Theaters were feast or famine this pre-Christmas weekend. “Jumanji: The Next Level” lived up to its title with a domestic opening at $60 million — 66% better than the very successful 2017 reboot that went on to gross $400 million domestic and over $900 million worldwide.
That film, along with “Frozen II” and “Knives Out” will keep the weekend on par with last year with about $120 million total gross. But it could, and should, have been better: “Black Christmas” was a disappointment, while Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell” was a flop.
The 2017 success of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” (like this sequel, it opened a week before a top “Star Wars” release) guaranteed another. Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and the rising Karen Gillan all returned, as did the creative team and the big budget.
Results are even better than expected, particularly after initial foreign returns last week didn’t show as much strength. Few sequels or franchises see this sort of jump. “The Next Level” is a Christmas 2019 cornerstone, second only to “The Rise of Skywalker.” Combined, they suggest an uptick heading into the end of the year — but box office should still wrap around 5% under 2018.
Saturday saw a 20% jump from the combined Thursday preview-Friday gross, a strong sign of good initial reaction along with family appeal. Sony has apparently instituted a no-Cinemascore-released-before-Monday policy, no matter the score; the previous delay for “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” resulted in an A-. In any case, the film is set to stay strong, but it remains to be seen if it can equal its 2017 predecessor; it’s tough to replicate the same trajectory.
“Richard Jewell” had the worst wide opening of any Eastwood-directed film, second only to “Bronco Billy” in 1980. That film opened to $3.7 million in half as many theaters; at today’s ticket prices, it would have grossed over $12 million. “Richard Jewell” opened to an estimated $5 million; this weekend last year saw “The Mule” open to over $17 million on its way to over $100 million domestic. “Jewell” had better reviews, yet fell flat.
So what happened? Star names are one factor; “The Mule” Eastwood in the lead and Bradley Cooper in tow, while “Sully” in 2016 had Tom Hanks. This one had a stellar supporting cast in Kathy Bates and Sam Rockwell, along with an acclaimed lead performance by Paul Walter Hauser, but it lacked that celebrity draw. This time of year also offers significant competition for adult audiences.
Also, the controversy didn’t help. Warner Bros. faced loud complaints about the likely fictionalization of a female reporter allegedly trading sex for a source, and the expected gross was double the reality. Despite Eastwood’s libertarian politics, much of his audience comes from a more liberal pool. In our tribalized world, that can matter.
With an A- Cinemascore, it might have a chance to recoup a bit over the holidays — although by Christmas Day, it may have a hard time holding on to some of its theaters. “Jewell” cost around $45 million; the prognosis for profitability is not good.
“Black Christmas” grossed just $4.4 million, but it’s unlikely to incur a loss; like many Blumhouse releases, it has a $5 million budget. Of note here is a female director, a slasher/horror story told from a female perspective and a D+ Cinemascore. Here, give them credit for trying something different. It could see an improved post-theater life as more people become aware of its risk-taking efforts, but it’s unlikely to survive beyond December 24 at many theaters.
This weekend saw “Frozen II” fall a little short of its predecessor at the same point of its run, but that means nothing; the Christmas bounty is still ahead. In fact, don’t be shocked if this remains in the race for the top three by New Years’ weekend with “Skywalker” and “Jumanji;” at worst case, it would be in fourth. There is little reason to question that it could still achieve a $500 million domestic gross.
Lionsgate / screencap
Beating out two of the three new releases is the continuing success of “Knives Out.” It dropped only 35%, terrific at a time of year when audience interest for anything other than major new films is at rock bottom. Upcoming, Lionsgate also has “Bombshell” going wide Friday after a strong platform weekend. Then, the studio will grab whatever screens it can for both films.
This weekend gives them a big edge over “Ford v Ferrari” and “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” though they too saw small drops (38% and 35%, respectively). With a $79 million gross to date, “Knives Out” grossed millions more than either film and holds a big advantage.
“A Beautiful Day” is nearing $50 million, and like “Ford v Ferrari’ it has the potential for significantly more — but only if they stay on screen. “A Beautiful Day” is most vulnerable, especially since Sony has to consider “Jumanji” and the Christmas Day opening of “Little Women.”
“Queen & Slim” is a bit ahead of “A Beautiful Day” and saw a bigger drop at 46%. Two factors give it hope: Its best theaters are very strong, and the death of “Black Christmas” should clear up some screens. The studio has “Cats” next Friday, but that film might not be ideal for a normal 4,000+ opening. So expect “Queen” to have some life ahead.
The Top Ten
1. Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: XXX; Metacritic: 58; Est. budget: $125 million
$60,100,000 in 4,227 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $14,129; Cumulative: $60,100,000
2. Frozen II (Disney) Week 4; Last weekend #1
$19,182,000 (-45%) in 4,078 theaters (-270); PTA: $4,704; Cumulative: $366,542,000
3. Knives Out (Lionsgate) Week 3; Last weekend #2
$9,250,000 (-35%) in 3,413 theaters (-48); PTA: $2,710; Cumulative: $78,927,000
4. Richard Jewell (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 69; Est. budget: $45 million
$5,000,000 in 2,502 theaters; PTA: $1,998; Cumulative: $5,000,000
5. Black Christmas (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: D+; Metacritic: 49; Est. budget: $5 million
$4,420,000 in 2,625 theaters; PTA: $1,684; Cumulative: $4,420,000
6. Ford v Ferrari (20th Century Fox) Week 5; Last weekend #3
$4,143,000 (-38%) in 2,895 theaters (-851); PTA: $1,431; Cumulative: $98,248,000
7. Queen & Slim (Universal) Week 3; Last weekend #4
$3,600,000 (-46%) in 1,560 theaters (-155); PTA: $2,308; Cumulative: $33,175,000
8. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Sony) Week 4; Last weekend #5
$3,355,000 (-35%) in 2,855 theaters (-636); PTA: $1,176; Cumulative: $49,330,000
9. Dark Waters (Focus) Week 4; Last weekend #6
$2,000,000 (-50%) in 2,112 theaters (+100); PTA: $948; Cumulative: $8,889,000
10. 21 Bridges (STX) Week 4; Last weekend #
$1,190,000 (-58%) in 1,533 theaters (-932); PTA: $776; Cumulative: $26,361,000