December 2017 Box Office Recap
By Steven Slater
January 9, 2018
May the Force be with December, always. December 2017 is the third December in a row that had a Star Wars movie open, which inevitably has buoyed totals to make this one of the biggest months of the year. Nothing can compare to the bow of the seventh Star Wars film, which reunited audiences with the original trilogy cast for the first time in decades, yet this year and many to come are essentially carbon copies. The Christmas holiday season has become a traditional time for families to go out to the movies, as there is truly something for everyone in multiplexes and art houses alike. The only issue, it seems, is the studios crammed so many films into this time frame, they wound up spreading themselves a bit too thin. The first two weeks of December had essentially zero films opening, which lessened the chance any film had to break out this month. Therefore, although the monthly total is high, it is almost entirely due to Star Wars.
1) Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Opening Weekend: $220 M
Monthly Total: $517.2 M
The eighth main Star Wars film, from the original twenty seven George Lucas imagined during a fever dream in 1974, still sees R2-D2 and C3PO watching in horror as mortal humans try their damnedest to tear the galaxy apart. I think HAL had the right idea all along. The chance of success for The Last Jedi (they just returned two movies ago, now it’s all done for?) was always twenty two thousand, nine hundred sixty seven to one, but never tell Disney the odds. Rian Johnson delivered a winner, whatever internet gossip may say, and the fact that opinions of the film appear divided may bode well for its long term prospects in the arguments of nerds years from now. Just ask Irvin Kershner. With the second biggest opening weekend of all time, and the top two occurring in December, we have seen the true power of this fully armed and operational franchise. The next biggest opening in December is in 14th place, and is...you guessed it, Rogue One. After that the next entry is way down at spot 77, which is when The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opened with $84 million, or about a third of what the big Star Wars films achieved. Disney showed you can have your cake and eat it, too, as Star Wars opened huge and has had great returns these many Decembers in a row. They will mix it up with Solo debuting in May, so it remains to be seen how that strategy plays out.
The Last Jedi squeezed out a win by the time the ball dropped in New York City, so that it became the highest grossing film within calendar 2017, beating the Mouse House’s Beauty and the Beast to make Disney two for two. Although Jedi opened around 85% of The Force Awakens debut, it will probably wind up with final domestic numbers more than 25% lower. This means Avatar’s $760 million total is probably out of reach, ultimately making this the third biggest movie of all time. And again, carrying the theme, the top four domestic grossing films of all time will have opened in December, followed by Rogue One at position 8 and Return of the King at position 33. I wonder if prestige films will start making way for more blockbusters in the final month of the year.
2) Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Opening Weekend: $36.2 M
Monthly Total: $169 M
This may sound a bit milquetoast, but I am pleasantly surprised by both the reviews and box office of this completely unnecessary Jumanji sequel. And yet, here is one of the rare films in 2017 where the sequel is actually going to earn more money than its predecessor! This is why you should wait twenty three years between sequels. Score another win for The Rock, the man who can seemingly carry any movie (now is a good time to vie for some Oscar bait), and Jack Black has his second hit in a row after Goosebumps. Jumanji had a rather modest opening, but because there was really no alternative to Star Wars for families, it hit the big time during the holidays and could be looking at an open to domestic multiplier of over six.
Monthly Total: $97.3 M
In third for the month of December we already have our first holdover. After opening well over Thanksgiving, Pixar’s latest has continued earning a decent amount, although it will fall short of last year’s Moana (needs more of The Rock), and also near the bottom of the list for Pixar releases. All things considered, however, this should be seen as a great result for a film that was outwardly showcasing Mexican culture, a courageous gamble for any film studio, even one with a pedigree as high as Pixar’s. As time goes on, Pixar seems to be taking fewer risks overall, however, and seeing their returns diminish. Disney Animation has had more original films, and their returns have been great. Coco splits the difference by being original, and yet unable to connect as well with audiences. The good news is it has crossed the half billion mark worldwide, by earning almost as much as Moana did overseas.
4) Pitch Perfect 3
Opening Weekend: $19.9 M
Monthly Total: $63.3 M
Finally we come to our fourth place film, that keeps to the trend of 2017 where sequels perform worse than previous entries, as Pitch Perfect 3 opened with less than a third of the second film’s opening weekend, and the domestic gross will probably wind up in similar fractional territory. While it will still outgross the original film, the shine appears to have worn off Anna Kendrick’s singing franchise. While the adjective “unnecessary” can be thrown at any number of films, it can become rather confusing when this film does so poorly, while Jumanji strikes a nerve. However, something about this did feel like a cash grab, feebly milking the Pitches brand in an uninteresting way. Maybe a tv show would have been a better route, but the box office tells the whole story here.
Opening Weekend: $13.4 M
Monthly Total: $53.5 M
Ferdinand shows what could have been for many other films in December. It alone had the audacity to open in the shadow of Star Wars, and with meager reviews and mediocre box office, it still managed to be one of the bigger films of the month. Sure, it will never recoup its budget, and this continues a trend where Blue Sky studios is making less money per film, but damnit if The Phantom Thread wouldn’t have been a bonanza if only it had opened earlier in the month. Oh well, since Disney owns everything now, they’ll just absorb Blue Sky as part of the 21st Century Fox acquisition, and it will become a wart on the backside of Pixar or Disney Animation. And so endeth the trials and tribulations of Scrat, the noblest of Sabre-toothed squirrels. Back to Ferdinand, it has recouped its budget with worldwide receipts, but that inevitably is short by at least half.
6) The Greatest Showman
Opening Weekend: $8.8 M
Monthly Total: $49 M
As all films seems to be teaching us lessons this month, The Greatest Showman displays the prowess of holiday box office. With dismal reviews and an anemic opening weekend, this Hugh Jackson starrer was able to chug along and quietly reap a bounty compared to initial expectations. Rather than wither and die a quick death like the film Just Getting Started, Greatest Showman was there when the audiences showed up, and a rising tide lifted this boat. Certainly this was aiming for the highs of Les Miserables, but at least it should earn it’s $80 million budget back, almost ten times it’s opening weekend! Consider the fact that beyond the holiday season, it is still earning on Wednesday an amount nearly as high as any day it’s opening weekend. Credit that A cinemascore and older audiences picking this film from the pack.
Monthly Total: $46 M
Now begins the glut of holdovers from November, who essentially had the first half of the month to themselves. Wonder has been a big hit, as this drama has struck a chord with audiences, propelling a good opening into fantastic legs (though not as good as Jumanji’s or Showman’s). Believe it or not, this is Julia Robert’s biggest film since the Ocean’s Eleven movies, and her biggest staring vehicle since Erin Brokovich! Talk about the curse of Oscar. It has earned $123 million so far, and contributed nicely to Lionsgate being the sixth biggest studio of the year, well ahead of Paramount.
8) Justice League
Monthly Total: $44.8 M
The heavy hitters from DC and Warner Bros. were able to keep their heads above water, if barely, squeezing a few more dollars out during this month. The fact that Justice League barely made half of Wonder Woman’s incredible take, though, must spell certain doom for the idea of keeping all of these superheroes together in this particular universe. However, international receipts have actually been about equal to Wonder Woman, so one ponders what the heads at Warner have dreamt up for the future of these comic book films. Might as well sell them to Disney at this point. Wonder Woman 2 must be the brightest light at the end of the tunnel, although James Wan is directing Aquaman and he has had great success the past few years with Furious 7 and two Conjuring films.
9) Thor: Ragnarok
Monthly Total: $29.5 M
The big winner from last month had a bit of life left in it, as Thor the Third is the seventh film of 2017 to hit $300 million, slotting in just behind IT. This is great news for the Norse God, who keeps improving his box office take with each film by leaps and bounds, not unlike Captain America. Internationally the news is not quite as rapturous, but as 2017 has shown, any film that increases on its predecessor is a damn miracle. Marvel had three films this year, and will have three in 2018 more including an absolute monster with Infinity War, so expect them to remain the hottest studio (within an even hotter studio).
10) Daddy’s Home 2
Monthly Total: $26.5 M
Unnecessary sequel alert! I suppose Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg needed a hit, since Will’s been drifting since the first Daddy’s Home, and Mark took a detour into Michael Bayhem. Number 2 opened and will finish about 25% lower than the first entry, as its domestic take stands just over $100 million at the end of 2017. I am sure that is well over the budget, at least, but I am not sure daddy’s coming home again.
As this month had a plethora of features debuting over the last week, I thought it would be good to include more titles than usual in the list, if briefly. After Daddy’s Home 2, the next titles are Murder on the Orient Express with $22.5 million, Ladybird with $18.9 million, newcomers The Disaster Artist with $17.9 million, The Darkest Hour with $17.8 million, Downsizing with $17.2 million, holdover The Star with $16.7 million, The Shape of Water with $15.7 million, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri with $15 million, Father Figures with $12.9 million, and finally in twentieth position All the Money in the World with $12.7 million. Most of these either opened in November or over Christmas, many played in around 1,000 theaters or less, and all earned only a few million per weekend. The top twenty films made around $1.28 billion in December, which makes it only around the tenth biggest December of all time. I wonder if a film like The Shape of Water had opened wide the first weekend of December would it have broken out to the tune of $75 million, not unlike Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy. This is exemplified by the fact that Star Wars debut earned over two thirds of the money for all films’ opening weekends in December, and it’s monthly total over half of what all December films earned during the entire month. The fifth biggest movie to open this December, The Greatest Showman, earned less than $50 million, whereas when The Force Awakens opened it was not until ninth place that a film earned under that amount (Krampus with $42 million). Why studios left so many weekends without any releases seems like a losing strategy in hindsight, making this December feel a bit underwhelming, Star Wars notwithstanding.
2017 is done and gone, and I am fairly certain it will not be remembered primarily for movies. However, in times such as these people wish to escape, and even with mountains of entertainment at our fingertips an outing to a theater still elicits a sort of divine pleasure nothing has yet equaled. Although it could be I am simply an old soul, someone who would rather see a good movie on the big screen even if I could probably own or stream it for less. Let us hope 2018 has fewer reasons to push us to escape into theaters, and yet I shall be there often looking forward to seeing something great.