Weekend Wrap-Up

The Twelve Days of Box Office: Day 3

by Tim Briody

December 23, 2018

That escalated quickly

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Christmas weekend is here, bringing five new wide releases to a suddenly busy marketplace, with two more slated for Christmas Day proper. Welcome to the Twelve Days of Box Office, folks.

As I mentioned last week, here's another reminder that box office for the next week and a half is all about the long haul, not just this weekend. With schools out and many other places giving vacation days for the holidays, people suddenly have a lot of time on their hands and traditionally use that to see movies in theaters. While Star Wars ruined everything for the last three years, don't dismiss any of these films (okay, except one) as disappointments until we're looking at their totals 10 days from now. There will be a Monday dip as Christmas Eve works against this notion, but expect everything to explode on Tuesday and for the remainder of the week.

The last time we saw 2018's calendar configuration was 2007, when five movies also opened over the pre-Christmas weekend, led by National Treasure: Book of Secrets, which opened with $44.7 million but had $142.9 million by New Year's Day. Also out that weekend was Charlie Wilson's War, which spun a $9.6 million opening into a respectable $66 million total. Een future cult classic Walk Hard placed ninth with $4.1 million yet finished with $18.3 million. As we're fond of saying here, the high tide rises all boats.

The top film for the weekend is, of course, Aquaman - something we all saw coming a few years ago when the superhero movie craze started. Earning a solid $67.4 million for the weekend, that's the ninth best opening weekend in December. Add in a gimmicky one night pre-screening for Amazon Prime members last week, which wasn't reported in last week's numbers but is counted as a separate day's box office anyway, and it's got $72.1 million. At the risk of stealing Reagen Sulewski's bit, imagine going back in time ten years and telling them that an Aquaman movie would be a hit but nobody's made a good Batman or Superman movie since then.

This is a very strong start for the film that's going to easily win the holiday season, again something that we all declared would happen when Jason Momoa first appeared in Batman vs. Superman. DC film adaptations have been a surprisingly tough sell even though the property has the two most recognizable superhero names. That's been mainly due to quality issues, of course; after Dawn of Justice's $330.3 million and the villain-centric Suicide Squad adding $325.1 million in 2016, diminishing returns kicked in quickly, with their version of the Avengers, Justice League, earning just $229 million, which immediately took the shine off the one they got right, Wonder Woman, which made $412.5 million. While Batman, Superman and the mashups appear to be lost causes, after the success of Wonder Woman, hope for the DC Extended Universe quickly turned to the other standalone films planned for the future. A Christmas release seemed like a gutsy call, but Warner Bros. was smart in taking advantage of the temporary hole left by Star Wars, which chose to release the Solo spin-off over Memorial Day, a move that did not pay off. Reviews were kinda in the middle, but leaned positive (64% Fresh) as consensus said it was good, dumb fun, and that's what the DC films needed.

The opening weekend will be more than enough to get Aquaman to the $200 million mark by the time we turn the calendar over to 2019. From there, we'll see how well it holds up once the holidays are by us. After three days, it's tough to tell if it will end up being the second most successful DC film, but this is a strong enough start that it will have a solid Christmas week of box office. We will certainly know more next weekend.

Second place goes to Mary Poppins Returns, a sequel to the original, 54 years later. Starring Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Disney musical started with $22.2 million. As probably the most likely choice for families over the next week, this is a fine start. While I don't expect The Greatest Showman-like legs from this one, it's still in a good place. Buoyed, perhaps, by four Golden Globe nominations and considered a dark horse for a Best Picture nomination (as well as an acting nomination for Blunt), it's easily going to top its $130 million budget. While not to the level of Aquaman, I expect solid overseas numbers as well.

Another opener is close behind in third place as Bumblebee earns $21 million. A Transformers spin-off doesn't seem like a good idea on paper after what Michael Bay did to the franchise, but somehow this one landed at 94% Fresh at Rotten Tomatoes (perhaps benefiting from lowered expectations) and did something right by going back in time to the 80s and tapping a vein of nostalgia. It's perhaps a bit of a slower start than expected (and likely audiences need to be sold on the concept again after largely rejecting 2017's The Last Knight, which cut the box office of 2014's Trans4mers by nearly half), but the theme for the holiday box office season is that it's a marathon, not a sprint. Audiences have given it a CinemaScore of A-, so they're buying what the film is selling, and that will bode well for its prospects in the next week and potentially beyond.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse drops 53% from last weekend to $16.7 million and has $64.8 million after two weekends. The drop isn't too alarming; it was to be expected after a deluge of new releases. The key thing to watch here is actually next weekend. With the "gotta see it right away" contingent out of the way, the drop from this weekend to next weekend actually has a chance to be negligible. That's the sort of thing that will send a film's box office into the stratosphere. It's already going to have a good week of earnings, and I'd actually expect it to be around $100 million after next weekend, especially with the incredible word of mouth it's getting.


Clint Eastwood's The Mule drops 47% to $9.3 million. It's got $35 million in two weekends. No longer a major Oscar contender, it's got the market cornered on the "serious, but not *too* dark" thing that older audiences will be interested in, and that's really going to pay off in terms of box office. There's a chance it could even leg it out to the $100 million mark, but it'd probably have to keep on playing to the first couple weekends of January to get there. Still, The Mule is going to earn more than you remembered it did. (And it'll pass Eastwood's other 2018 film, The 15:17 to Paris, tomorrow.)

The Grinch gets bumped down to sixth, but has the best hold in the top ten, naturally, with $8.1 million (down 30%) and $253.2 million in seven weekends. It's got one more theoretically glorious week of earnings before the wheels come off post-Christmas week. Can it get to $300 million? I don't think it will quite make it, but it's something else to watch over the next ten days.

Another new release takes seventh place as Second Act earns $6.5 million. Starring Jennifer Lopez, it's sort of like if they remade The Intern and had it star a woman (with J-Lo being 49, she is now obviously hideously old, so it's on par with 75 year old Robert De Niro). Cited as largely unremarkable and generic, it's going to also end up with more box office than you'd expect thanks to the "fine, we'll see *that*" compromise that happens a lot at this time of year. It also only cost $16 million, a figure it will reach easily, so STX will count this one as a win by the time we're through the holidays.

Ralph Breaks the Internet earns $4.6 million in its fifth weekend, and has $162 million to date. It's made it to the promised land, and remains slightly ahead of Coco and a good deal behind Moana at this same point in release. Coco did manage to get to $200 million, but not until mid-January. I don't think the Wreck-It Ralph sequel has the same luxury of time, so this week is pretty much make or break for it to get there. Of note, both of Disney's previous Thanksgiving releases earned more in the following weekend than they did the pre-Christmas weekend, so that's something to watch, and would go a very long way in getting Ralph Breaks the Internet to not only the $189 million earned by Wreck-It Ralph, but to $200 million and beyond.

Ninth place goes to another opener, and here we're not so optimistic. Welcome to Marwen, starring Steve Carell, stumbles horribly with just $2.3 million on the weekend. An adaptation of a documentary, things went horribly wrong somewhere along the way and this is the result. Even the high tide is going to have to do a lot of work to rescue this one and what generally happens is it elevates a performance like this to "terrible flop" from "flop of the year" (a title that will go to Mortal Engines, by the way). Looking at last year, films like Downsizing ($4.9 million opening, $24.4 million total) and Father Figures ($3.2 million opening, $17.4 million total) saw similar fates. I'd estimate that Welcome to Marwen will get to about $15 million on the power of this upcoming weekend alone, but if this were any other week, it'd struggle to get to $10 million.

Wrapping things up, tenth and eleventh place go to competing, expanding period piece films as Mary Queen of Scots takes tenth place with $2.2 million while The Favourite is eleventh with $2 million. The former finishes ahead this weekend by virtue of being a much larger expansion, going from 66 theaters to 795. Starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie (both of whom had Best Actress nominations last year), Mary Queen of Scots has the better pedigree, but has been overshadowed in the awards department by The Favourite.

Taking a slightly more comedic tone than the straightforward drama of Mary Queen of Scots, The Favourite stars Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz as cosines competing for the favor of Queen Anne, played by Olivia Coleman. Considered a Best Picture lock and widely expected to see nominations for all three leads, The Favourite expanded from 441 theaters to 790 but dropped 21% from last weekend. It's earned $10 million in five weekends of limited release, but the awards attention will help it in the long run, as I expect further expansions for this one as opposed to Mary Queen of Scots. It will be something we'll definitely be watching into 2019.

Stay with us through the holiday season for continued updates during the Twelve Days of Box Office, and Merry Christmas to all our readers.

Top Ten for Weekend of December 21-23, 2018
Gross ($)
Weekly Change
Gross ($)
1 Aquaman Warner Bros. 67.4 New 72.1
2 Mary Poppins Returns Walt Disney 22.2 New 31.0
3 Bumblebee Paramount 21.0 New 21.0
4 Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Sony Pictures 16.7 -53% 64.8
5 The Mule Warner Bros. 9.3 -47% 35.0
6 The Grinch Universal 8.1 -30% 253.2
7 Second Act STX 6.5 New 6.5
8 Ralph Breaks the Internet Walt Disney 4.6 -50% 162.0
9 Welcome to Marwen Universal 2.3 New 2.3
10 Mary Queen of Scots Focus Features 2.2 +220% 3.5
Box office data supplied by Exhibitor Relations



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