It doesn't always have to be this way. The first weekend of January has often been a place for big films to launch, both from awards expansion and from brand new films to market. There's a half-assed try with one brand new wide release, but the Oscar expansion route seems to have gone extinct and it's mostly the same group of films as the last two weeks.
Weekend Forecast for January 4-6, 2019
By Reagen Sulewski
January 3, 2019
Escape Room is the lone new film of the weekend, taking a “yes, we all saw this one coming” approach to the escape room fad with a thriller that's part Saw, part The Game, part Cube (you haven't seen Cube/don't know what I'm talking about? *Shame* on you). A group of carefully selected elite young people are invited to take part in a challenging new puzzle room with the grand prize of $1 million for the winner. The hook – the puzzles are real, and potentially deadly.
The cast is a mostly-unknown bunch, with Tyler Labine being the most recognizable, though Taylor Russell, recently of the Lost in Space remake, takes the ostensible lead role. The director is Adam Robitel, also in the cast, who last year on this weekend was in charge of the fourth Insidious movie (technically its most successful, going by worldwide grosses), and he's apparently brought a halfway passable film to market here. Reviews are probably being kind to it in light of its position on the schedule but it has a solid premise, if not much ad support. It reminds me a little of the position that Nerve had in the late summer of 2016, and should likely perform in a similar fashion, with around $11 million to start.
The Christmas week bonanza wasn't really all that, in retrospect, with the new films mostly striking out, save one and a half exceptions. Aquaman was of course the biggest winner, having reached $220 million domestic and close to $800 million internationally, blowing past the Justice League figures from last year and making it an odds-on favorite to be the highest grossing of the new DC films (though both The Dark Knight's domestic and Dark Knight Rises's international numbers seem safe). Getting solid word-of-mouth because everyone's just decided to play a colossal joke on Zack Snyder, it should settle into standard superhero patterns from here on, with about $29 million this weekend.
Mary Poppins Returns was the film that probably best utilized the Christmas break, increasing its opening weekend by 20 percent and pushing past $120 million after what was a worrying start. We're probably underselling the risk they took in making a sequel to a beloved musical from over 50 years ago. There's still a great chance for some eye popping numbers here – I'd remind that The Greatest Showman made over $100 million in the post-Christmas period last year – but it depends on the first post-Christmas showing. A parallel performance to Greatest Showman would yield a bogglingly-large $350 million total, but that's on the extremely optimistic side of things. I'd expect smallish drops, starting with $20 million this weekend, leading to around $200 million domestic, which definitely changes the overall story on this one.
There's probably no changing the story for Bumblebee, which takes home the prize for actually being a good Transformers movie at least one film too late in the series. It should bring in about $12 million this weekend, as it heads to around $125 million domestic. That lets it pull even with The Last Knight, which I suppose is some cold comfort.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse continues to win hearts and minds, and definitely opens a line of attack for Sony to continue in the animated super-hero business. It'll take some careful management as it would be easy for the novelty to wear off, but a Spider-Gwen movie seems like an easy call at this point. I'd give this $12 million as well this weekend, and $160 million domestic.
The Mule may not be being talked about for end-of-year awards, but it's turned into an OK performer after a maybe disappointing start. Clint Eastwood's drama about an aging drug mule for the Mexican cartels actually increased its take by almost a third in its third weekend, and seems headed for about $90 million domestic. It's no Gran Torino or American Sniper, but it's respectable in hindsight. I'd give it $9 million this frame.
Vice is looking to hang on thanks to awards recognition but it's hovering on the edge after a $7 million start. No one really wants a weirdly-toned comedy? drama? about Dick Cheney, it would appear. Word-of-mouth could keep this one at $5 million but it's really going to need help from the Golden Globes and/or Oscar nominations.