With ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home,’ Theaters Found Their Christmas Savior

The box office overall is improving, but "Spider-Man" was a major standout in a Christmas weekend mainly marked by overall weakness.
'Spider-Man: No Way Home' Christmas Box Office Grosses
"Spider-Man: No Way Home"

Without “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (Sony) this weekend, it might have been lights out for theaters. Literally.

With it, COVID Christmas No. 2  is a reasonably successful season. The incredible domestic 10-day total of $467 million (and reaching $1 billion worldwide) — as much as double expectations — does raise hopes that the end is in sight for gross-challenged exhibitors. That this comes in the face of the Omicron surge — with holiday plans disrupted, Broadway and other events shutting down, some sports postponed — has to be seen as a major boost for exhibitors’ viability.

Still, the totals for the weekend, and even more so the individual results for most of the films, suggest some stockings got filled with coal. The three-day total of all films will come to around $145 million. That’s 73 percent of the last unchallenged Christmas-adjacent weekend in 2019 ($198 million). December 24-26 fell in the middle of the week that year and took in $188 million, 30 percent ahead of this year.

The shortfall comes because apart from “Spider-Man,” “Sing 2” was the only other major performer. Universal’s animated sequel in its first five days has grossed $41 million. The 2016 original, in the same number of days through December 25, did $55 million. That is right at 75 percent, which increasingly appears to be the kind of relative performance that looks like a triumph these days — with “Spider-Man” the notable exception.

This is a tricky time of year to make comparisons, since performance veers from normal weekday expectations. Often films that start strong in the days before December 25, particularly if family or older-oriented, pick up momentum. “Spider-Man” could easily add another $150 million through next weekend. “Sing 2” might reach $100 million cumulative.

Sing 2 Planet Joy
“Sing 2”Universal

With two improved weekends, our four-weekend rolling comparison to the same period in 2019 rises to 71 percent. Again, an improvement. But it comes with one massive film, with a lot of weakness across the board.

“Spider-Man” accounts for about 58 percent of the gross this weekend. That tops the previous record for a single film at Christmas. “The Force Awakens” in 2015 (which grossed $149 million) accounted for 51 percent out of a $297 million weekend total. But that also included seven films over $10 million, nine over $5 million. This year? Three over $10 million, five over $5 million.

“The Matrix Resurrections” (Warner Bros.) is the third to reach eight figures ($12 million, $22.5 million for five days). It’s also on HBO Max, which didn’t prevent “Dune” from a first weekend of $41 million). “Resurrections,” unlike, “Sing” has rapidly fallen. “American Underdog” (Lionsgate), in some 700 fewer theaters, nearly equaled its reported Saturday gross (although that figure included some advance previews). The Kurt Warner football biopic might outpace it the rest of the way, with its A+ Cinemascore suggesting initial audience love.

“A Journal for Jordan”Sony

“A Journal for Jordan” (Sony), the other wide late studio opening, did much less, with only $2.2 million reported for two days in 2,500 theaters, compared to $6.2 million for “Underdog.” The drama about a real-life military family starring Michael B. Jordan wasn’t hurt by tepid reviews, something not likely to impact the faith- and sports-based audience for “Underdog.”

Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” (United Artists) also debuted in most of the country, with 786 theaters compared to four for its first four, very strong platform weeks. Saturday/Sunday totals came in a little ahead of “Jordan” with only a third as many theaters. This remains a work in progress, with the hopeful result that two-thirds of its audience were between 18-34, similar to initial results. Older moviegoers, who previously have been the bulk of the director’s audience, continue to lag overall. Word of mouth — clearly good in its initial weeks — give it a chance to sustain a lengthy run. In some top theaters, it was as high as fourth-best on Saturday.

“The King’s Man” (Disney), the other Wednesday debut, is an early failure. It will amass only $10 million for five days, with little chance of recovery. “’83” (Reliance) also opened on Friday, with the Indian film about a cricket championship taking in $1.7 million for the weekend (just below the top-ten for the two days; it actually was No. 5 on Friday).

“West Side Story” (Disney) is showing a pulse. Considering that most theaters provided only partial shows — in some cases cutting matinees, where the film still has appeal — its big jump on Saturday (up 129 percent compared to Friday; “Spider-Man” was up 60 percent) suggests that its adult core audience, as often happens, delayed their attendance until Christmas Day and after.

This is usually the time of year when awards contenders thrive; normally several expand and often shine post-Christmas. Only “West Side Story” and “Licorice Pizza” made the top 10 this year, and at a much lower than usual level.

Two high-end releases debuted with respectable results, given current conditions. “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (A24) in 30 theaters stands out, although because of partner Apple’s policy, no grosses were announced. (Joel Coen’s film will stream starting on January 14.) Checking some of the ticket sites on Saturday showed definite elevated interest at multiple theaters, not only in New York and Los Angeles, but some other markets. Estimating a gross is guesswork. The Landmark in Los Angeles, despite playing with other theaters including a nearby AMC location, looks to have done around $6,000, likely at the higher end of overall results.

Pedro Almodovar’s “Parallel Mothers” (Sony Classics) debuted on Friday, with a three-day estimate of $41,000 in three New York and Los Angeles theaters. Like all other specialized titles, the impact of COVID and related changes in moviegoing habits is evident. “Pain and Glory” in October 2019 opened to $152,000 in four theaters. This stands though as better than most similar releases.

Every weekday ahead is like a Saturday, with next weekend likely to be not much below this one. It’s important that it is as strong as possible. The next two months has much less promising new titles (Paramount’s “Scream” is the likely standout). But at least “Spider-Man” gave hope. At this point, it’s enough.

The Top Ten 

(in order of Saturday/Sunday two-day totals; three-day figures also included)

1. Spider-Man: No Way Home (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$61,800,000 (2 days) in 4,336 theaters (no change); $81,500,000 (3 days) (-69%); PTA: (3 day)$18,796; Cumulative: $467,300,000

2. Sing 2 (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: A+; Metacritic: 49; Est. budget: $85 million

$18,540,000 (2 days) in 3,892 theaters; $23,760,000 (3 days); PTA: (3 day): $6,105; Cumulative: $41,000,000

3. Matrix Resurrections (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Metacritic: 64; Est. budget: $(unknown, but estimated $100 million +); also on HBO Max

$9,300,000 (2 days) in 3,552 theaters; $12,000,000 (3 days); PTA: (3 day): $3,378; Cumulative: $22,500,000

4. American Underdog (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: A+; Metacritic: 52; Est. budget: $(unknown)

$6,200,000 (2 days) in 2,813 theaters; PTA: $ (2 days) 2,204; Cumulative: $6,200,000

5. The King’s Man (Disney) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 44; Est. budget: $(unknown)

$5,150,000 (2 days) in 3,180 theaters; $6,350,000 (3 days); PTA: (3 day): $1,997; Cumulative: $10,010,000

6. West Side Story (Disney) Week 3; Last weekend #3

$2,254,000 (2 days) in 2,810 theaters (-10); $ (3 days) 2,800,000 (-23%); PTA: (3 day) $996; Cumulative: $23,916,000

7. Licorice Pizza (United Artists) Week 5; Last weekend #14

$2,32,000 (2 day) in 786 theaters (+782);  PTA: (2 day): $2,824; Cumulative: $3,666,000

8. A Journal for Jordan (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore:; Metacritic: 42; Est. budget: $25 million

$2,200,00 (2 days) in 2,500 theaters; PTA: $ (2 day): $880; Cumulative: $2,200,000

9. Encanto (Disney) Week 5; Last weekend #2; also on Disney +

$1,504,000 (2 day) in 2,800 theaters (-375); $2,000,000 (3 days) (-69%); PTA: (3 day) $; Cumulative: $88,278,000

10. Nightmare Alley (Searchlight) Week 2; Last weekend #5

$1,067,000 (2 days) in 2,135 theaters (no change); $1,300,000 (3 days) (-54%); PTA: (3 day) $; Cumulative: $5,401,000

PARALLEL MOTHERS, (aka MADRES PARALELAS), from left: Milena Smit, Penelope Cruz, 2021. ph: El Deseo D.A. S.L.U. / © Sony Pictures Classics /Courtesy Everett Collection
“Parallel Mothers”©Sony Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Additional specialized/limited/independent releases (all three-day unless noted)

Parallel Mothers (Sony Pictures Classics) NEW – Metacritic: 87; Festivals include: Venice, New York 2021

$41,076 in 3 theaters; PTA: $13,692

The Tragedy of Macbeth (A24) NEW – Metacritic: 89; Festivals include: New York 2021

$(no estimate) in 30 theaters

The Velvet Queen (Oscilloscope) NEW – Metacritic: 77; Festivals include: Cannes 2021

$4,276 in 2 theaters; PTA: $2,138; Cumulative (5 day): $6,438

’83 (Reliance) NEW – Cinemascore:; Metacritic:; Est. budget: $38 million

$1,700,000 (3 days) in 500 theaters; PTA: $2,340; Cumulative: $1,700,000

Red Rocket (A24) Week 3

$150,705 in 377 (+361) theaters;  Cumulative: $372,478

C’mon C’mon (A24) Week 5; also on Premium VOD

$18,673 in 49  (-53) theaters; Cumulative: $1,820,000

The French Dispatch (Searchlight) Week 10; also on Premium VOD

$40,000 in 70 (-110) theaters; Cumulative: $15,925,000

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