Some good news this weekend: The early 2020 small uptick in grosses continued, with total ticket sales totaling around $130 million. (The second weekend of 2019 saw $120 million.) And leading the charge was Sam Mendes’ innovative “1917.” At $36.5 million, it more than doubled #2 “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” for an easy #1 placement.
The three-day period saw four new and expanding wide studio releases, compared with two in 2019 — “The Upside” and “A Dog’s Way Home,” along with the independent “Replicas” which only roused $2.3 million. That means the biggest reason for the jump is more new titles rather than suggesting a major box-office resurrection.
The big question this year is whether original titles can continue to perform like “The Upside,” “Hustlers,” and “Knives Out.” “1917” is showing initial strength that should push it to those levels, or higher. But the other three new wide releases all look like they will fall short of $50 million domestic to some degree. The success rate needs to be higher.
Now playing in over 3,400 theaters, “1917” is a big hit by any definition, but it’s not a surprise; it’s a film with a distributor that hit its marks and found the response it deserved. Universal (which distributed, but didn’t make the film; it comes from their partners at DreamWorks) managed to lowball expectations with their “prediction” of $20 million for the weekend. That led to a consensus of $25 million as an expectation.
That was absurdly low. War films at this level always have an audience. Two months ago, the much-derided “Midway” managed to open over $17 million. The more contemporary “Lone Survivor” expanded on the same date in 2014 and took in (adjusted) over $40 million (yes, it had Mark Wahlberg). “American Sniper” the next year reached $90 million.
The difference here is “1917” is just starting a perfectly positioned wide run. Its Golden Globes attention helped, but the play was getting it out to interested audiences, hoping for word of mouth, and Oscar nominations, followed by its second (and holiday) weekend. (“Survivor” got a similar A- Cinemascore; “Sniper” was A+).
Figure that “1917” has a shot at around $150 million or more domestic. And the strategic plan — a rare wide studio release maximized during the Oscar voting period, is clearly working. (For previous plays, see “The Revenant.” It earned $40 million in its expansion opening, won Best Actor and Bet Director, and was a close call for Best Picture. All told, it made over $190 million adjusted domestic and $550 million worldwide.) Initial foreign dates for “1917” brought in $20 million this weekend.
Estimates place “Just Mercy” in a tie for fourth place with “Like a Boss.” The social justice drama led by Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx played in 25% fewer theaters as the female-oriented comedy.
Its initial platform Christmas Day runs yielded an initial A+ Cinemascore, one that was reasserted in surveys of wider audiences. That likely word of mouth would be enhanced if Jamie Foxx can score a Supporting Actor nomination. That’s tricky with the category-fraud lead performances squeezing out deserving alternatives, and with a film that’s lower on the list of screening priorities.
Gross for “Just Mercy” is close to what “Harriet” saw when it opened in early November in slightly fewer theaters, but on a date with far less competition. That film will end up with over four times its opening, and this one could well do the same. For a film made against the normal restrictions of viable theatrical play, and coming from Warners after a series of dramatic disappointments, that’s a positive result.
The success of “Hustlers” has hinted a return to female-centered stories revolving around working-class women (past Fox hits “9 to 5” and “Working Girl” are now Disney properties with remake potential). It’s possible that this lower-budget ($29 million) story with Tiffany Hadish and Rose Byrne battling Selma Hayek over their beauty product could follow suit, but the signs aren’t good. It opened to $10 million, a B Cinemscore, a slight second-day drop, and awful reviews.
Consider Paramount lucky compared to Disney, which inherited the 2017-filmed “Underwater” as part of its Fox acquisition. January isn’t the automatic dumping ground it once was, but that seems to have been the case here. Though it received some last-minute attention as a fun, inventive diversion, with some praise for Kristen Stewart’s game performance (the reviews were better than “Boss”), its C Cinemascore and weak opening suggest a short shelf life. No mourning for Disney; among all of its titles, the studio had over 13,000 screens this weekend.
Holdover numbers show no variation from trends seen during the holidays. “Skywalker” dropped 56%; two years ago, “The Last Jedi” dropped 50% on the second weekend of the year. It is on pace, as predicted, to end up with a domestic take of $520 million, $100 million less than last time, with worldwide totals about $250 million-$300 million lower.
“Jumanji: The Next Level”, despite having opened a week before “Skywalker” grossed only $1 million less this weekend. Figure it will place ahead next weekend and further ahead, with $300 million in sight. Great, but about $100 million less domestic than last time.
Sony’s good results continue with “Little Women,” holding best among the late-Christmas releases. It dropped 44%, and with a $100 million-plus domestic take is certain. Like “1917,” it could see its future sustained by Oscar nominations, and that performance enhancing its chances in key categories. Foreign is rolling out slowly, with 11 territories so far totaling $20 million. This continues to look like a big winner for Sony, particularly on its $40 million budget.
However big it gets, it could pale compared to “Knives Out.” It added nearly $6 million this weekend, its seventh week; at 36% down, it’s the best holdover. Domestic potential is $160 million, with even more if it sneaks in as a Best Picture nominee.
“Frozen II” is at $459 million in its eighth weekend; that’s ahead of its predecessor, though no longer certain of hitting the domestic $500 million mark. “Spies in Disguise,” which opened Christmas Day, is struggling in its third and final Top Ten week. It will close with a very disappointing domestic total of around $75 million.
The Top Ten
1. 1917 (Universal) Week 3; Last weekend #17
$36,500,000 (+5,809%) in 3,434 theaters (+3,423); PTA (per theater average): $10,629; Cumulative: $39,221,000
2. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Disney) Week 4; Last weekend #1
$15,059,000 (-56%) in 4,279 theaters (-127); PTA: $3,519; Cumulative: $478,170,000
3. Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony) Week 5; Last weekend #2
$14,000,000 (-47) in 3,904 theaters (-230); PTA: $3,586; Cumulative: $257,125,000
4. (tied) Just Mercy (Warner Bros.) Week 3; Last weekend #29
$10,000,000 (+12,952%) in 2,375 theaters (+2,371); PTA: $4,211; Cumulative: $10,436,000
4. (tied) Like a Boss (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 32; Est. budget: $29 million
$10,000,000 in 3,078 theaters; PTA: $3,249; Cumulative: $10,000,000
6. Little Women (Sony) Week 3; Last weekend #3
$7,650,000 (-44) in 3,216 theaters (-92); PTA: $2,379; Cumulative: $74,031,000
7. Underwater (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: C; Metacritic: 49; Est. budget: $50 million
$7,003,000 in 2,791 theaters; PTA: $2,509; Cumulative: $7,003,000
8. Frozen II (Disney) Week 8; Last weekend #4
$5,761,000 (-51%) in 2,655 theaters (-520); PTA: $2,170; Cumulative: $459,384,000
9. Knives Out (Universal) Week 7; Last weekend #7
$5,725,000 (-36%) in 2,060 theaters (-82); PTA: $2,779; Cumulative: $139,622,000
10. Spies in Disguise (20th Century Fox) Week 3; Last weekend #6
$5,108,000 (-51) in 2,671 theaters (-831); PTA: $1,912; Cumulative: $54,616,000