‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ Big, ‘The Mule’ Strong; ‘Mortal Engines’ Sputters

Sony’s animated Spider-Man has a long life ahead, but Peter Jackson’s “Mortal Engines” could be gone by Christmas.
a still from "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse"
"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse"
Sony Pictures Animation

Sometimes raw figures don’t tell the full story.  Case in point: This weekend, grosses dropped nearly 60 percent, or about $160 million, below the same results for the same three-day weekend (i.e., the second to last before Christmas), even more from the year before. Does this mean the end of the year has become a disaster?

Well, no. Why? Because most years see the release of top holiday films delayed closer to December 25 — the better to maximize impact and not worry about peaking too early. And this year saw no “Star Wars” title released.

By other comparisons, the results — which include decent or better initial takes for two new films (“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and “The Mule”) and an ongoing impressive showing for “The Grinch” — portend an excellent end-of-year result.

Still, the absence of Luke Skywalker and company from this year’s lineup could mean year-end box office will stay close to the norm this decade. How “Mary Poppins Returns” and “Aquaman” perform will have a big impact on the final tally.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”Sony Pictures Animation

We might have our first $200 million+ December release this year with the strong opening of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Sony’s animated variation on its Marvel mainstay character. Why? A six-time multiple of the opening weekend is quite possible with the lucrative holiday period ahead.

Adding to its case is a spectacular A+ Cinemascore. That’s the sixth this year, a list that also includes Marvel’s “Black Panther” and the animated “Incredibles 2.” Last year, 20th Century Fox released “Ferdinand” the same weekend to a $13.4 million total, then saw its fortunes accelerate with Christmas play to $84 million. The three previous biggest animated December openers including “Sing,” had multiples over six.

Add to that its awards potential after winning major critics’ groups prizes and this looks like a goldmine for Sony and Marvel (its budget only $90 million) and the likely start of a new subset of Marvel films.

"The Mule"
“The Mule”Warner Bros./YouTube

Clint Eastwood’s late-arriving “The Mule” indisputably holds the record of the best-grossing opening for a film with an 88-year-old director and star. More significantly, this is seventh film he has directed since turning 80, and the second of 2018 with a decent Christmas multiple, it has a shot at $100 million. If so, that would make it (along with “Sully” and “American Sniper”) the third out of his last four films to reach that mark. That’s a record another director is unlikely to match; by comparison, it will be 13 years until Spielberg reaches 85, the age at which Eastwood began this streak.

Of note along with its A Cinemascore (which is above the mediocre reviews “The Mule” received), the film’s decreased its gross with the unusual decision not to have Thursday-evening shows, which would have likely boosted the total by $2 million or more. It’s the time of the year when a studio has faith in a film not to be greedy and let the holiday bounty come at its own pace.

Mortal Engines

In the middle of this positive news comes one of the year’s biggest flops. “Mortal Engines,” directed by a Peter Jackson protege, with the mentor and partner Fran Walsh writing and producing the science-fiction film for a budget of at least $100 million, fell totally flat with a pathetic $7.5 million.

What makes it worse is its intended audience — younger, more male, more event oriented — has show support for films they want despite pre-holiday timing. This time, not remotely. The result could be a film that might not even gross $20 million domestically.

The horrible showing might actually be a blessing for Universal. The studio has a real problem: how to fit “The Grinch,” “Green Book,” “Mortal Engines,” and next weekend’s “Welcome to Marwen” into a realistic combination of screens available. How to solve? Since “Mortal” seems likely to see little interest, don’t be surprises if it has minimal presence by Christmas Day. A gross much higher would have made that choice more difficult.

"The Grinch"
“The Grinch”

Two of those films were the two best holds in the Top 10 this weekend. “The Grinch,” despite the presence of a new animated competitor in play, dropped only 23 percent. That placed it in third place, and its gross was only $2 million less than the opening for “Ferdinand” last year.

“The Grinch” is now nearly at $240 million, with its holiday bounty likely to push it to over $300 million. Its initial cost? A meager $75 million. Overseas, it still has Russia and three major Asian territories to go, making a doubling of that figure a real possibility.

Did Universal calculate a “Mortal” disaster when they risked going wider quickly for their Oscar contender “Green Book”? It’s not certain, but its performance (down just 29 percent) in somewhat over 1,000 carefully selected theaters is strong enough to get it held in most of the ones with good performances. That seemed unlikely less than a month ago when it appeared to have fallen short of expectations.

“Bohemian Rhapsody,” getting a boost from its awards attention, dropped 33 percent on a weekend where it lost a quarter of its theaters, with $180 million in. It is now the second-biggest music biographical film since 1980 (adjusted “Walk the Line” remains bigger). “Instant Family” kept its fall to 35 percent, now at $60 million. Expect it to compete to get some holiday holdovers in complexes with higher numbers of screens.

“Ralph Breaks the Internet,” “Creed II” — both successful sequels, along with “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” which at its expense is not — dropped in the range of 40-50 percent. The first two will fight for representation in upcoming weeks.

Also “opening” this weekend is the PG-13, somewhat revamped “Deadpool 2” variation “Once Upon a Deadpool.” Created mainly to gain entree into China (which played neither R-rated “Deadpool”), it placed 11th with a $2.6 million total for the gimmick.

The Top 10

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: A+; Metacritic: 87; Est. budget: $90 million

$35,400,000 in 3,813 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $9,284; Cumulative: $35,400,000

2. The Mule (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 58; Est. budget: $50 million

$17,210,000 in 2,588 theaters; PTA: $; Cumulative: $17,210,000

3. The Grinch (Universal) Week 6; Last weekend #2

$11,580,000 (-23%) in 3,579 theaters (-82); PTA: $3,081; Cumulative: $239,289,000

4. Ralph Breaks the Internet (Disney) Week 4; Last weekend #1

$9,589,000 (-41%) in 3,575 theaters (-220); PTA: $2,682; Cumulative: $154,465,000

5. Mortal Engines (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Metacritic: 45; Est. budget: $110 million

$7,701,000 in 3,103 theaters; PTA: $2,417; Cumulative: $7,701,000

6. Creed II (MGM) Week 4; Last weekend #3

$5,398,000 (-46%) in 3,107 theaters (-645); PTA: $1,738; Cumulative: $104,883,000

7. Bohemian Rhapsody (20th Century Fox) Week 7; Last weekend #5

$4,125,000 (-33%) in 2,214 theaters (-740); PTA: $1,864; Cumulative: $180,423,000

8. Instant Family (Paramount) Week 5; Last weekend #6

$3,720,000 (-35%) in 2,860 theaters (-566); PTA: $1,301; Cumulative: $60,218,000

9. Fantastic Beast: The Crimes of Grindelwald (Warner Bros.) Week 5; Last weekend #4

$3,650,000 (-47%) in 2,606 theaters (-845); PTA: $1,401; Cumulative: $151,653,000

10. Green Book (Universal) Week 5; Last weekend #7

$2,780,000 (-29%) in 1,215 theaters (+34); PTA: $2,288; Cumulative: $24,660,000



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