With two weeks until opening day, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” established a Covid-era best in advance ticket sales. Fandango reported that it outsold all films since “Avengers: Endgame” in April 2019. Even as Omicron renews pandemic anxieties, core fans are ready to commit.
The box-office appeal of an enduring superhero may be stronger than Omicron, but what about everything else? Theaters need to see that a weak November was the outlier — not the elevated October led by “Venom: Let There Be Carnage.”
IndieWire’s box-office estimate for October was right on target, but we leaned pessimistic for November; the guess was it could gross 65 percent of November 2019. Turned out that we were off by 10 points. Total domestic box office for the month is around $525 million, or 55 percent of 2019. Normally, the month of November improves on its predecessor by about 40 percent. This year, it smashed records with a shortfall of 17 percent. Ouch.
In turn, December is usually is 20 percent better than November thanks to a disproportionate amount of business in the final week. Top tentpoles, initiated by 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” made the bounty even bigger. The most recent “Star Wars” film amassed $391 million in December 2019 over 12 days.
“No Way Home” will have 15 days in December, which is enough time for Sony’s Marvel to become the year’s top grosser. The highest 2021 release to date is Disney’s Marvel title “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” which topped out at $225 million. Figure the new “Spider-Man” will better that, by some margin, by December 31.
“Far from Home” grossed $390 million in 2019. Its early days included the July 4th holiday, with $289 million in over 15 days. If the new “Spider-Man” could approach that result, it would be a massive morale boost. Christmas play, and the lack of anything close to its draw, will help.
Helped by a near-certain $100 million+ first weekend, then a week starting December 25 when every day plays like Saturday, $250 million is likely, with 2022 sales adding more. Even $300 million is possible, which would help make December look more like October.
However, Spider-Man can’t do that alone. In October, all films combined grossed $622 million; that represents 88 percent of the October average for 2016-2019. For December to achieve the same level, it needs to gross just over $1 billion. Reaching 75 percent would require $887 million. Reviewing the mix of films in play this month, that’s a very tall order.
December 2019 holdovers took in $375 million, with $160 million from “Frozen” alone. “Encanto” should lead the 2021 holdovers, but even $75 million in December seems very optimistic. “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” and “House of Gucci” are the only other titles likely to amass more than $20 million — combined, perhaps $100 million at most. Figure all told, holdovers could represent $200 million tops.
Beyond “Spider-Man,” the top three performers are expected to be “Sing 2” (Universal/December 22), “The Matrix Resurrections” (Warner Bros./December 22) and “West Side Story” (Disney/December 10). The first two could see much of their gross in January; Steven Spielberg’s musical could be a longer-run play boosted by later awards contention.
The two sequels have the potential to do $100 million each in December, but it’s likely they’ll come in a bit lower. “West Side” is the wild card. Advance tracking pegged it optimistically at around $50 million or lower through December 31, but that came before the rapturous acclaim of initial screenings. It could hit a chord — never underestimate Spielberg — but it also appeals to older audiences who otherwise have been slow to return to theaters.
A range of other titles could break through. These include “Wolf” (Focus/December 3), “National Champions” (STX/December 10), Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight/December 17), franchise installment “The King’s Men” (Disney/ December 22), and on December 25 “American Underdog” (Lionsgate), “A Journal for Jordan” (Sony), and “Licorice Pizza” (United Artists). It’s unlikely that any of these films will exceed $40 million in December; most will fall well short.
The best guarantee of a $900 million month is a spectacular “Spider-Man” performance. An unprecedented Christmas opening for a Marvel character live-action film could be a savior that Christopher Nolan, Denis Villeneuve, and others have hoped to be.