Disney's "Moana" had plenty to be thankful for over the holiday weekend, but for all the other new releases that went up against it, it was a Black Friday.
"Moana" actually performed near the low end of expectations, even though it broke some records with its preview sales on Tuesday and its first-day tickets on Wednesday. Those early numbers had pundits suggesting the animated adventure could open as high as $90 million. But then the Turkey Day tryptophan coma kicked in, and the numbers went back to normal, for a more modest but still solid $55.5 million in estimated sales from Friday to Sunday, good enough to surf past "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" (with an estimated $45.1 million in its second weekend) to the top of this weekend's box office chart.
By contrast, Brad Pitt's World War II spy romance, "Allied," had to settle for a fourth place opening estimated at a mere $13.0 million. ("Doctor Strange," in its fourth week, edged it out of third by less than $400,000.) That was still way better than "Bad Santa 2," opening in eighth place with just an estimated $6.1 million, well below the low-teens estimates of some analysts. And then there was Warren Beatty's long-awaited "Rules Don't Apply," which failed to meet even meager predictions of $2 to $3 million. The period Hollywood backstage tale premiered with just an estimated $1.6 million, debuting way down in twelfth place.
Overall, this was a strong holiday at the box office, with total receipts up more than $25 million from a week ago and even up about $1 million from last Thanksgiving, a holiday weekend that saw the final "Hunger Games" movie sharing the multiplex with the debuts of "The Good Dinosaur" and "Creed." This Thanksgiving, however, there was little sharing of the holiday bounty. "Moana" and "Beasts" carved up more than half the feast between them and left table scraps for everyone else.
So why did "Allied," "Bad Santa 2," and "Rules" flounder? Here are three reasons.
1. It's Disney
The studio behind such past Thanksgiving smashes as "Tangled" and "Frozen" knows how to reach a holiday audience of kids on school break. By now, Disney pretty much owns these Thanksgiving five-day weekends. The six biggest five-day Thanksgiving debuts and the eight biggest three-day Thanksgiving openings all belong to Disney. "Moana" now ranks as No. 2 in both categories, behind only "Frozen" (which had a $67.4 million Thanksgiving three-day weekend).
2. Cartoons Aren't Just for Kids
"Moana" also knew how to reach adults, by casting familiar voices like Dwayne Johnson and getting "Hamilton" fountainhead Lin-Manuel Miranda to write the songs. Or maybe they just came along to babysit their kids. Either way, Disney claims some 43 percent of "Moana" viewers were 25 and older.
3. Other Adult Fare? No So Adult
Or at least, not that appealing to a grown-up audience. Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard's "Allied" looks like at least three other Pitt movies and at least one set of tabloid headlines. "Bad Santa 2," coming 13 years after the original, may have looked like a cynical cash grab, a sequel no one asked for.
As for "Rules Don't Apply," which marks Beatty's first directing job since "Bulworth" 18 years ago -- and his first acting role since legendary flop "Town and Country" 15 years ago -- well, Beatty does remain a figure of fascination for much older audiences, but not for many under 50. And yet, he's just a supporting character in his own movie, with the leads played by two much younger, lesser known actors.
You could argue that the 79-year-old is simply out of touch with what modern audiences want from movies, but even older audiences must have been hard-pressed to find interest in a Beatty comeback that's not much of a Beatty comeback.
All three movies had underwhelming reviews from critics, whom older audiences still read. But paying customers themselves agreed with the critics, giving the films lackluster word-of-mouth at CinemaScore.
In general, it's been hard to get adults to come to the multiplex this fall. The grown-up thrillers and prestige Oscar-hopeful dramas that were supposed to draw them out of their living rooms have mostly failed, either because of poor execution, poor marketing, or poor timing.
Certainly, having three such films open in wide release at once wasn't going to do any one of these adult movies any favors. Having them open opposite a well-made Disney cartoon that they'd enjoy watching with their kids proved a recipe for unappetizing turkey leftovers.