Fresh from its awards Sunday night, Sam Mendes’ “1917” jumps from 11 theaters to about 3,200 and likely the #1 slot this weekend. That will be impressive in itself for the World War I film with no stars and a risky technical element central to its narrative device. However, it could also double the take of any other title, including “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
It will certainly see far more interest than two new wide releases, “Like a Boss” (Paramount) and “Underwater” (20th Century Fox), as well as “Just Mercy,” which, like “1917,” was a Christmas Day platform release. They will vie with strong holdovers “Jumanji: The Next Wave” and “Little Women.”
Four new wide films will bolster grosses and should outstrip the second weekend last year, which saw $120 million. That will extend the very early edge over last year that has been amassed so far.
“1917” not only had a strong platform run, but actually in the same number of theaters increased 7% — with the initial one more of a holiday. With this performance spread over seven cities, not just the usual New York/Los Angeles duo, it suggests wider interest portending a strong opening.
How strong? This is a high-end estimate, but based on momentum, timing, awards, and one key factor — its genre — we’re going with $30 million-$35 million. Even $25 million (closer to advance consensus) would be strong.
Look at the precedents: In the past decade, January saw the opening of three major war films. Adjusted, “American Sniper,” “Lone Survivor,” and “Zero Dark Thirty” opened around $90 million, $40 million, and $25 million, respectively. Those films centered on contemporary conflicts, but remember that “Dunkirk” was also a period piece and debuted over $50 million. (Christopher Nolan didn’t hurt, either.)
And if World War I seems too distant to resonate, recall that “They Shall Not Grow Old,” Peter Jackson’s presentation of wartime footage, grossed $17 million in limited showings. Figure nearly everyone who saw that will be “1917” ticket buyers, and many of them early. That’s a strong base.
All this, and Oscar nominations still to come. The $100 million production could find itself in the rare position as a top Best Picture contender to score a #1 position parallel to its nomination. Even more rare: Its box-office performance could play a key role in its chances of actually winning Oscars.
“Just Mercy” is slated for an expansion of about 2,200 theaters after 16 days on four screens in New York and Los Angeles. It hopes for a supporting actor nomination for Jamie Foxx; he and co-star Michael B. Jordan bring major heft to the interest. It should be enough to push this over $10 million, possibly higher, and place as high as second among the new wider players. Its initial Cinemascore was a sky-high A+.
Competing for that will be R-rated comedy “Like a Boss.” Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne, and Salma Hayek lead the cast as two women whose beauty company attracts the interest of an unscrupulous partner. It is the second wide studio release from veteran indie director Miguel Arteta (earlier, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” for Disney). Of note: its runtime is just 83 minutes, and currently lacks any reviews. Expectations are in the $9 million-$13 million range.
“Underwater” was shot in mid-2017. The $80 million production — about undersea creatures who attack scientists working in an oceanic lab after an earthquake — has initial mixed reviews. It stars Kristen Stewart, who can’t catch a break these days, and French actor Vincent Cassel. Expect a bevy of headlines using the title to describe its box-office response after it opens under — perhaps substantially — $10 million.
The holdovers should find “Skywalker” under $20 million, “Jumanji: The Next Level” perhaps $15 million, “Little Women” as much as $10 million, “Frozen II” around $7 million, and the rest (including the second weekend of “The Grudge”) at $5 million or under.