The first weekend of 2019 saw grosses fall about 15 percent from the start of last year. Multiple weaker elements contributed to the result, even though five of the nine holdovers in the Top Ten led by Clint Eastwood’s “The Mule” (Warner Bros.) fell a third or less. For those films in particular, the absence of more than one new or widely expanding film (“Escape Room” was the only new wide release) helped overcome the post-holiday drop that can occur as folks return to normal activities, and NFL playoffs compete with many for interest.
The drop of about 15 percent year over year is hardly indicative of future trends. Last January saw only one film open to over $25 million (“Insidious: The Last Key”) and a single other one over $16 million. At a minimum M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” opening on January 18 might well score better (advance estimates have it at $75 million or more), making the year to date view a month from now likely much different. It will take until at least early spring to really have a true gauge of how the year will compare.
“Aquaman” (Warner Bros.) from D.C. Comics led for a third week as it heads for at least $1 billion worldwide (Japan has yet to open, so $1.1 billion at likely minimum). That would make it among the top five worldwide 2018 releases. It already is #3 excluding domestic results behind “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” overseas.
Consistent with the down from a year ago trend though, its $30 million total fell short of the third weekend of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” (over $37 million), with its drop of 41 percent much higher than the 25 percent drop “Jumanji” experienced last year. Again, the domestic performance for the film is strong, and above expectations. Still, apart from some clear enthusiasm for the film, Warners continues to benefit from the absence this season of any other top franchise title in competition. As it stands, its ultimately strong $325 million or more domestic take would still have been by some distance third best among December 2017 releases rather than easily number one.
Another example of a film performing well for its distributor (Sony in this case) and still contributing to a shortfall is “Escape Room,” which, as is now always the case for the first wide release of the year, is a horror film. The $9 million production, again helped by its position as the sole new release, took in $18 million. That still was only about three fifths of what “Insidious: The Last Key” did last year ($30 million), with a lower budget ($10 million).
Comparisons like this for both “Aquaman” and “Escape Room” hardly indicate any imminent downturn. But they do stand as two examples of how, despite distributors being happy with their results, theaters by necessity gauge results by the total of tickets sold. And this weekend was down.
“The Greatest Showman” was the smallest Top Ten drop among last year’s holdovers this weekend at under 12 percent. The best ones this year both fell a still excellent 25 percent – the Dick Cheney comedy biopic “Vice” (Annapurna) and Clint Eastwood’s “The Mule” (Warner Bros.).
“Vice” is in its second weekend (after a Christmas Day opening), with its hold an encouraging sign for the risky $60 million budget project and its recently struggling distributor/producer. At nearly $30 million already, it has some momentum to grow over the next couple weeks. With the Oscar nominations ahead, it should get at least a some additional added bounce from that. Still, its weekend total was under $6 million, which means it needs to stay close to that ahead to get to its needed total.
Clint Eastwood will soon be the first 88-year-old to have the lead role in or direct a $100 million domestic gross film. What seemed likely last weekend became certain with its great hold in its fourth stanza, pushing it to $81 million. Clearly propelled by the best word of mouth among December releases, and gaining from often slower-appearing adult audiences, its $9 million take puts it on track for $110 million or more ahead.
The news for “Mary Poppins Returns” (Disney) is more mixed. It was, of course, particularly helped by the holidays. But a 44 percent drop – still good enough for third place – gets it to a domestic $138 million, and still with a chance for $200 million. But it also cost $130 million, had tens of millions in marketing costs added on to that, with only about half of its gross returned as film rental. Foreign so far is just a little less with Japan still to open (China not set) so $400 million worldwide is about the top end. Enough with future revenues to get into the black, but not the hoped for blockbuster.
The third weekend for “Bumblebee” (Paramount) dropped 39 percent, with its younger appeal also a bit hurt by moving from New Year’s. The “Transformers” prequel, a bit higher budgeted than “Poppins,” will end up much lower stateside than the Disney film. But the franchise’s huge foreign appeal is kicking in (nearing $200 million already), so it should end up positive.
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (Sony) actually switched places with “Bumblebee,” holding on to fourth with a drop of 31 percent, and still some chance of reaching $200 million. Its $90 million cost and decent foreign returns so far have made this a success.
“Holmes and Watson” is the third Sony film in the Top Ten. As expected the poorly reviewed and audience received comedy dropped steeply – 54 percent – and looks likely to add little to its $28 million. That will make it a rare flop among Will Ferrell (teamed again here with John C. Reilly) comedies.
The Top Ten
1. Aquaman (Warner Bros.) Week 3; Last weekend #1
$30,700,000 (-41%) in 4,154 theaters (+89); PTA (per theater average): $7,337; Cumulative: $259,721,000
2. Escape Room (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 49; Est. budget: $9 million
$18,000,000 in 2,717 theaters; PTA: $6,625; Cumulative: $18,000,000
3. Mary Poppins Returns (Disney) Week 3; Last weekend #2
$15,773,000 (-44%) in 4,090 theaters (no change); PTA: $3,856; Cumulative: $138,729,000
4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Sony) Week 4; Last weekend #3
$13,010,000 (-31%) in 3,419 theaters (-394); PTA: $3,805; Cumulative: $133,861,000
5. Bumblebee (Paramount) Week 3; Last weekend #4
$12,775,000 (-39%) in 3,597 theaters (+47); PTA: $3,552; Cumulative: $97,128,000
6. The Mule (Warner Bros.) Week 4; Last weekend #5
$9,040,000 (-26%) in 3,212 theaters (+425); PTA: $2,814; Cumulative: $81,108,000
7. Vice (Annapurna) Week 2; Last weekend #6
$5,803,000 (-%) in 2,534 theaters (+92); PTA: $2,290; Cumulative: $29,796,000
8. Second Act (STX) Week 3; Last weekend #8
$4,910,000 (-33%) in 2,523 theaters (-84); PTA: $1,946; Cumulative: $32,947,000
9. Ralph Breaks the Internet (Disney) Week 7; Last weekend #9
$4,685,000 (-30%) in 2,050 theaters (-293); PTA: $2,285; Cumulative: $187,164,000
10. Holmes and Watson (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend #7
$3,400,000 (-54%) in 2,780 theaters (+4); PTA: $1,223; Cumulative: $28,411,000