Weekend Forecast for December 20-22, 2019

By Reagen Sulewski

December 19, 2019

We're home. Again.

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This last weekend before Christmas brings an end to one of the most important eras of cinema history -- it's the last time before we could say there wasn't a movie version of Cats. Oh, and there's something about Star Wars, too.

The age of the Star Wars trilogy may be complete after this weekend with the release of The Rise of Skywalker, officially Episode IX of the main Star Wars saga, and the third of the Abrams series. Entering into the brave new world of 2010s box office, they blew the doors off expectations after the disappointing prequels nearly ended passion for the franchise. These films, after Lucas sold to Disney, have not been without polarization, but 2015's The Force Awakens shattered domestic box office records, nearly becoming the first film to earn $1 billion in North America alone. But while that mark still stands, that's likely to be the high water mark for the franchise for sometime, and it exists now in a cinema world where it's at best the 1B, with Marvel looking to dominate for the near future especially worldwide.

The Disneyfication of Star Wars has come with the benefit (depending on your point of view) of many many more Star Wars films (and now TV series) but it's also come at the cost of a dilution of its power; For a long time its exclusivity was part of the source of its power. Films like Rogue One and Solo have opened up criticism to the larger view of the films and how much story telling power it really has, or if the proper work has been done setting up this trilogy rather than just slapping the Star Wars logo on something and calling it a day. The Last Jedi was a polarizing film, running head on into a wave of entitled fans angry that Rian Johnson got girl all over it. It also turned out that JJ Abrams really didn't have a grand plan for the three films before setting out on making them and say what you will about Lucas' writing (wooden, stilted, cliched... oh wait, that was rhetorical), you can't deny he had a vision. These Star Wars films have devolved a bit into just "sci-fi with a Brand".

Which brings us to Rise of Skywalker, which arrives in theaters with a bit of a "Yeah, sure, I guess I will". JJ Abrams returns to the director chair, in what is seen by many as a rebuke of Johnson's film (if only they had total creative control). I think the real answer is far more prosaic (scheduling, interest and general control freak tendencies) but the Internet being what it is, people are going to have Opinions.

Rise of Skywalker purports to close the book on the core story of Star Wars, merging together the Hamill/Fisher/Ford storylines with the new players, led by Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega and Adam Driver, playing out mostly as a Boomers vs. Millenials clash. The Old Ways of the Jedi and the Force have led to more destruction than anyone could have dreamed possible and perhaps it all needs to be cast aside (in one final climactic battle, because this is Star Wars after all). Still unresolved - Rey's true parentage, Kylo Ren's true status as good, bad or in between, and will C-3PO and R2-D2 finally have their love recognized by the Galactic Supreme Court. For the first time in the franchise, reviews are actually pretty bad, though as a completion of nine films it seems almost impossible to satisfy everyone (I hear you coughing over there, Endgame, and I will get you a lozenge, OK?). Part of this could be a reaction to The Last Jedi, or maybe they've actually just botched this. Honestly, that any of the prequels have positive reviews is only a sign of Stockholm Syndrome so maybe that's just finally lifted.

Are reviews likely to matter though? At this point, Star Wars fans are all junkies looking for their next hit. Solo has shown that not everything tagged with it automatically gets their interest, and The Last Jedi lost about a third of the total from The Force Awakens. There's also the general trend towards home viewing, which has mostly hurt the lower end films, but has made a dent even in the giant blockbusters. The drop in box office actually had very little to do with opening weekend, as it went from $247 million to $220, with repeat viewings and Christmas viewing falling off to "normal" levels. This calendar configuration is almost ideal so there's a good chance for an uptick solely based on that, but opening weekend seems assured to be lower thanks to general grumbling. I'd still look for a massive $195 million and a domination throughout the Christmas period.




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Juuuuust a little behind is Cats, the Tom Hooper adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical about, well, cats. One of the loopiest and most insane musicals of all time has managed to wrangle an A-List cast to produce this fever dream of a movie, which in a question that will remain for all time, has decided to place these actors in full body fur suits with some CGI help. Riding a flaming motorcycle right into the bottom of the Uncanny Valley, it's the kind of thing that inspires revulsion and nightmares in all right thinking people from the trailer, even for those that kind of liked the musical.

The plot is barely worth discussing, but essentially involves a series of different cats introducing themselves and making their case to be the one sent to heaven to be reborn as a different cat - it's ritual sacrifice, with catchy songs. To this nonsense, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Jennifer Hudson, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba and Taylor Swift have been roped in, presumably under the promise that their relatives would be released unharmed.

A slight silver lining - it's reached "so bad, it must be experienced" status, which will keep it from hitting bottom. But expecting the Broadway smash to translate to regular box office success is long, long gone as a concept. Lookiloos will probably get this to $8 million this weekend.

Bombshell arrives at an interesting time, though there's really not a non-interesting time it could have in the last three years. The story of the Fox News sexual harassment allegations by Gretchen Carlson against Roger Ailes, it's in a bit of a difficult place demographically. Those sympathetic to its message kind of already know what happened and/or don't want to spend time buried in the scandal, and those against it wouldn't touch with a 10-foot poll. Nicole Kidman stars as Carlson, the former Fox host who sued the network over Ailes' actions towards her. Charlize Theron plays Megyn Kelly, while Margot Robbie plays a fictionalized producer out of the Fox News blonde anchor factory. Other big names include John Lithgow as Ailes, Malcolm McDowell, Kate McKinnon, Allison Janney and Connie Britton, so the name recognition is there, but its ultimately a very inside baseball story with wounds that are still raw. It probably doesn't help that Jay Roach, who's made the switch from broad comedies to very politically focused films, has apparently made a fairly mediocre film. It's the kind of thing that's very clearly aiming for awards attention, but is likely shut out from most. Expanding from limited release, it's looking likely to earn around $6 million this weekend.

Legs may not kick in just yet for returning films, but a couple are well placed for the holiday season. Jumanji: The Next Level had a terrific $59 million start, nearly doubling the first weekend take from the version two years ago. That film built and built over the holidays, but as a known quantity, The Next Level should perform more evenly. It's a great family option for the break though, and should bring in $37 million this weekend.

Frozen II is another film ready to pounce, going to the holidays with just a little under the original's identical weekend take, but also with $200 million more in the bank domestically. It's not even remotely a question of passing Frozen's $400 million take, but what other Disney films it's going to pass along the way. A final total of $600 million plus isn't out of the question and honestly seems like a good bet. I'd expect $16 million this weekend, as kids get off on break.

Knives Out is the last of the returning films that look to make an impact this weekend, with the twisty murder mystery possibly aiming for $150 million domestic. It'll need a solid $7 million weekend to get on that path, but word of mouth has been excellent so far, and is probably the top "grown-up choice for the next few days.


Forecast: Weekend of December 20-22, 2019
Rank
Film
Number of
Sites
Changes in Sites
from Last
Estimated
Gross ($)
1 Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker 4,406 New 195.4
2 Jumanji: The Next Level 4,227 0 37.6
3 Frozen II 3,665 -413 15.8
4 Cats 3,380 New 8.5
5 Knives Out 2,535 -878 7.0
6 Bombshell 1,480 +1,476 6.3
7 Ford v. Ferrari 1,433 -1,462 3.0
8 Richard Jewell 2,502 0 2.8
9 A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood 1,524 -1,331 2.8
10 Black Christmas 2,635 0 2.0

     


 
 

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