6 Holiday Films Banking on Multi-Generational Audiences

When it comes to the movie studios, multi-generational appeal is of the highest priority. It’s the reason mainstream action films have slowly but surely shied away from R-ratings for the box office friendly PG-13 rating. But MPAA ratings are only one part of the puzzle for Hollywood studios when it comes to multi-generational appeal — and the holiday season, when adults and children alike have the opportunity to hit the theaters en masse, is one of the most important times in a studio’s film slate to try and discover the recipe for bringing in both younger and older audiences. Here are six major holiday films that the studios are hoping can crack the multi-generational puzzle. While several of these films are already set for huge performances at the box office, a successful draw of younger and older audiences could potentially smash records along the way.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate)

Lionsgate has put a lot of effort into expanding The Hunger Game franchise’s popularity among different ages and genders, and it appears the effort has been successful. According to all the early data, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is poised to be a smash hit, eclipsing the strong performance of the first film and assured a spot as either the strongest or second strongest performer (behind The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) of the holiday season. Directed by newcomer to the series Francis Lawrence, Catching Fire sees Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) forced to return to the even more dangerous Seventy-Fifth Annual Hunger Games as rebellion stirs in the districts.

Early reviews for the film have been unanimously positive, putting it in the envious position of catering to fans of the book series, attracting movie-goers interested in the film’s action, and perhaps bringing in adult viewers who haven’t necessarily sought out the series either in book or film form. Armed with a PG-13 rating that studios have increasingly pursued because its ability to bring in younger viewers, Catching Fire has a recipe for monstrous success this holiday season. Catching Fire hits theaters on November 22.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (20th Century Fox)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a comedy-drama fantasy from Ben Stiller (Tropic Thunder, Zoolander) based on the short story of the same name by James Thurber. The film tells the story of a day-dreaming Life magazine worker (Stiller) who is forced to take action in the real world when his job is threatened.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is the second film adaptation of Thurber’s short story, the first having been released in 1947 by Samuel Goldwyn, and stars Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, and Sean Penn. Fox is hoping that the film will be a winner along holiday audiences as the kind of story that will appeal to all ages, making for a perfect film for the entire family to see over the holidays. ”We want Walter Mitty to be the movie that everyone can agree on, even 12-year-old kids,” says Fox domestic distribution chief Chris Aronson. With a PG rating, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is certainly positioned for holiday success when it’s released December 25.

Saving Mr. Banks (Walt Disney Co.)

Saving Mr. Banks is a biographical comedy-drama directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Alamo) that revolves around the 1964 production of the Walt Disney Studios film Mary Poppins. The film tells the story of Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers’ (Emma Thompson) two-week trip to Los Angeles as filmmaker Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) attempts t obtain the film rights to her novel. Along with Thompson and Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks also features Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, and Colin Farrell.

While Disney is pushing hard for Saving Mr. Banks to be a player at this year’s Academy Awards, the studio is also confident that it may be the kind of film that can bridge generations — even if the content of the film doesn’t necessarily pull in young audiences at first glance. ”The box office expands for good movies. Yes, Saving Mr. Banks is an adult option, but there is a sensibility about it that is extraordinarily unique. It is one of only a handful of movies that is available for multi-generation viewing,” Disney executive vp worldwide distribution Dave Hollis says.

Even if Saving Mr. Banks doesn’t succeed in bringing in audiences of all ages, there’s little chance that the film will be unsuccessful given its $35 million price tag and award potential. Saving Mr. Banks will be released in theaters on December 13.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Warner Bros.)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the second installment in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel The Hobbit, which serves as a prequel to the Lord of the Rings series. The Desolation of Smaug continues the events of last year’s An Unexpected Journey as Bilbo Baggins travels with the Wizard Gandalf and thirteen dwarves on a quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the dragon Smaug.

Although The Desolation of Smaug is not yet rated, it is unlikely to earn an R-rating considering that An Unexpected Journey and all three films in the Lord of the Rings trilogy have earned a PG-13 rating. Following in the footsteps of the previous film and the Lord of the Rings series, The Desolation of Smaug is positioned to be the film of the holiday season that all members of the family can agree to go see.

Look no further than the box office totals for last year’s An Unexpected Journey that was released at the same time — $303 million domestic and $714 million overseas for a worldwide total of $1.01 billion. Considering that the early buzz seems stronger this time around, prepare for an epic box office showdown between The Desolation of Smaug and Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire as we move into the new year. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug hits theaters December 13.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Paramount Pictures)

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is the sequel to the 2004 comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and is directed by Adam McKay from a script by McKay and Will Ferrell. Based on the cable news era of the 1980s, The Legend Continues follows the Channel 4 news team after the fading prosperity of the 1970s has led the members of the team to hit rock bottom. But when a 24-hour news team recruits the team to join the channel, they get a chance at redemption.

Featuring the return of the original film’s cast members Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, along with newcomers Kristen Wiig, Fred Willard, and Harrison Ford, The Legend Continues is positioned to be a huge hit this winter as the only strong entry in the comedy genre.

The film is likely to have substantial cross-generational appeal as actors like Ferrell and Carell have long had the ability to appeal to young audiences through physical humor while some of the more adult-oriented jokes embedded in the writing are likely to appeal to older audiences — younger moviegoers and older moviegoers may not always laugh at the same time, but there’s likely to be enough to go around for both groups of viewers. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues comes out December 20.

47 Ronin (Universal Pictures)

47 Ronin is an action-fantasy film that depicts a fictional account of the real-life forty-seven ronin from 18th century Japan. Starring Keanu Reeves, Rinko Kikuchi, Tadanobu Asano, and Hiroyuki Sanada, 47 Ronin follows outcast Kai (Reeves) as he joins a group of ronin led by Kuranosuke Oishi (Sanada), who seek vengeance on Lord Kira (Asano).

To call 47 Ronin a troubled production is an understatement. Originally set for a release November 21, 2012, the film was later pushed to February 8, 2013 and finally to it’s currently Christmas Day release amid reshoots, additional special effects work, and further time for post-production. Along the way, the film racked up a $175 production budget.

Publicly, Universal is confident in the film’s prospects this winter, and it may have a point considering that 47 Ronin is the only male-skewing action film this holiday season. Additionally, the film has a PG-13 rating to boot, meaning younger members won’t have any trouble hitting the theaters to see some samurai action. 47 Ronin hits theaters on December 25.

Don’t Miss: 7 Films for Grown-Ups This Holiday Season.