November 2019 Box Office Recap
By Steven Slater
December 21, 2019
We did it everyone. Noodle shops are everywhere, people wear see through trench coats, cars fly through desolate landscapes, and Harrison Ford is a horrible detective who might just be an android. What better setting for Disney to claw its way back to the top of the charts. Actually, most studios had a decent if not spectacular November, although perennial bridesmaid Paramount once again was left unable to catch a break. Maybe Disney will just buy them and that will fix everything. We had blockbusters, potential blockbusters, family movies, adult drama, possible Oscar bait, and the first snow of the season. November of 2019 saw domestic grosses approaching a billion dollars, falling just short at $963 million. This is about average for the past ten years of Novembers, and well short of the record $1.088 billion pegged in 2012. November has become a fairly large month for movies ever since the first Harry Potter movie exploded eighteen years ago (!) in 2001. That year, interestingly enough, November had a domestic total of $960 million, which tells you movie theaters are not doing so well combatting inflation. Here, then, are the nominees for best November gross (cue awkward host banter):
1) Frozen II
Opening Weekend: $130.3 M
Monthly Total: $269.4 M
November is an interesting month on the box office calendar. Thanksgiving automatically guarantees some hefty grosses, and if a movie can extend its run all the way to Christmas the potential can be huge. That’s why a blockbuster inevitably stakes its claim on this month. Originally it was Harry Potter, then Twilight, Hunger Games, Marvel, and now Frozen. However, an animated film has often been released in November, even if it does not top the charts, starting with Toy Story 2 twenty years ago. Last year Universal’s animated version of The Grinch won the month, and this year Frozen II, inevitably, took the crown after the original wowed everyone in 2013. That year Frozen opened big with a $93 million Thanksgiving weekend, followed up by a leggy $400 million domestic total, and an astounding $1.27 billion worldwide (still 15th largest gross of all time, and its was the fifth largest at the time!). Obviously a follow up was going to be immense, as if the amount of Frozen merchandise had not already attested to that fact.
Ultimately, Frozen II opened with good numbers, but it is the legs that will determine it’s final fate. Well, in its second weekend Frozen II had the largest three and five-day totals for Thanksgiving, beating all the films that had opened over this lucrative holiday. This also means it is pacing well ahead of the original, both domestically and internationally. The worldwide grosses are already approaching a billion dollars (possibly exceeding that by the time you read this). It seems unlikely, but Frozen II may be aiming for the marks of 2019’s second largest film, The Lion King, which amassed $544 domestic and a whopping $1.66 billion worldwide. With the rest of the holiday season to fill its box office chest, Frozen has a chance, although I expect it to fall a bit short of those lofty numbers. Give it $450 million domestic and $1.3 billion worldwide, which at least means it will outgross the original. Let’s see if I am right.
2) Ford v Ferrari
Opening Weekend: $31.5 M
Monthly Total: $78.3 M
This seems like one of those David O. Russell films from a few years back, what with Christian Bale in a starring role. In fact, this is James Mangold’s second movie starring the former Bruce Wayne, after 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma. Ford tells the approximately true story of a racing team sent by the Ford company to beat the Ferrari racing team at the Le Mans race in 1966. With a good $31 million opening, and some decent legs as is appropriate for year end dramas, this one has a good chance of beating its fairly sizable $97 million budget. Also, incidentally, this is a 20th Century Fox movie, which means it’s a Disney film, so they have the top two spots for the month. With weekend drops of 50% and then just 16% over Thanksgiving, this one should end up with close to $115 million domestic and maybe a few Oscar nominations.
3) Terminator: Dark Fate
Opening Weekend: $29 M
Monthly Total: $61 M
James Cameron has always had the Midas touch when it came to movies he wrote and directed. But if he merely acts as the screenwriter, producer, or some other wise sage in the background, it almost acts more like the touch of death. After Avatar vaulted him back to the stratosphere, we have seen his indirect projects tank: Sanctum, Alita: Battle Angel, and now Terminator: Dark Fate. This last one had high hopes, considering Cameron was finally returning to his original franchise, albeit not in the director’s chair. A simple comparison between this and Ford v Ferrari shows both had similar opening weekends, and then they diverged completely. Terminator had a second weekend dip of 62%, followed by another horrible drop of 60%, then a massive cratering of 71% as theaters dropped the film completely. In its third weekend it lost nearly 40% of its screens, and a further 60% the following weekend. The 2019 opening weekend of Terminator: Dark Fate was less than the opening of 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, to drive the point home. With a massive $185 million budget, this one is a huge loss for Paramount, following the anemic box office of Gemini Man. Even $300 million worldwide will be unable to save this film from it’s...dark fate.
Opening Weekend: $17.9 M
Monthly Total: $49.4 M
Speaking of nine-figure budgets that have no hope of earning a return, Roland Emmerich tired of fictional stories of things blowing up, and decided to visit actual history. Unfortunately, much as with Michael Bay approaching Pearl Harbor, some director’s are clearing punching above their weight. With a modest opening and drops averaging 50% before Thanksgiving, this one never stood a chance. Emmerich’s follow-up to the poorly received Independence Day sequel has likewise been met with a cool reception from critics and box office, and this title will likely be forgotten by the end of the year. Give it a total just under $60 million domestic and a bit over double that worldwide. At least this is not Paramount’s film. Luckily for Lionsgate, they have another film down this list that should make up for Midway’s shortcomings.
Monthly Total: $44.5 M
Running Total: $330.2 M
The first holdover for November is October’s big money maker, the surprisingly huge blockbuster that is Joker. After blowing past any expectations, Joker has become the eighth largest movie of 2019 (recently beaten by Frozen II), and Warner Bros. top film in years. It has earned well over a billion dollars worldwide, and of course a sequel is in development. After years of putting Zach Snyder up to bat, DC seems to have leapt over to Todd Phillip’s vision in a heartbeat. I, for one, cannot wait for him to reteam with Will Ferrell as the Riddler, or Owen Wilson as anyone, please. Then again, given Warner Bros. and DC’s stewardship of their film franchises, future quality is doubtful. This film’s gas tank is just about empty, which means it will likely end up just a few million short of The Dark Knight Rises’ worldwide haul, to become the second largest DC film ever. Crocodile tears, I am sure.
6) Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Monthly Total: $39.1 M
Running Total: $111.2 M
The second holdover in the top ten this month, Maleficent is another rare miss from Disney, echoing the vibe and box office of Dumbo from earlier this year. The one exception, however, is that Maleficent has done much better internationally, which will ultimately save the production. With a slight opening, much below the original’s, at least it had good weekend drops in November, averaging around 36% before tons of screens were dropped the weekend before Thanksgiving. Thereafter it eeked out a few million more, but at this point is basically finished with its run. With nearly a half billion worldwide, it has earned two thirds of the original, and may just make it into the black.
Opening Weekend: $11.7 M
Monthly Total: $39.1 M
Harriet Tubman deserves the movie treatment, and although this may not be the definitive story that cements her status, at least it is doing well enough. Focus Features is having a great fall after Downton Abbey’s huge success on the big screen, and Harriet adds to that. With a small budget of $17 million, Harriet was doing well after just a couple of weekends. With relatively light weekend drops, even in the face of dwindling screen counts, this one should end up close to $45 million, with an outside chance of a couple Oscar nominations. This is director Kari Lemmons biggest hit by far, with a breakout performance from Cynthia Erivo.
8) Playing with Fire
Opening Weekend: $12.7 M
Monthly Total: $38.3 M
I know how these movies get made. Someone knows someone, throws together a script cobbled from memes and buzzwords, and then is able to get a modest star attached. So here we are with Playing with Fire, a comedy about firefighters taking care of children. John Cena, Keegan-Michael Key, and John Leguizamo, what have you wrought? Well, alright, this movie did not murder anyone or torture children, so it can’t be all bad. With a $29 million budget, Paramount might actually see a profit from this one, albeit a tiny one. That combined with modest weekend drops means this should finish with close to $50 million. Why couldn’t Keanu earn that much?
9) Knives Out
Opening Weekend: $26.8 M
Monthly Total: $35.7 M
Rain Johnson evidently shrugged off whatever went on with The Last Jedi, and returns to the fare he is most known for: quirky films that play off conventions not seen in cinemas in decades. Knives Out looks almost like a remake of Clue, what with thespians chewing scenery and murder being at the heart of it all. Considering the budget was only $40 million, this one easily exceeded expectations with a good opening weekend, and a great five-day Thanksgiving total. Here, at least, Lionsgate has a bona fide hit. With most of December open to it, Knives Out should have legs that carry it into the New Year, and again, a few potential Oscar nominations. Wouldn’t it be silly if a year from now more people remember this film fondly than Rise of Skywalker. Or Last Jedi, for that matter.
10) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Opening Weekend: $13.3 M
Monthly Total: $31.9 M
Who better to portray Mr. Rogers than Tom Hanks? Probably the nicest movie star this side of Jack Lemmon, Hanks could have phoned it in for this film and still succeeded. This film will probably not earn any Oscar nominations (I’ll eat my ears if this wins Best Picture...damn you Greenbook for making me doubt the Academy!), but it will earn a tidy sum as everyone over the age of forty will go see this movie over the next month. I, for one, need a yearly dose of Tom Hanks. With a budget of $25 million, and a domestic total that should approach $60 million, let’s all just be content for a moment.
Outside the top ten we have Last Christmas with $31.2 million, Doctor Sleep failing to gain traction with $30.4 million, Zombieland: Double Tap adding $20.2 million to its coffers, The Addams Family extending its run by $19.5 million, and 21 Bridges earning $18.1 million. Beyond that Charlie’s Angels bombed big time, and Jojo Rabbit did fairly well in limited release as have other niche titles like Parasite and The Lighthouse. With Star Wars on the horizon, we all know what the biggest movie of December will be, but with that title I doubt box office means as much as audience reception. After the past couple months have seen Mandolarian, maclunkey and baby Yoda become pop culture staples, is there anything left for a poor mainstream Star Wars movie to do? Forgive me, but I do not have high hopes anymore. Let’s give it a modest $1.5 billion worldwide.