This weekend, there was actually some suspense in the race to the top of the box office chart.
Some pundits expected "Office Christmas Party" to open in the top spot, given its star-studded cast and the lack of comedy competition. With no other new wide releases, its only rival was Disney's "Moana," champ for the past two weeks. Both movies were expected to run neck-and-neck, with around $18 to $20 million apiece.
In the end, though, "Moana" had stronger legs, losing just 33 percent of last weekend's business and finishing first with an estimated $18.8 million. "Office" settled for second with an estimated $17.5 million.
As this column predicted last weekend, no one was going to beat "Moana" until "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" opens Dec. 16. Even bigger news came at the specialty box office.
"La La Land," the Ryan Gosling-Emma Stone musical that may be the most critically adored film of the year and an Oscar front-runner, opened this weekend. On just five screens, it scored an estimated $855,000, or an astonishing $171,000 per theater. That's the biggest per-theater debut of 2016; in fact, it's the biggest since "The Grand Budapest Hotel" nearly three years ago and the tenth biggest of all time. Not even "Rogue One" is going to top that.
So here's why "Christmas Party" proved no match for Disney's newest heroine.
By most accounts, "Moana" is simply a better movie. It has a 96 percent "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, compared to a 43 percent for "Office." And audiences agree, based on CinemaScore grades of A for "Moana" and a weak B for "Office." Right now, there's not another movie in wide release that critics and audiences like as much as "Moana."
2. It's Not a Good Time for R-rated Comedies Right Now
Seriously, people -- did we learn nothing from the recent spectacular failure of "Bad Santa 2?"
True, "Sisters" did well at this time a year ago, even though it was released on the same day as "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," and Paramount was smart this year to give "Office" an extra week before the "Star Wars" onslaught. Still, Christmas and raunchy comedy don't mix, at least not this year. The only comedy that's done well this season is modest hit "Almost Christmas," which is rated PG-13.
3. Theater Count
"Office" actually had a higher per-theater average than "Moana," $5,452 to $4,862. But "Moana" is playing on 665 more screens than "Office." Had "Office" been playing in just 246 more venues, it could have overtaken "Moana."
4. Competition for Adult Eyeballs
The target audience for the R-rated antics of "Office" was necessarily restricted to mature audiences, who had a lot to choose from this weekend, even if none of it was comedy.
Not only were there the wide-release dramas that have been holding up fairly well -- "Arrival," "Allied," and "Hacksaw Ridge" -- but there were also three grown-up indie movies, all Oscar hopefuls riding a wave of buzz, that moved into wider release: "Nocturnal Animals," "Manchester by the Sea," and "Miss Sloane." Together, the three films added nearly 2,000 screens to their theater counts and $8.3 million to their collective earnings. Not huge numbers, maybe, but enough to make a difference if "Office" didn't have them to compete against.
5. Star Wars' Jyn Erso
Even though "Rogue One" doesn't open until this coming weekend, its rebel heroine may have already struck a blow.
Fans may have held off going to the movies at all this weekend in order to save their ticket dollars for December's event movie, much as they did in late October before the November 4 debut of Marvel's "Doctor Strange."
6. Weak Weekend Before the Holiday Rush
Indeed, it wasn't just "Office Christmas Party" that suffered from "Rogue One" anticipation this weekend. In fact, the whole box office was down, with total sales at only about $83.6 million, making this the lowest grossing weekend of all of 2016 so far.
Whether it was holiday shopping, football, cold weather, or holding onto that ticket money until the Force pries it loose, it seems everyone had better things to do than go to the movies this weekend.