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Holiday Box Office Winners and Losers, From ‘Star Wars’ to ‘Cats’

With only horror reboot-remake "The Grudge" as a new wide release, we discuss the fates of holiday films that thrived, survived, and died.

"The Rise of Skywalker"

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”


There’s little new to consider at the box office in the happy new year; low-budget horror reboot-of-a-remake “The Grudge” from Screen Gems is the sole new wide release this weekend. “Skywalker” will be #1, in the range of $30 million-$35 million (last weekend was $72 million), “Jumanji” second with $20 million-$25 million. “Little Women,” “Frozen II,” and “The Grudge” will battle in the $10 million-$15 million range. The total for the weekend could be around $140 million. That would put it on par for 2019’s first weekend, which grossed $139 million.

As for those films still standing after the most intense period of the movie year, audiences have rendered their verdict as to what thrived, survived, and died.

It wasn’t a great Christmas: Core dates of December 25-January 1 showed results up by about 3%. That’s despite the presence of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” which will gross at least 50% more than holiday 2018’s best title, “Aquaman.” Still, any uptick is welcome in a year that ended 4% down from 2018. (And at this writing, stock prices for the two of the three top exhibitors reflect that.) 

In Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Frozen 2, Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven journey far beyond the gates of Arendelle in search of answers. Featuring the voices of Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad, “Frozen 2” opens in U.S. theaters November 22.©2019 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

“Frozen II”



Frozen II (Disney)

It opened the Friday before Thanksgiving, but over the holidays it still ranked third or fourth every day. With $435 million in, this has already topped the 2013 original (also a November release), which grossed an additional $130 million after January 1. This will easily top $500 million domestic and most likely be the top grosser since summer. At $1.3 billion-$1.4 billion worldwide, it’s the third-biggest film of 2019.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Disney)

Now at $408 million, it will fall short of the other two films in the reboot trilogy. “The Last Jedi” grossed $620 million domestic and $1.3 billion worldwide. This will end up somewhere in the range of $500 million and $1 billion, respectively. Between these two films, Disney also released the prequel “Solo,” which grossed only $214 million domestic, $392 million total — this deserves credit as a rebound.

Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony)

At $203 million and counting, this is ahead of “Welcome to the Jungle” two years ago. That franchise reboot then added over $200 million more to its total, although that won’t happen this time around; head-to-head daily comparisons show this falling shorter. That should keep this shy of $300 million domestic, with foreign similarly down from nearly $1 billion last time. Still, it’s a significant success and a gateway to further sequels.

"Knives Out: Ana de Armas (Marta), Daniel Craig (Benoit Blanc)

“Knives Out”

Claire Folger

Knives Out (Lionsgate)

This November 27 release was slotted for a quick run ahead of its distributor’s “Bombshell” December 20. By then, it was a hit at $83 million. Now it’s at $119 million, with a real shot at $150 million domestic and $300 million worldwide — all on a $40 million budget. This sleeper success is now set up for a sequel. Other than animated titles like “Frozen II,” few films in wide release by November benefit from the Christmas bounty. “Knives Out” might make 40% or more of its take from Christmas and after.

Little Women (Sony)

At $43 million domestic in eight days, and initial positive foreign response, this looks like it will end up as a considerable success off a $42 million budget.It will approach $60 million by Sunday, and $100 million domestic now looks like a low estimate; expect $200 million or more worldwide. That would be a huge triumph for Greta Gerwig and Sony. Its Christmas Day date was key, although that might have muted early awards hype (this ended up with better reviews than several Oscar contenders), but was the perfect fit to start strong and gain momentum.

Uncut Gems (A24)

After opening wide last week, we went out on a limb and predicted it might do $30 million. Now over $27 million, it should reach at least $40 million. If a Best Oscar nomination for Adam Sandler comes in, it would easily be A24’s biggest hit. All this, with a C+ Cinemascore and being the most unlikely Christmas wide release ever.

1917 (Universal)

So far, it’s made $1.5 million after eight days in 11 theaters. Declaring that this will become a $100 million film when it goes into wide release January 10 (no stars, set in World War I) sounds like a risk. But that’s our bet based on the strong initial take, likely major Oscar chances, war-film precedents (most recently, “Dunkirk”), and major international appeal.



Cats (Universal)

If “Cats” can muster even a second life, it will be as a cult classic. It is losing theaters after 12 days, and won’t even gross $25 million domestic. This could lose as much as $100 million.

Richard Jewell (Warner Bros.)

With two recent $100 million hits (“Sully” and “The Mule”) from Clint Eastwood, strong advance word, decent initial reviews, placement as Warners’ prime Christmas film made sense. Released December 13 in hopes of word of mouth (the A Cinemascore suggested as much), it never got traction and will gross less than $25 million. Unless an international surge rescues it, the $45 million film will be a rare flop for the 89-year-old director.

A Hidden Life (Fox Searchlight)

Terrence Malick’s three-hour film about a Nazi resister in small-town Austria was a major Cannes acquisition that received holiday placement in hopes of maximizing award exposure. However, even with prime platforming before expansion to more than 100 top-flight theaters, it was stillborn. Acquired for $13 million (a deal that included a number or international territories), it may not gross $1.5 million.


Spies in Disguise (20th Century Fox)

At $33 million in eight days, the family-oriented animated film has seen its best shot at maximizing its grosses. Though parent Disney hasn’t released figures, previous Blue Sky Studio releases like the much bigger “Ferdinand” cost $100 million or more. This should top out around $60 million. Some major countries, particularly China, open soon, so this could still show a profit.

Bombshell (Lionsgate)

It’s grossed $20 million so far, and it will take significant Oscar nominations to sustain a run above that. Still, even that would mean more spending. With a $32 million budget and uncertain foreign appeal, it could be uphill for this #MeToo at Fox News film to recoup.

Just Mercy (Warner Bros.)
Clemency (Neon)

Two limited year-end releases deal with capital punishment. “Mercy” has Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx (the latter getting awards buzz) and a wide break on January 10 after some decent initial platform results ($308,000 in four theaters first eight days). “Clemency” is a more specialized release out of Sundance 2019, with a slow expansion ahead and hoping for an Alfre Woodard Best Actress nomination.

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