Christmas box office is huge

"Les Misérables" led the way, with $18.1 million in domestic ticket sales, reports Running second was "Django Unchained" at $15 million, and in third position was "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" at $11.3 million. Les Misérables did especially well overseas.

Of course, Christmas Day tends to have higher mix of presales, especially for the openers, so these numbers could change a lot by Wednesday and Thursday. But as one studio exec analyzed, "Christmas Day has very unique play patterns by genre, region of the country, ethnicity, and target demo. You won't really know where films are headed until Friday. But that's a fantastic number for Les Miz."It was the 2nd highest Christmas Day opening in history behind 2009′s Sherlock Holmes which opened on a Friday to $24.6 million. Les Miz now holds the record for the biggest non-weekend Christmas Day opening in history, besting 2008′s Marley & Me which opened on a Thursday to $14.4 million. It is also the highest ever opening day for a musical.

This is shaping up to be a very strong year for Hollywood, with domestic box office expected to run around $10.8 billion, which would be a six percent increase over 2011. Also up this year are admissions. From this week's Business Update on KPCC:

MARK LACTER: Part of the explanation is that, quite simply, you had several very successful releases - "The Avengers" made more than $600 million domestically, "The Dark Knight Rises" about $450 million, "Hunger Games" more than $400 million. And as was true in 2011, sequels played an important role: Of the 10 highest-grossing films this year, five were sequels of some kind (and that doesn't include the James Bond film "Skyfall," which I guess you can argue is the 23rd sequel to that series).

STEVE JULIAN: Sequels are really like franchises, aren't they?

LACTER: They are and the studios love them because it means having a built-in audience that will buy tickets for the latest installment no matter what. The other ongoing development is the importance of the overseas box office. Great example this year was the fourth installment of the "Ice Age" series, which didn't do all that well in the U.S., but took in more than $700 million overseas, including about $70 million in China (which by the way is becoming a huge movie market).

JULIAN: I guess the international market is becoming a factor in deciding which ones get made?

LACTER: Absolutely, especially when they involve big production costs. And the focus on movies that attract broader audiences leaves out a lot of mid-range films - especially romantic comedies or more serious adult fare - that won't attract much interest in places like Asia and the Middle East.

JULIAN: So if Hollywood wants to attract audiences, why are movies so long? It seems more and more plays are 85 minutes without intermission.

LACTER: I love those 85-minute plays! With movies, the long running times have a lot to do with self-indulgent directors who have a lot of clout see nothing wrong with keeping audiences in their seats for two-and-half hours, even when their film is clearly not "Gone with the Wind." And part of it is due to the misplaced perception that the longer the film, the better chance it has to win an Academy Award. (Actually, it's not true - both "The King's Speech and "The Artist" were pretty trim and they both won Best Picture Oscars.)

JULIAN: Aren't long movies a problem for the owners of movie theaters?

LACTER: They can lose one entire screening per day - and that means only one showing in prime time when most of the ticket revenues are generated. Now some theater chains get around the problem by showing a blockbuster on several screens. But it does mean that less popular films will be given the boot. It could also push out successful films that had been in release for quite a while and which the theater owner was still getting decent audiences for.

"Les Misérables," "Django Unchained," and "The Hobbit" all run long. We'll see what, if any, impact it has on the box office once the holiday season is over.

More by Mark Lacter:
American-US Air settlement with DOJ includes small tweak at LAX
Socal housing market going nowhere fast
Amazon keeps pushing for faster L.A. delivery
Another rugged quarter for Tribune Co. papers
How does Stanford compete with the big boys?
Those awful infographics that promise to explain and only distort
Best to low-ball today's employment report
Further fallout from airport shootings
Crazy opening for Twitter*
Should Twitter be valued at $18 billion?
Recent Business Update on KPCC stories:
Naysaying emerges in wake of LAX shootings*
Holiday shopping: On your marks, get set... spend!
What to do with all that bad chicken?
Why it's hard to gauge progress of health care programs
Why L.A. isn't being hit too hard by shutdown - for now

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
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