December 2018 Box Office Recap

By Steven Slater

January 10, 2019

Wrestle Kingdom!

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As we turn the page to 2019, the year of Blade Runner, the more things change the more they stay the same. A superhero movie is number one this month, Disney owns everything even more than they used to, and Clint Eastwood directed a movie. Join us next year at this time for a similar meal of movie tastes, although we can always hope for a dash of Yorgos Lanthimos to spice up the proceedings. Even though things may feel similar, there are also a few extra positive signs this December, which closes out 2018 on a high note. First of all, 2018 will have the highest domestic box office on record, around $11.86 billion, which is almost half a billion over 2015’s previous record of $11.38 billion. Plus, even though Aquaman was the smallest number one film in December since 2013’s Hobbit, the breadth of medium size films generated fairly large monthly totals. Nothing quite compares to a holiday season with Star Wars, but a bunch of famous characters do fill the charts nicely below.

1) Aquaman

Opening Weekend: $67.9 M
Monthly Box Office: $199.1 M

The DC Universe is a mess, and at this point I would say that it is not a universe, but simply a disparate collection of movies that all happen to fall under the DC brand. This is both good and bad for Aquaman; good that it could distance itself from the failures that Batman and Superman have been recently, yet bad that it is unable to build itself into a juggernaut like Marvel characters can. All told, the way things are shaping up so far, Aquaman is a huge success, sorely needed for Warner Bros. and DC. After a soft opening for a comic book movie, the decent reviews and audience reception has kept this going strong over the holiday period, and international audiences are responding as well. Aquaman already has the largest international and worldwide total for a DC Extended Universe film, as well as a larger international haul than any DC movie (that includes Nolan’s Batman films). With an excellent reception in China, Aquaman will break the billion dollar mark and then some.

Aquaman and The Mule (see below) gave Warner Bros. an excellent December, and they finished ahead of Universal for the second largest studio of 2018, with around $1.93 billion, their third highest yearly total after 2009 and 2017. What makes this surprising is that their largest film at the end of December was A Star is Born, with $201 million (obviously Aquaman will far surpass this in 2019). WB had lots of middle tier hits, such as Star and Crazy Rich Asians, that helped soften the blow from titles like Fantastic Beasts and Tomb Raider falling flat.

2) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Opening Weekend: $35.4 M
Monthly Box Office: $108.1 M

It is a little shocking to think that the monthly box office total for a Spider-man film in 2018 would appear decent, while not even matching the opening weekend of Spider-man in 2002. Of course, this is not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, but it is curious why the fact that a superhero movie is animated (as opposed to wall-to-wall CGI) reduces the returns by such an extent. Regardless, the reception to the most recent Spider-man film has been rapturous, and considering Phil Lord and Chris Miller were involved, I would love to see their version of Solo. Spider-man opened soft, fell hard in week 2, but then bounced back in week 3. It’s prospects look pretty good, and it should easily pass $150 million sometime in January, about six months before the next Spider-man film. Somebody please lend Sony a helping hand. I suppose they can be forgiven for relying so heavily on the man bitten by an arachnid, seeing as their biggest films from 2018 are going to most likely be Venom and this newest Spider-man. Their yearly total was actually buoyed most by a 2017 release, as Jumanji earned $236 million in 2018, giving them an excellent calendar year of box office.

3) Mary Poppins Returns

Opening Weekend: $23.5 M
Monthly Box Office: $105.9 M

That’s right, we needed to wait until 3rd place for the month to find a film released by Disney, which is an odd little duckling for the mouse house. Instead of taking an old animated property and turning it into a live-action film, they just took an old property and made a sequel of sorts. Mary Poppins is one of those films that made an absurd amount of money in the 1960’s, approximately $690 million in today’s dollars (so, equal to Black Panther). In fact, adjusted for inflation, it is the 27th biggest movie of all time. Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda had some giant shoes to fill. Although the opening was a bit soft, holiday legs should put this one in the black, getting it well over the $130 million budget. In its first seven days it earned $50 million, and in its second seven days it earned $64 million, so it has that going for it. No matter what, though, Disney had a stellar year, with three massive hits in Black Panther, Avengers, and The Incredibles 2, each of which earned over $600 million domestic. All together, just those three films earned $4.636 billion dollars worldwide. Mary Poppins is just happy to be here.

4) Ralph Breaks the Internet

Monthly Box Office: $78.3 M
Running Total: $177.6 M

For whatever reason, studios decide the first few weeks of December are voids in the space-time continuum. The final two weeks attract all releases like a black hole, given that holiday returns are guaranteed to be larger, but it seems surprising that no film takes a chance of having an opening weekend all to itself. Therefore, although December of 2018 was a good month, many of the top films were holdovers, since most releases in December only have two weeks to earn da’ money. Ralph, breaker of things, was unleashed in a sequel six years after the original, and both films hit the same target. The original opened to $49 million, with a domestic/international finish of $189 and $471 million, and this sequel opened to $56 million with a domestic/international finish of $183 and $358 million (add a few million here in the states for January, and a lot more abroad since it has yet to open in a few territories).

5) The Grinch

Monthly Box Office: $76.6 M
Running Total: $266.3 M

The number one film from November is the fifth biggest for December, as The Grinch is the kind of movie that can play at Thanksgiving and Christmas. With those first two weeks of December wide open, the Grinch had tiny drops around or just under 20%, giving it a 3.5 multiplier when all is set and done. The Grinch kept ping ponging around the charts, falling to number 4 at the end of November, then back up to number 1 on December 10, back to 7th place, then up to 5th place Christmas Eve, then quickly down to 10th place. Grinchy earned more during Christmas weekdays than four weeks prior. For Universal, Grinch became their second largest hit of the year after Jurassic World, giving them their second biggest year on record, after their massive $2.44 billion 2015. This was despite December being a horrible month for them, as Mortal Engines exploded upon ignition, and nobody felt very welcome at all at Marwen.


6) Bumblebee

Opening Weekend: $21.7 M
Monthly Box Office: $71.4 M

Buzz, buzz! What’s that I hear? A reinvigorated franchise!? Who in the world could have imagined that for this marauding band of Decepticons and Autobots. I, and every sane person in the world, credit that entirely to the change of directors, as Kubo and the Two String’s Travis Knight tries his hand at live action, giving Hailee Steinfeld a nice franchise film to lead (Shailene Woodley was really trying to get the part first). Although this opening pales in comparison to where Transformers once plateaued, the numbers and reception bode well for the future of this series. China also appears to have come out big for this one, the full effect of which will be seen in 2019. Paramount has seen their fortunes rise for the first time in years, as this will be their third decent hit of the year, possibly eclipsing $150 million domestic. The high water mark for Transformers was number two, Revenge of the Fallen, hitting $402 million domestic (before we all got wise), and the third and fourth entries were able to leap past a billion worldwide, before number five crashed and burned. This latest will have trouble matching the numbers from any of Michael Bay’s efforts, but then every reinvigorated franchise has bumble beginnings.

7) The Mule

Opening Weekend: $17.5 M
Monthly Box Office: $64.7 M

Guinness World Records (actually...Google) says that the film made by the oldest director is Gebo and the Shadow, directed by Manoel de Oliveria when he was 104 years old. But did he star in his own movie? I think not! Clint Eastwood only has twelve years to go to reach triple digits, and in terms of box office he still has some strength in him. After reaching unimaginable heights with American Sniper, Eastwood’s star has fallen back to Earth somewhat, with Sully a modest success, and less so The 15:17 to Paris earlier this year. The Mule is his first staring role since Gran Torino in 2008, so one can imagine this might very well be his final performance. Although it opened small, the holiday numbers have been consistently good, drawing out older audiences. After its opening weekend, it’s biggest days were number 12 (Christmas) and 16 (Saturday after Christmas), giving it great legs. In fact, in January its numbers are looking similar to what it earned two weeks prior, so word of mouth may be propping it up somewhat. With a $50 million budget, and a good chance of getting over $90 million, this is another win for the legendary actor/director. Mule adds a nice bow to the present Warner Bros. has received in Aquaman, capping their good year.

8) Creed II

Monthly Box Office: $43.2 M
Running Total: $112.4 M

From here on out it’s all back to the November crowd, as the favorites from Thanksgiving keep chugging along. Creed II punched its way to eight on the list, maintaining a pace slightly ahead of the first film. Although this film did not benefit much from the holiday period, it had already surpassed $100 million within about three weeks. Believe it or not, this film comes from MGM studios, once the mightiest of studios. Now they are acting more like a one-man shop, releasing only three films in 2018, of which Creed II is by far their largest. This puts them behind Lionsgate as expected, but also behind other small studios such as STX and Focus Features. Bond 25 cannot come soon enough for them.

9) Bohemian Rhapsody

Monthly Box Office: $31.2 M
Running Total: $189.8 M

Somebody up there likes Queen. After a budget of merely $52 million, and protracted issues with filming, bad buzz building, lukewarm reviews, and an aura of disaster...Rhapsody has belted out a ballad perfectly in tune, reaching ever closer and closer to $200 million dollars. It may have been no pleasure cruise, but Bo-Rha just kept going in December, with minuscule declines and even a few gains on occasion. It’s worst weekend was right before Christmas, and that was mostly due to losing half of its screens. With a giant worldwide total approaching $750 million, this is a huge success, which of course will summarily be diverted directly into Disneys coffers. Fox wraps up its final year in existence much like Universal, where its December releases were minuscule by comparison (Deadpool and the expanding The Favourite were about all they had).

10) Fantastic Beasts

Monthly Box Office: $30.6 M
Running Total: $156.8 M

Alas, the beasts, ‘twas beauty killed them. The Fantastic Mr. Not Harry Potter and company could not continue the good fortunes of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, and I would ask the makers of this franchise to take a good look at Transformers over on the Paramount lot. Not that one should compare Harry Potter with Shia LaBeouf, but the previous entry for Transformers (number 5) had a domestic/international finish of $130/$605, while this Fantastic Beasts is currently looking at a finish near $160/650 million. Much as Bumblebee helped cleanse the palate with a new director, I would do much the same for the adventures of Newt Scamander. That and drop Johnny Depp like a red hot Shia LaBeouf with a paper bag on his head. Luckily Warner Bros. had many other films to even out their release schedule, helping them end with a great showing in 2018.

Just outside the top ten we have Instant Family with $24 million, Second Act with $23.5 million, Holmes and Watson with $21.2 million, Green Book with $20.9 million and Vice with $19.8 million. To get the top ten openers for December add Mortal Engines (opened 7th largest, but fell hard, winding up as the 17th biggest earner for the month) and the Possession of Hannah Grace, which kind of opened one day earlier in November, but still...if you’re being really picky, then the 10th biggest opener within December proper is actually Once Upon a Deadpool, which was Fox’s only new release during the month. A few other interesting re-releases charted, outside of the typical holiday fare such as Elf and The Polar Express, as Schindler’s List and White Christmas both earned just under a million. Some early Oscar favorites also platformed, as The Favourite earned about $15 million, Mary Queen of Scots earned just under $10 million, and If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkin’s followup to surprise Best Picture winner Moonlight, is just getting started with $2.1 million. Also of note, They Shall Not Grow Old only had a few screenings, but earned a wonderful $5.7 million, becoming one of Fathom events largest screenings ever. It is now scheduled to open wide in January, and I would be tickled pink if it earns more money than Mortal Engines. Speaking of bombs, the less spoken about Marwen the better.

I hope your 2018 was exquisite and full of wonderful surprises, at least outside the realm of politics, and here’s to great movies in 2019!



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