For the first time in four years, Christmas comes without a Disney “Star Wars” release. That leaves several new films vying for top performer. D.C. Comics’ “Aquaman” has already taken in around $100 million in China; it opens here December 21. Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns” is set for Christmas Day with considerable anticipation. And then there’s Marvel’s little “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”
Going in, the Marvel entry isn’t the film to beat. However, the guess here is It could easily reach $250 million. Here are some factors that seem to be barriers — and others that add to its potential:
Only $200 Million?
The last 10 Marvel releases have domestic grosses of $200 million of more. Two this year (“Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War”) took in around $700 million to become the top two hits of 2018.
Even the one previous animated Marvel-character film, 2014’s “Big Hero 6,” made (adjusted) a little under $250 million. So why not expect more from “Spider-Verse”? Because “Big Hero 6” opened in early November, and most of its take came from before Christmas Day.
Interestingly, “Spider-Verse” is a rare Marvel title to open in December: The producers shy away from dates in which they don’t have an open field, which Christmas never is. So there’s a suspicion that if Marvel puts a film in December, it thinks its performance will be more modest. This might be a case where, similar to putting “Black Panther” in February, it’s wisely thinking outside the box.
Christmas Doesn’t Love Animation
Since 1980, only three of the top 100 grossing animated features opened in December, the biggest family moviegoing time of the year. Universal’s “Sing” two years ago was the best with its unexpected nearly $280 million, and the only to top $200 million.
Christmas always has one or two major animated films in play, but they usually open around Thanksgiving, to get shots at holiday play time and possibly extending into the new year. The earlier date, combined with audience response, helps many Oscar Animated Film contenders head into favorite status.
Animated features released at or around Christmas tend not to reach $100 million. “Ferdinand” last year, and 2015’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip” fell short. That suggested the mid-December date with two weekends before the actual holiday (and Sony opening another film, “Holmes and Watson,” on the 25th) might be a sign of secondary release. The reality could turn out to be far different.
Comic-Book History Limits Expectations
Both “Big Hero 6” (released in November, playing through Christmas) and “The LEGO Batman Movie” in February) and saw decent, but below-average, grosses compared to comic book juggernauts. “LEGO” made just under $180 million, a little over half the most recent “Batman” film. Half of the most recent “Spider-Man” live-action release suggests a $175 million total.
Again, $175 million is a pretty good gross, with foreign adding more. And its budget is well below nearly all Marvel films as well as most high-end Pixar and similar animated features.
But “only” $175 million wouldn’t place this even in the top 80 cartoon features over the past four decades, as well as a shortfall compared to most and especially recent Marvel releases. Thus in context, as successful as that would be, based on precedent that would seem to be its maximum.
Sony Animation Has Never Topped $200 Million
This is Sony’s 18th animated feature since 2011, none of which reached $200 million. Three “Hotel Transylvania” entries lead the way ($170 million-$180 million), which are hits with budgets under $100 million and some strong foreign success. But when you’ve done it 17 times and have yet to have that break out animated success, it looks like a safer bet to expect more of the same.
Sony Pictures Animation
Or, It Could Beat All Expectations
Here’s why “Spider-Verse” could conceivably vie as one of the top Christmas release this year.
- Sony’s reinvention of the “Spider-Man” franchise lacks a dark side, which makes it better suited to animation and to the season. His youth helps, too.
- This reinvention here goes even further with an African-American teen becoming an alternative Spider-Man. It also celebrates its female character, with a sequel slated to be mostly female.
- In a wild-card factor, it disrupted this year’s awards trajectory by winning animation feature awards from the two most important critics’ groups (New York and Los Angeles), with overall reviews a little better than expected contenders “Incredibles 2” and Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs.”
- Critical response to a cartoon and/or comic book movie isn’t the most important boost, but it elevates the film and if audiences have anything like the same reaction, it could mean a real boost. The film already should have its best days after its second weekend, with kids and families pouring in. But reviews could boost its chances with adults and older teens seeing it as well.
- Predictions for the initial weekend are in the $30 million-$40 million range. For an animated film, or a Marvel release, that seems puny. But for any film not associated with “Star Wars,” it would be terrific. “Ferdinand” last year opened to $13 million, then ended up with a seven-times multiple after the boost of the holiday ($84 million total). The last “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movie opened about the same, with the same results.
- And the early date could pay off against what is expected to be lesser results for Clint Eastwood’s “The Mule” (which, with its older appeal, could thrive later on) and the likely muted reaction and quick playoff for “Mortal Engines.” This title should have the strongest buzz, waiting to pick up even better results when the prime days of Christmas come shortly after.
The guess here: It could easily reach $250 million. If so, Marvel will just add another arrow to its quiver.