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‘Aquaman’ Leads Year-End Openers as ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ Soars

"Aquaman"'s real strength is overseas. And Clint Eastwood delivers yet again.

Aquaman

“Aquaman”

Warner Bros.

At the end of a strong year with a five percent uptick in attendance, the post-Christmas box office fell off. With no new “Star Wars” installment, year-end grosses were down around $9 million from $195 million last year.

D.C. Comics’ latest offering “Aquaman” (Warner Bros.) is the easy winner this weekend. Its $51 million is nearly double the second-best “Mary Poppins Returns” (Disney), and its holiday-boosted drop of 23 percent (at this time of year, many second-weekend films hold or increase) put it in position to be the only December release this year to pass $300 million. Both 2017 movies “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” scored over $400 million.

This comparative weakness to last year means that 2019 will start with a shortfall. M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” (Universal) on January 18 could perform well, but February has to compete with 2018’s massive “Black Panther.”

Aquaman trailer Jason Momoa

“Aquaman”

Warner Bros.

“Aquaman” on its second weekend grossed slightly less than “Force Awakens” did on its third. And it barely beat the second weekend of “Jumanji,” which in turn did about the same as this year’s D.C. Comics holiday release (and jumped 38 percent from its opening weekend). Still, as dominant as D.C. and Marvel movies are, they don’t usually go at Christmas. Obviously, it’s hard to top the last three years, with “Star Wars” entries and the Hobbit trilogy, and Marvel gave it a good try.

“Aquaman” might have persevered even against “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” because the Star Wars franchise is no longer a big deal in most of the world. “Aquaman” has already grossed $560 million overseas. With Italy and Japan still to open, it will easily total more than $1 billion worldwide. And because it looks headed for a 70 percent or better foreign share, if “Aquaman” grosses over $700 million worldwide, it will be the second-ranked foreign release for 2018, after “Avengers: Infinity Wars.” That would mean besting “Black Panther,” the top domestic release this year.

On the domestic side, with a projected domestic gross around $325 million, “Aquaman” would come in fifth, behind two Marvel and one Pixar title as well as “Jurassic World.” It would also in adjusted fall short of at least ten previous D.C. Comics titles.

None of this is to say “Aquaman” isn’t huge. With its foreign take in particular, its a major success. But it’s not bolstering the domestic season box office take.

"Vice"

Vice

Annapurna

Christmas Day saw two new wide openers, “Vice” (Annapurna) and “Holmes & Watson” (Sony), which earned close to the weakest mid-week Christmas results in many years. Both movies grossed between $7 and 8 million. The last time the calendar was identical (2012), the three late openers “Django Unchained,” “Les Miserables,” and “Parental Guidance” combined grossed about $90 million for the three days. And all three held better compared to their much stronger earlier weekdays.

Neither of this year’s films should have been expected to replicate those from 2012. But even granting them some slack, they are not impressive. “Holmes” started stronger, based on the previous appeal of the Will Farrell-John C. Reilly combo. After it beat “Vice” by $1.7 million, terrible late reviews and audience disdain (rock bottom D- Cinemascore) led to a quick drop. The comedy ended up at #7 for the weekend, about $500,000 below “Vice.”

Adam McKay’s political bio-comedy may lead the Golden Globe nominations, but its mixed reviews tainted its appeal which is already limited by its Liberal political slant. While it pulled ahead for the three days, it still trails “Holmes” overall by $2 million. It may have awards chances ahead, particularly in acting categories (Christian Bale and Amy Adams are strong contenders). But its estimated $60 million budget before extensive marketing plus uncertain foreign appeal place its success in doubt.

This compares poorly to the Christmas season results for McKay’s “The Big Short” which expanded three years ago at this time of year. Its ten-day (12/25-1/3) total came to over $50 million, compared to “Vice”‘s likely $25 million. (“Short” cost less than half as much.)

Emily Blunt is Mary Poppins, Lin-Manuel Miranda is Jack, Pixie Davies is Annabel, Nathanael Saleh is John and Joel Dawson is Georgie in Disney’s MARY POPPINS RETURNS, a sequel to the 1964 MARY POPPINS, which takes audiences on an entirely new adventure with the practically perfect nanny and the Banks family.

“Mary Poppins Returns”

coutesy of Disney

Christmas week greatly improved the showing for “Mary Poppins Returns” (Disney). Though not the breakout smash some anticipated, its 19 percent jump from last weekend brings it to nearly $100 million, with more holiday family bounty to come and continued interest into most of January. It could reach $200 million. Still, with international not likely to hit the normal two-thirds share of total gross, this $130-million project at best will be a modest success.

“Bumblebee” (Paramount) dropped 5 percent, disappointing for the well-received “Transformers” prequel. With a similar cost to “Mary Poppins,” its higher international appeal (China and Japan still to come) should also make this a profitmaker, if not a guaranteed franchise subset.

“The Mule”

Slow and steady, word of mouth is clearly propelling Clint Eastwood’s “The Mule,” which jumped 24 percent this weekend. At $61 million already, this cranky old man drama could hit $100 million. There’s no sign of decline here. Eastwood knows his audience. Three of his last four films — all made after he was 84 — will have reached at least that total.

In its third weekend, even with comic-book competition from “Aquaman,” “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” placed fourth (ahead of “The Mule”), with an 11 percent increase and over $104 million.

And don’t underestimate the lure of Jennifer Lopez, either. Romantic comedy “Second Act” (STX) also increased 11 percent, with the lowest budget of the wide holiday releases. It is approaching $22 million, with its uptick suggesting it could stick around for a few weeks.

The Christmas season always embraces family films, with two November animated films rounding out the Top Ten. “Ralph Breaks the Internet” (Disney) jumped nearly 40 percent to place #9. “The Grinch” (Universal), hurt by three other Universal films released since its early November start, grossed the best of any of them, even though it played shortened schedules at many theaters.

Among those it bested was Robert Zemeckis’ year-end flop “Welcome to Marwen,” which fell out of the Top Ten (although curiously with only a 5 per cent drop), grossing less than the more limited “Mary, Queen of Scots” and even the long-running “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Universal’s “Mortal Engines” remains with mostly a single show a day at nearly 3,000 screens, grossing a mere $1 million as it joins “Marwen” as a major box-office disaster. Universal’s “Green Book,” more limited and hurt somewhat by the glut, still grossed a little under $2 million in only 611 theaters.

The Top Ten

1. Aquaman (Warner Bros.) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$51,550,000 (-23%) in 4,125 theaters (no change); PTA (per theater average): $12,497; Cumulative: $188,875,000

2. Mary Poppins Returns (Disney) Week 2; Last weekend #2

$28,089,000 (+19%) in 4,090 theaters (+58); PTA: $6,851; Cumulative: $98,930,000

3. Bumblebee (Paramount) Week 3; Last weekend #3

$20,500,000 (-5%) in 3,550 theaters (no change); PTA: $5,775; Cumulative: $66,768,000

4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Sony) Week 3; Last weekend #4

$18,315,000 (+11%) in 3,813 theaters (no change); PTA: $4,803; Cumulative: $103,644,000

5. The Mule (Warner Bros.) Week 2; Last weekend #5

$11,780,000 (+24%) in 2,787 theaters (+131); PTA: $4,227; Cumulative: $60,738,000

6. Vice (Annapurna) NEW – Cinemascore: C-; Metacritic: 61; Est. budget: $60 million

$7,791,000 in 2,442 theaters; PTA: $3,190; Cumulative: $17,679,000

7. Holmes and Watson (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: D-; Metacritic: 24; Est. budget: $42 million

$7,300,000 in 2,776 theaters; PTA: $2,630; Cumulative: $19,706,000

8. Second Act (STX) Week 2; Last weekend #7

$7,210,000 (+7%) in 2,607 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,766; Cumulative: $21,760,000

9. Ralph Breaks the Internet (Disney) Week 6; Last weekend #8

$6,532,000 (+39%) in 2,343 theaters (-952); PTA: $2,788; Cumulative: $175,714,000

10. The Grinch (Universal) Week 8; Last weekend #6

$4,200,000 (-50%) in 2,555 theaters (-225); PTA: $1,644; Cumulative: $265,538,000

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