adding screens in each of the next two weeks.

“Hugo” opened in fifth place, jumping to third in its second week before falling to sixth and then seventh. Last weekend was its fourth and the per-screen-average (PSA) was an anemic $1,400 — a level that would put holdovers in jeopardy even in a less competitive period. To date, the film which is estimated to have cost $170 million, has grossed just under $40 million. 

“Hugo” is the only Best Picture contender in 3D, which is best viewed on the big screen. Nationwide, those theaters still showing “Hugo” are doing so with fewer showtimes and only in 2D. However, key theaters in Los Angeles — the Arclight and Century City — and Manhattan — Lincoln Square and Union Square — are maintaining full or nearly full showtimes in 3D.

“Hugo” is among the best reviewed of the Best Picture contenders and has done well with the precursor prizes. While it could well reap the most Oscar bids (somewhere between 10 and 13) on Jan. 24, it may be playing on only a handful of screens by then. 

Two of its biggest Oscar rivals should still do well this week. “The Descendants” has been riding a wave as each expansion shows continued strength with a gross after five weeks of $28 million. It will maintain nearly all its screens through the holidays. After four weeks of playing on less than 20 screens, “The Artist” moves into limited runs in key cities. To date, it has made $1.3 million with last weekend’s PSA at just under $17,000. Its real test won’t come until it broadens out following the Oscar nominations. 

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Thirty years ago, Paramount had another expensive epic that received great reviews and earned the most Oscar nominations. That film was “Reds.” The New York Film Critics Circle named it Best Picture and it took the Golden Globe for Best Drama Picture. And Warren Beatty won the DGA award. However, it was thought of as a box office disappointment and was beaten for Best Picture by “Chariots of Fire” which was playing to decent crowds while ballots were being cast.

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