Box Office Guy

Patrick Reardon

Although it seems like it was just in theaters mere weeks ago, "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" was one of the big box office surprises of 2017. It's not surprising that the movie was a hit but it was semi-shocking that it became the highest grosser in the history of Sony Pictures ($404.5m domestic total, $964.5m worldwide total). What's even more impressive is that "Jumanji" put up these kinds of numbers competing directly against "The Last Jedi." And, perhaps most impressive, it didn't ruin the childhoods of millennials who had a childlike attachment to the original "Jumanji." With numbers like this, it's no shock that Sony fast tracked a sequel which leads us to this weekends release of Jumanji: The Next Level."

While I expect "The Next Level" to perform well, I don't think it's going to come anywhere near the performance of its predecessor (at least in terms of total domestic box office). 2019 has been cruel to damn near every sequel that didn't feature an Avenger or Princess Elsa. There was a curiosity factor surrounding "Welcome to the Jungle" from fans of the first "Jumanji" but I think many of these people will sit this one out. Look for an opening in the low-mid $40s this weekend and much weaker legs throughout the holiday season compared to "Jungle." But it's still a viable anchor at FB$592 because I don't expect breakout performances from this weekends other two new wide releases.

The Clint Eastwood December drop has become something of an annual holiday tradition. This all started in 2004 when "Million Dollar Baby" was a late add to Warner Bros.' release slate. The film garnered both commercial ($100.5m domestic total) and critical success (won four major Academy Awards including Best Picture). Since "Million Dollar Baby" this strategy has yielded mixed results.

Sometimes this strategy results in awards love but disappointing box office ("Letters From Iwo Jima" $13.8m domestic total, 4 Academy Award nominations; "Invictus" $37.5m domestic total, 2 Academy Award nominations). Other times this strategy results in solid box office but not much in the awards department ("Gran Torino" $148.1m domestic total, 0 Academy Award nominations; "The Mule" $103.8m domestic total, 0 Academy Award nominations). However, sometimes Eastwood has been able to achieve both box office and critical success ("American Sniper" $350.1m domestic total, highest grossing film of 2014, 6 Academy Award nominations). Warner Bros. hopes lightning strikes twice with the release of "Richard Jewell" this weekend but that's far too ambitious.

"Richard Jewell" tells the true story of the security guard at the 1996 Summer Olympics who discovered a bomb in a public plaza and led a crowd of people away to safety. But in the aftermath he was falsely accused of planting the bomb in the first place and had his life turned upside down by both the FBI and the media. With Eastwood directing and a solid cast (Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, etc.) this seems tailor made for an awards run but I'm a bit dubious.

The film appears to be a very straightforward retelling of a story many people already know but steers clear of some of the nuance and complex issues involved. Plus the film has apparently taken a LOT of dramatic license with a now deceased journalist who allegedly traded sexual favors in exchange for a tip from an FBI agent. I don't think this narrative is going away and it will likely cost "Richard Jewell" at the Academy Awards (sans a possible Best Supporting Actress nomination for Kathy Bates). However I don't think this controversy will be a huge detriment at the box office.

"Richard Jewell" should play well with older moviegoers (ala "The Mule") and it should play especially well in the South. And it's going to play especially well with the disturbingly large subset of people who scream "fake news" any time they read/see/hear a story they don't agree with. Reviews have been mostly positive thus far and it should have a steady run over the Christmas season. Look for an opening in the low teens. At FB$167 it's a potentially viable option to supplement an anchor ("Frozen II" or "Jumanji") but not strong enough to go all in.

Last but not least this weekend is the latest remake of "Black Christmas." The original "Black Christmas" was released in 1974 and gained a steady cult following amongst horror aficionados over the years, so it made perfect sense for MGM to attempt a remake in 2006. But things didn't go according to plan.

The 2006 version of "Black Christmas," which was about a psychopath who stalks a group of sorority sisters who stay at college over winter break, opened on Christmas Day and ended up with a limp domestic tally of $16.2m. So much for a new horror franchise where you could release a new sequel every Christmas. But despite the failures of the first remake Blumhouse and Universal have gone back to the drawing board.

The biggest changes with this new version of "Black Christmas" is that they've toned back the gore to get a more teen friendly PG-13 rating and this iteration features a female empowerment angle where the sorority sisters turn the tables on their tormentors. With the more inclusive rating, lack of horror movies in the marketplace and (most importantly) the involvement of Blumhouse, I think it's possible that this version of "Black Christmas" makes almost as much in its first three days as the previous version grossed during its entire domestic run. However I don't love the way it's priced at FB$203. To justify this cost the film would have to get to the high teens and I'm not confident it can get to that threshold.

My FML lineup will come down to either a 1x "Jumanji" & 1x "Frozen II" play or a 3x "Frozen II" strategy. With "Jumanji" having both a high ceiling and a low floor I'm likely going to hedge my bets with the "Jumanji"/"Frozen II" combo. For filler I like anything that picked up Golden Globe and SAG nominations earlier this week (see my bonus pick below).

Weekend Picks

My picks for this weekend's top 5 in total box office (this week's cost in FML Bux in parentheses):

  1. Jumanji: The Next Level (FB$592)
  2. Frozen II (FB$263)
  3. Black Christmas (FB$203)
  4. Richard Jewell (FB$167)
  5. Knives Out (FB$127)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Double Feature: Parasite & Jojo Rabbit " (FB$14) Both films did very well in terms of Golden Globe and SAG nominations earlier this week which means they should each hold up fairly well this weekend. If their combined earnings are northwards of $1m they should be in bonus contention, especially if "Jumanji" underperforms which is a realistic possibility.

Coming Attractions

If you like creepy cats singing show tunes or hate Fox News next week has something for you in the form of "Cats" and "Bombshell." But much like everyone else you're probably headed to see "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker." Even if you've been lukewarm on these last few "Star Wars" flicks you know you've already bought a ticket to see how the forty-two year Skywalker saga ends. A $200+ opening seems likely.

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