Viacom's "Anchorman 2" Takes Silver in a Box Office Shocker

Source: Viacom.

This past weekend, millions of Americans flocked to malls and stores across the nation to finish their Christmas shopping, and apparently, many were able to squeeze in a movie.

The top 12 movies brought in a combined $137.3 million on the 21st and 22nd, which is up an astounding 37% from the same weekend last year.

The big release of the weekend was Viacom's  Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Hype for the release of the sequel to the 2004 classic had been building for months as a result of an aggressive marketing campaign, which not only included the traditional television and radio appearances by the cast, but also a special Chrysler Dodge Durango commercial in which Ferrell played his famous character, Ron Burgundy.    

The film was officially released on Wednesday, and was projected to haul in at least $30 million-$35 million over the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday stretch. Most analysts saw the comedy as a lock for the top spot in the weekend box office, but instead Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug earned gold with an estimated $31.4 million. Anchorman 2's $26.8 million fell nearly $5 million short.

The Hobbit, which has pulled in $127.5 million domestically so far, is turning out to be another hit in a strong year for Warner Brothers, the studio holding of Time Warner. Warner Brothers which is on track to produce nearly $6 billion in revenue this year.    

Ron Burgundy disappoints 
 Anchorman 2's $40 million domestic take since its release on Wednesday is almost half way to matching the original's $90.5 million worldwide total, yet analysts and industry experts were looking for more from the long-awaited sequel. Box Office Mojo analyst Ray Subers projected the movie raking in $165 million when all is said and done, but with a weak opening, that goal appears much harder to obtain.

Expectations were even set high by Viacom, which poured $50 million into the production budget for Anchorman 2. This is nearly double the $26 million production budget for the original, which on its opening weekend raked in $28.4 million.

Brandon Gray, an independent box-office analyst and former president of Box Office Mojo, remarked:

"It was a solid start for Anchorman 2, but there were some pretty high expectations based on the first Anchorman. People were definitely aware of the movie, but making a comedy sequel is harder than for an action movie. Even massive media coverage won't necessarily translate into people flocking to theaters."

Yet not all are losing hope in Ron Burgundy, with many pointing to the strong performance of the movie outside of the U.S. as a potential catalyst for a strong overall performance. The original brought in only $5.3 million from foreign markets. Anchorman 2 shattered that with a $13.4 million debut in six foreign markets this past weekend.

Don Harris, the head of domestic distribution for Paramount, one of Viacom's holdings, commented on this foreign strength by saying: "Anchorman 2 will have a much larger footprint internationally than the last Anchorman did. Will Ferrell has done a really good job of turning this character into something that travels around the world."  

Scott Mendelson, a Forbes movie analyst, says Anchorman 2 should have no problem crossing $100 million domestically and $150 million isn't completely out of the question even despite the weak opening. On the international front, the film will open in Germany in late January and a release in Latin American is slated for early February.  

The Foolish conclusion
While the initial opening for Anchorman 2 may have been a little less than what most were expecting, the case is still there for another solid Paramount performance.

And even if the movie turns out to be a bust, its effect on Viacom overall will be very small. In 2012, Viacom's entire movie segment only accounted for 27.7% of overall revenue, and thus one single movie accounts for a minuscule amount of revenue in the grand scheme of things. For all you sports fan, it's the equivalent of a baseball player having a bad night at the plate. The bad performance has a sizable effect on that one game (Paramount), but a tiny effect on the overall season (Viacom).    

Still investors should be mindful of how Anchorman 2 performs in the upcoming weeks, especially in international markets.   

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