We’ve got three weeks to close the 6% box-office gap from 2018, and while the bulk of that lift will fall on “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” starting December 19, the work begins now. However, this weekend is tricky; Christmas is 12 days away, but it’s still in the heart of the pre-holiday doldrums. Historically, it’s a weekend that has seen better results for blockbuster titles like the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” series, but otherwise $40 million or more is unusual.
This week sees three new wide releases: “Jumanji: The Next Level” should be the month’s second-best release, while Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell” could be another mid-sized triumph in the director’s 48-year directorial career. Meanwhile, Blumhouse Productions’ “Black Christmas” looks to rake in some quick money and take its chances beyond that.
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” became a surprise smash two years ago, opening to $36 million and an 11-times multiple of $404 million. Jake Kasdan teamed with Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black to bring in over $400 million domestic and a little below $1 billion worldwide. That film cost at least $100 million, and sequels usually cost more.
“The Next Level” has already opened to $53 million in 18 territories (missing many major ones). Most had a stronger showing than 2017, but it’s below expectations in China. The domestic estimate ranges from around $40 million-$50 million. “Welcome to the Jungle” will be tough to replicate, but the closer this opens to $50 million, the better chance it has to hit its mark.
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Wherever it lands, it will take over the #1 slot from “Frozen II.” Disney’s juggernaut is already at $340 million, on its way to join five other Disney releases as the biggest domestic hits (assuming “Rise of Skywalker” joins it; the biggest non-Disney total is $390 million for Sony’s “Spider-Man: Far from Home”).
The other new films will vie for third place. Again, this is a weekend that sees reduced numbers, particularly for older-audience films. “The Mule,” which opened on the same weekend last year, opened to $17.5 million, then ended up six times bigger at $103 million. “Richard Jewell” has gotten some good reviews (actually a bit ahead of “The Mule”) and some initial awards attention, but its target is mainstream audiences. The supporting cast includes Kathy Bates, Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, and Jon Hamm, but the lead role of the victimized Georgia man accused of the 1996 Olympic bombing is played by the less-known Paul Walter Hauser. He took on a role earlier anticipated for Jonah Hill (a producer here, along with Leonardo DiCaprio).
Without Clint in the lead, the prognosis for the opening range is $9 million-$12 million. In recent years, it’s been take the over on any guesses for his films. In any event, it will play through Christmas.
“Black Christmas” in the very thrifty range of Blumhouse releases like “Happy Death Day 2U” ($28 million domestic, $5 million budget, $9 million opening). It is notable as featuring a rare female director from the otherwise diverse producer. Sophia Takal, an indie favorite who recently directed an episode of Blumhouse’s Hulu series “Into the Dark,” also wrote this sorority slasher film with a female empowerment twist. It’s a wild card, but the guess for its opening gross is in the same league as “Richard Jewell.” Unlike that film, it’s uncertain whether it can hold theaters through Christmas Day.
In recent years, notable platform openings on this weekend include “American Hustle,” “The Big Short,” “La La Land,” “I, Tonya,” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.” These are awards contenders, often expected to expand quickly with the benefit of nominations.
The surprise four SAG nominations for Jay Roach’s “Bombshell” will make the film this year’s initial big beneficiary. Lionsgate is platforming the picture this week in New York and Los Angeles prior to its December 20 wide release. The Fox News harassment retelling has gotten favorable reviews, with the star power of Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie, as well as top theater placement, positioning it for strong results.
The Safdie Brothers’ “Uncut Gems” is acclaimed as both a film and for Adam Sandler’s performance as a troubled Manhattan diamond seller. A24 is taking a chance with a broad national release over Christmas, an act of confidence in the film and in its star’s appeal. Expect it to have the top numbers among the limited debut titles. Meantime, it will have the best reviews of all this week’s releases.
Opening in the same cities is Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life,” his nearly three-hour drama about an Austrian villager who resisted Nazism. Greeted with some passion at Cannes, it is not expected to see anything close to the numbers of Malick’s 2011 “Tree of Life.” The film is getting elevated placement at nearly 50 A-list specialized theaters in December, along with expansion in its initial cities.