December 2015 Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
December 3, 2015

They wouldn't break your heart. Would they?

December 2015 is riven by a real big gap between the #1 film and all the rest. Real, real big. You know the one. We can close our eyes and choose to ignore what's coming. But we cannot escape.

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (December 18th)

Long-awaited. Ambitious. Brilliant. Revolutionary. A motion picture that almost every man, woman, and child in the nation really wants to see. The number one choice for families during the holiday season. Possibly the biggest movie of the year, and maybe even the decade. A staggeringly anticipated continuation of a beloved franchise. The kind of sequel many have eagerly waited for decades. A follow-up that - finally, at last - gets it right.

But enough about the new Chipmunks sequel.

As much as I'd like to discuss that film right at the top, what we have to talk about here is Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And what do we talk about when we talk about Star Wars? Flashing back 10 years, I remember the moment so clearly, even now. When the second Star Wars trilogy finally ended in 2005, the human race had believed that the worst was over. We dug our heads out of the ground, we opened our eyes anew, and we thought it was safe to go back to the theaters, to turn on our televisions again, to laugh and smile and walk outside in the bright afternoon sun. The second trilogy had made a lot of money, to be sure, but as a species, we had the prevailing, if overly optimistic, sense that Revenge of the Sith would really be the last one, at least for a generation. Still, I think we could hear the canaries in the coal mine, just faintly tune in to those voices in the back of our heads that told us: No. The nightmare is not over. The worst has not happened, not yet. There will be more Star Wars films, oh, many, many more. You might not have to wait long at all. And they are the reason you still fear the dark (of the movie theater).

Boy, do we ever have much to fear. These things will be coming at us at a rate of at least one a year now, for a long, long, long-long, time. You thought Marvel was ubiquitous? Forget it. With Star Wars, what possible reason would they ever have to stop?

Star Wars 7 will quite possibly be big enough to win the year and become the second biggest domestic film of all-time (Jurassic World is quietly gaining on Titanic as we speak, $652 million to $658 million, but both might end up whimpering underneath the talons of the beast). The Force Awakens will thoroughly dominate the holiday season much in the same manner that Avatar did six years ago, and it should easily be the biggest December title in six years. And it's intensely ironic that the key to all this excitement is the film's simultaneous absence of creator George Lucas on the one hand, and the reunion of most of the original stars (Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford, not to mention the robots and wookie) on the other. Welcome back, Star Wars. Have you been missed? Well, I gotta tell you...

Opening weekend: $200 million / Total gross: $645 million

2. Joy (December 25th)
It's still tough to pinpoint as to what's going to come in as the month's second biggest film (quite clearly not its first), and Joy is as good a guess as any (another plausible option, Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight, doesn't seem to be expanding until January). Joy is another one of those blockbuster comedy-dramas that have become one-time indie director David O. Russell's stock and trade. And more to the point, it stars Jennifer Lawrence in her third Russell film, and her first as solo headliner. Lawrence is, of course, consistently and correctly ranked as the biggest movie star in North America, and indeed since 2011 she's been featured in at least one huge movie per year, sometimes more, and if she wasn't the main draw in a few, she's certainly helped burnish them all.

Joy is just about the first film sold almost entirely on her name, with her character's moniker as the title, and according to most analysts, she'll be up there in Best Actress contention, coincidentally facing off against another character with the same first name (Brie Larson's in Room). The film, loosely based on the invention of the Miracle Mop, isn't short for talent, including Lawrence's co-star of three previous films, Bradley Cooper, and other stalwarts like Robert DeNiro, Virginia Madsen, Diane Ladd, and Édgar Ramírez (who's also starring in Point Break). Early word is good, the trailer grabs you, and I think the kind of adult audience that turned Russell's previous big-star extravaganzas The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle, into hits (each one bigger than the last, actually) will mostly come back for the fourth time out.

Opening weekend: $37 million / Total gross: $125 million

3. Daddy's Home (December 25th)
Opening against Joy is this (presumably) much less ambitious big-star comedy, pairing suburban dilettante Will Ferrell (the stepdad) up against stereotypically vulgarian Mark Wahlberg (as the birth father). The plot seems like a generically successful idea, with Ferrell and Wahlberg reuniting after their not-inconsiderable triumph in 2010's The Other Guys (although who knows? Maybe The Other Guys just did so well because The Rock was in it. Doesn't that often seem to be the case?). The type of broad comedy Ferrell has mastered almost always gets the job done at the box office (his film Get Hard finished with $90 million earlier this year), while Wahlberg's resume usually alternates back and forth between hit and miss in a surprisingly consistent manner (I think the last one, Ted 2, was considered "miss," so that's good news for this follow-up).

One key point here is the rating: while Daddy's Home may seem crude and outlandish, it has been rated PG, and is thus easily presentable to all ages without too much parental guilt. Indeed, one of the great unheralded strategies to financial Hollywood success is releasing an innocuous, family-friendly, PG-rated film with big stars on the last weekend of the year, as has been demonstrated by titles like Cheaper by the Dozen and Parental Guidance, both of which made a whole lot more money than one imagines they should have. In fact, outside of the obvious (the #1 movie on this list), Daddy's Home may even be the first choice for families throughout the last week of the year.

Opening weekend: $31 million / Total gross: $107 million

4. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (December 18th)
At last, my love has come along! Is the title a pun? I can never tell. This eagerly-anticipated (be honest) fourth film in the saga of the heroic, unsinkable, and unfortunately non-carnivorous forest critters, comes four years after part three. The first two films, released in 2007 and 2009, had near identical twin-like grosses of $217 million the first time around, and $219 million the second, suggesting the exact same 20 million people made their way to the theaters (let's assume the extra $2 million was added for inflation) . The shocker was the third time around, when the last Chipmunks picture lowered itself to a $133 million total for no discernible reason other than it was just its time. A few of the cast members from previous films re-appear here (they shall remain unnamed, to assist with future deniability).

It's hard to say where this new excursion will land, exactly, but I have to assume the number will again go down, not up. I know Chipmunks 2 opened almost opposite Avatar and still did well (and the first Chipmunks had no problems going up against Will Smith's I Am Legend), but I think even this brand will get at least a fair chunk of attendance chiseled out of it by starting on the same day as Star Wars 7 (not to mention Sisters).

Opening weekend: $21 million / Total gross: $82 million

5. In the Heart of the Sea (December 11th)
One of the harder films to forecast this month, director Ron Howard's period adventure In the Heart of the Sea, was pushed back from its initial March release date and into a more awards-friendly, weekend hold-enabling early December date. In fact, Krampus aside, it's just about the only film that's daring to announce itself and show its face before the 18th (those chipmunks are pretty scary). The film's star, Chris Hemsworth, previously led Ron Howard's Rush to critical success stateside and financial success across distant shores, and he's a good leading man opposite a cadre of rising actors like Benjamin Walker, Ben Whishaw, Frank Dillane, and Tom Holland (that's SPIDER-MAN!!!!!). In The Heart of the Sea is about mortal-sized men in close quarter combat with a giant whale off the coast of 1820 Massachusetts, in a true-life story that somewhat inevitably inspired Moby Dick 31 years later. It's the first New England maritime disaster film we'll be getting over the next little while (the second, Chris Pine's The Finest Hours, hits in late January. That one doesn't have a big fish). There's a pulpy poster out there of Hemsworth swimming next to the gargantuan sea monster's eye, spear in hand. The film itself will be much less outlandish, I suppose, though it should still do well.

Opening weekend: $27 million / Total gross: $74 million

6. Sisters (December 18th)
As with Ferrell and Wahlberg, Sisters brings back together a pair of old favorites, and in this case two who have orbited around each other's person much more closely in the public consciousness: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have collaborated on awards shows, Saturday Night Live, and two previous films: Mean Girls (2004), of course, though they shared no scenes, and their amusing buddy movie Baby Mama (2008). As such, Sisters, the first film to join the two in a genealogical fashion, was probably inevitable. For reasons good or bad, the film opens opposite one (or two) massive holiday sequel(s), and will aim to please those who shun special effects and singing rodents, as one of the more personable comedic options of the season, perhaps fulfilling much the same niche as It's Complicated did opposite Avatar in 2009. The leads are appealing, as we know, the choice of co-stars is lively (Maya Rudolph, James Brolin, and John Cena, who's found himself in comedy), and if Baby Mama can pull in $60 million, Sisters should be able to dance alongside the same ballpark, or, if it really catches on as counterprogramming, maybe even go into three digits.

Opening weekend: $15 million / Total gross: $71 million

7. Concussion (December 25th)
After many years in a wilderness of one form or the other, Will Smith is making his return in somewhat non-traditional fare: first, there was lower-key thriller Focus last February, and next year he'll add his name to the remarkably dark supervillain tale Suicide Squad. In between, though, is this football drama with more than a few hints of awards appeal. Here, Smith adopts a foreign accent and reserved manner to play Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian forensic pathologist who confronted the NFL over injuries causing devastating brain damage to their players. While Concussion doesn't quite seem like a crowd pleaser (how many potential viewers are not exactly ones apt to accept the NFL as a villain?), it seems to be getting some good notices, and the supporting cast is heavy, including Luke Wilson as Roger Goodell and a dramatic role by Albert Brooks, who often pops up in heavier fare these days (see also Drive and A Most Violent Year).

Much like Focus before it, Concussion will sink or swim on Smith's star power, bolstered as it will be by respectable reviews. The release date may not scream football, but Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday did well enough ($75 million) 16 years ago on the same date. By the way: the trailer's pointed highlight surely must be Smith commanding "Tell the truth! Tell the truth," at which point one is sorely disappointed not to see Jack Nicholson reply "You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!"

Opening weekend: $17 million / Total gross: $61 million

8. The Big Short (December 11th, limited; wide on the 23rd)
This adaptation of Michael Lewis's non-fiction book about financial malfeasance is another big-name extravaganza, headlined by Christian Bale, looser after his solemnity in Exodus, Ryan Gosling, in his first studio film in a while, Steve Carell, still carrying immense critical respect post-Foxcatcher, and Brad Pitt, who's once again been adorned with a beard, a mustache, and other apparel designed to bland up his looks. The Big Short appears to aim somewhat in the ballpark of American Hustle, another financial fraud-savvy title released in December and carried by a lot of movie stars. The characters here don't seem nearly as outrageous, even given the fact that the film is helmed by Adam McKay, a veteran of raucous comedies like Anchorman and Step Brothers, next to which The Big Short looks positively subdued. Still, reviews seem to approve, and Carell is again the subject of what now seems like annual Oscar buzz. On the other hand, The Big Short proudly carries its subject matter (the lead-up to the 2008 recession) in its trailers, but that's not necessarily a time period many casual audiences are excited at revisiting: financial wrongdoings can seem like a cheerless memory making blight on a festive season. The all-star line-up will help, of course, but I don't know if the film has a path to being really big, especially playing opposite a title like Joy.

Opening weekend: $19 million (5-day) / Total gross: $51 million

9. Point Break (December 25th)
The fourth of the big December 2th5 releases is this somewhat unseasonal action film, and I have to say that in its plot, about a young police officer going undercover among a gang of thieves with a knack for extreme sports, Point Break seems to recall all-too-precisely the first film in The Fast and the Furious series. In fact, it is almost as if Point Break was an unofficial remake of The Fast and the Furio... [Hold on, someone is trying to get my attention. WHAT?!?]

The Point Break remake stars Australian upstart Luke Bracey in the Keanu Reeves/Paul Walker role, and Édgar Ramírez in the Patrick Swayze/Vin Diesel part. The original Point Break was a minor if memorable hit in the summer of 1991, finishing with $43 million. Thus far, this reimagining's internet reception has leaned towards the cruel, with the film having been maligned and bad-mouthed, from its trailers to release date - it doesn't stand a chance up against the holiday's other movies, they say. On this last point, they're probably right; straightforward action movies don't have a particularly great history on this release frame (Die Hard was set in December but was released in July). If Point Break gets good reviews, it can still finish respectably, although I think the film will likely be one of the recent slate of remakes to finish with a number that's below its original (especially if the original we're comparing it to is the 2001 Fast and the Furious!).

Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $33 million

10. Krampus (December 4th)
The third and last of this season's explicitly Christmas-themed offerings, and, even in the world of the 33 Coopers and the Night Before, this one stands out as the most off the beaten track. Krampus, an actual figure (so to speak) from German folklore, is brought to the screen by Michael Dougherty, a man seemingly wedded to the concept of seasonally-specific horror films: he helmed the Halloween-set Trick 'r Treat, which was never given a theatrical release in North America and has gained somewhat of a cult status among its viewers. Christmas-themed horror films are relatively rare, though Krampus is almost unique in bringing to the screen its little-known figure in Christmas lore: Krampus is a sort of purported anti-Santa Claus (can't have one without having the other), and one who's given a murderous sheen in this particular version. The trailers strike the appropriate tones of horror and seasonal jest, and the release date, not too far from the holidays, although not quite too close, seems just right to me. Even so, Krampus likely won't have very good legs, nor, I guess, will it open particularly well. Its first in December slate is notoriously terrible for box office, so much so that studios often decline from scheduling any wide releases on the date at all (although given some of this year's weekends, it won't be completely out of place). The few brave souls who venture out to the movies on this quiet weekend may enjoy it.

Opening weekend: $7 million / Total gross: $21 million