December 2017 Box Office Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
December 7, 2017
I'm not sure anyone was really asking for it, but Star Wars is nevertheless back again. Will it win the month? Does it have the slightest chance? I believe it can be number one, yes, if Jumanji underperforms, and maybe The Greatest Showman opens a little lower than expected. Don't give up hope, Star Wars fans!
Editorial note: all below release dates are subject to change, pending the public airing of the tawdry history of any cast members or filmmakers involved.
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manha Star Wars: The Last Jedi (December 15th)
But not the last film.
The franchise that has so mercilessly dominated our past two holiday seasons returns to take this year's top prize as well, and not you nor I nor anyone else can stop it from claiming its annual pound of financial flesh. (Yeah, sorry, I made that too disgusting-sounding; by the way, interestingly, there's no Star Wars movie slotted for December 2018, and, looking at that year's schedule, the winter line-up seems to be bereft of an obvious box office champion. Wreck-It-Ralph 2? The new animated Grinch? Et tu, Bumblebee? This should be good).
Anyway, with The Last Jedi, technically Episode VIII but really their ninth film, the Star Wars series is entering the kind of rarefied umpteen-sequel air previously mostly enjoyed by 1980s horror films (as I always point out, unlike Star Wars, at least those movies had the decency to be short). And as much as I try to ignore it or pretend it ain't there, this is the one that will tower over this month and everything and everyone in it - whether you count the other films individually or add up all their numbers, they don't stand a chance. Star Wars will lord over the soon-to-be Oscar winners and sharp-written dramas and terrible horror films and low-brow comedies and musical period pieces and modern-day jukebox musicals and even over films where no less than Dwayne Johnson himself bravely strides through the jungle wilds, mud-wrestling crocodiles into submission. All will be shaken, beaten, and put down. In the grand scheme of the Star Wars universe, none of them matter.
The late Carrie Fisher stars as Princess Leia once more, in a meaty role that should give her a fond farewell, and press tear ducts into fervent action across cinemadom. Daisy Ridley returns to play the series' signature trope, the spunky lead with some shaky genealogical ties, while Adam Driver is back as the pervert with a Darth Vader mask, John Boyega is again Daisy's apparently platonic confidant, and Oscar Isaac is the helpful resistance pilot who's still fighting the good fight, and always will be (by the way, did no one else care that, in The Force Awakens, his character disappeared, seemingly dead upon ejection from a plane, and then randomly re-entered the plot an hour later, like it was obvious that he had, A. survived, and B. found his way to safe haven? Does that happen alot?). Elsewhere in the galaxy, Domhnall Gleeson, usually the picture of warmth, reprises General Hux, a villain who'll probably meet his end sooner than later, all the more to make the Driver-Vader look tougher (Gleeson does seem scary as the exterminator in Peter Rabbit, by the way).
Going back to the accounting part, everybody knows that Beauty and the Beast won the spring ($504 million; hey, not too shabby!) and Wonder Woman rather decidedly claimed the summer ($412 mil and counting); but as films as ridiculously overachieving as Jurassic World (2015, $652 million) and Finding Dory (2016, $486 million) have already learned, you can show up at any point during a year and make all the money you want, but that Star Wars movie is still coming out in December, and it's still going to beat you, no matter how much you've think you've earned or how safe you might assume your lead was. With the weird and possibly fictional exception of 2002, Star Wars has won the year every time it's put itself out there, and we're not living in another exception.
As we know, the last official sequel, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, arrived on a quiet Thursday night in December 2015 and within a scant few weeks had become the biggest movie of all time ($936 million... really?), rather easily beating Avatar's previous record high ($760 million... was that absolutely necessary?). Then, Rogue One came last year, and saw and conquered in due course, finishing with $532 mil and probably establishing that number as the absolute bare minimum for The Last Jedi's kitty. With one exception (...), everyone wants to see if Daisy really is Mark Hamill's daughter, see, and that alone apparently justifies Star Wars 2017 a box office in the near billions, if not more. Gross on.
Opening weekend: $300 million / Total gross: $900 million
2. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (December 20th)
It's all fun and games.
Our hero is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who recently surrendered the title of "Sexiest Man Alive" to Blake Shelton (those "Miss me yet?" billboards are comin' up town by town, to be sure), but whose box office clout is as consistent as his presence in at least two or three films a year. Jumanji, for one, will in roughly a month's time become Mr. Johnson's thirteenth $100 million domestic release.
Here, he follows in the grand Rock tradition of swooping in at the charity of his heart and curing an ill franchise of its troubles, this time giving the kindness to the Jumanji brand, tales of board game adventures turned into real life mischief. The book, by Chris Van Allsburg (of The Polar Express), was published in 1981, and the original film, with Robin Williams as the grown-up wildman who was trapped in the game as a New England child, opened in 1995, grossed $100 million (on the dot), and became a staple of the childhood entertainments of the millennial generation (I've seen Williams' Jumanji probably over ten times, mostly about 20 years ago). They even made a sequel! Zathura, by Jon Favreau, which was more board game fun, finished with a meek $29 million in the cool winter months of 2005. But that wasn't the last we heard of it.
The new film looks much bigger in scale, as the board is replaced with a video game, and the film takes the premise away from the hallways of the suburban U.S. and into the jungles of the fantasy wild, where adventurers played by name actors like Johnson, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black do battle with beasts and creatures for the entertainment of teenage gamers who've newly stumbled onto Jumanji. There's an appetizing-looking crocodile nestled next to Hart on the poster, and rising thespians like Karen Gillan (of the Marvel Universe, pure evil) and Nick Jonas (the surname is familiar) join them on the quest.
Johnson and Hart teamed together for the reasonable summer hit Central Intelligence, which grossed $127 million and inspired a... memorable... tagline (yes, I believe it was, "Have a little Hart and a big Johnson". Fair.). This particular re-teaming has received some good early buzz, perhaps the best in the franchise, and should most likely find itself the most popular counter-offer for action, adventure, and goodhearted cheer this Christmas. Especially if, as I do, you think that galaxy is just a little too far away.
Opening weekend: $57 million (5-day) / Total gross: $182 million
3. Pitch Perfect 3 (December 22nd)
The Barden Bellas, a college group of a capella songstresses, make their return once more, as they re-band and again find themselves in a competition up against weirdos and perverts whom they must defeat in song battle, so moral order can be restored to the world (but as the film begins, expect lots of scenes of their post-college life disappointments). Everyone who's anyone is again in the cast, as Anna Kendrick leads, along with breakout star Rebel Wilson, who with previous singers like Hailee Steinfeld and Anna Camp must face off against the new evil queen of cover music, Ruby Rose, in her fourth of four agreeably memorable big-screen roles this year. She has style.
While not for everyone, I think, the Pitch Perfect franchise is kind of Austin Powers-like in its box office life, having begun as a successful mid-level film ($65 million total) before transmorphutating [sic] into a mega-watt sequel that grossed one hundred and eighty four million dollars (comparisons end there). The first Pitch Perfect, surprisingly, played its first weekend in relatively limited release, on 335 screens, but now these films are up there with the big fish in town.
Always the wanderer, moving from the September of the first film and the May release of the second, the Pitch Perfect series finds itself now in December, one of two musicals, technically, out in release, along with Hugh Jackman and his dancing elephants. The trailer promises us this is the last one, I think, and there's not much new or bigger-scale in this follow-up to distinguish it from the previous, but that should be fine - fans of the material know what they like, and they're getting it again (the mix of cover songs and toxic humor remains, certainly). Part 2 will likely reign over as this franchise's high point indefinitely, with part 3 finding itself smack dab between the totals of the other two. Its numbers will be helped by Christmas box office days, which are very long and not particularly productive for industries outside of theater or restaurant owners.
Opening weekend: $38 million / Total gross: $111 million
4. The Greatest Showman (December 20th)
Song and dance and fur man Hugh Jackman takes on another period musical role, and after the triumph of Les Misérables, here goes for a setting and premise a little less soul-crushing and baroque, if you'll have him.
Showman Jackman stars as P. T. Barnum, the mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and, on a slightly more relevant note, the creator of the pre-modern-day circus, as well coiner of the term "show business" (thank you), a fact he is not shy about bringing up in the trailer, as a punchline to all the musical interludes. Adults who seek age-appropriate entertainment with period settings, dancing elephants, musical numbers, and a bit of, yes, showbiz sparkle, might find it here more than any elsewhere this month. The cast is assembled from lively performers, some, like Zac Efron, with musical experience (going back to his high school days, I hear!), with Michelle Williams as P. T.'s wife Charity, Rebecca Ferguson as Swedish soprano Jenny Lind, and Zendaya, recently and forever of Spider-Man fame, as a circus acrobat. Bearded ladies and Canadian giantesses are also included.
The film arrives at a tough-to-read moment in the bloated cultural conversation, released at the very year where the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus ceased operation after 146 years. This portrait of year one may inspire more than a little interest in that past, especially since what's here is Hollywood fantasy, papering over the rougher edges of the man's existence, and making sure no animals were hurt in its production, I assume. Director Michael Gracey makes his debut here; the songs are original creations of Pasek and Paul, the lyrical team behind the recent La La Land; and the story seems to play as a rags-to-riches, typical Horatio Alger, who was a contemporary of Barnum and presumably also wanted to run away and join the circus.
Opening weekend: $38 million (5-day) / Total gross: $103 million