Over the last three weeks, we’ve seen the destruction: the box office falling tens of millions of dollars short of 2018, while high-end, high-hopes titles like “Terminator: Dark Fate,” “Doctor Sleep,” and “Charlie’s Angels” crashed and burned. All of that could change this weekend with Disney’s “Frozen II” and Sony’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”
A fluke in the calendar means November 22 corresponds with the massive post-Thanksgiving weekend in 2018. That should put this year at a major disadvantage. But the placement of two key films a weekend earlier gives a chance for parity or close, and a strong opening would be a good portent for the all-important holiday season.
For the fourth consecutive year, a Disney Animation Studio release will hit at Thanksgiving with a chance to break out as a major Christmas title as well. In 2013, “Frozen” grossed over $80 million (adjusted) for the weekend, and around $100 million for five days. (Ironically, it wasn’t #1 for the weekend; “Hunger Games: Catching Fire” surpassed it until its second weekend.) It went on to over $400 million domestic and $1.3 billion worldwide.
But “Frozen 2” is a sequel in a year when franchises have often been challenged. Thus, pre-opening estimates — including reports of advance ticket sales that suggest the possibility of a $100 million initial weekend — is extremely promising, and could adjust the box-office narrative.
The reality is even $75 million would be a fine start since this is the pre-holiday weekend; much of the audience could wait a week. Two of the three biggest domestic hits this year were the Disney animated films “The Lion King” and “Toy Story 4,” both of which opened to massive initial numbers over prime summer weekends with little or no competition. But November titles tend to open much lower and play out for weeks, sometimes well into January.
“Frozen 2” reviews are good, not great, and it doesn’t have the freshness of Pixar sequels. The original film does have residual goodwill and six years of repeated play, and is now streaming on Disney+. Bottom line: the sequel is strongly positioned, but don’t expect it to reach the heights of the original.
Last year saw Focus Features’ “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” Morgan Neville’s documentary about children’s TV icon Fred Rogers ($22 million), Magnolia Pictures’ Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary “RBG” ($14 million), and Focus’ Ginsburg biopic “On the Basis of Sex” ($24 million). This year, it all comes full circle with “Beautiful Day,” starring Tom Hanks as the beloved children’s television host.
This is a prime, awards-timed release. Rapidly rising director Marielle Heller follows “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” with another film taken from real-life figures, and reviews are excellent — even better than “Ford v Ferrari,” another adult drama that opened to #1 last weekend.
If there’s a hunger for adult-themed films with high-end studio gloss and stars, backed by strong reviews, this should provide a competitive option. Initial prognosis was around $25 million, although that seems a little high. It’s positioned to get good word of mouth that could dovetail into next weekend with strength.
The wild card is “21 Bridges,” an action thriller starring Chadwick Boseman. It has Marvel connections — “Black Panther” star Bosewick, and the Russo Bros. are among the producers. It’s expected to open strong, which would be a great way for STX to end the year after the $100 million successes of “The Upside” and “Hustlers.” “21 Bridges” also has the advantage of appealing to audiences who might not be as interested in other top films at the moment.
The two highest-profile limited releases this week are “Dark Waters” from Todd Haynes, starring Mark Ruffalo as an attorney who uncovers a corrupt corporation, and “Citizen K” (from veteran documentary director Alex Gibney about a wealthy Russian man who ran afoul of Vladimir Putin). Both get limited initial walks over the prime real estate that is the end-of-year release calendar.