Welcome to 2019 Everyone! A new year to wash off all the dirt and baggage of the past and look forward toward brighter horizons! Of course, I bet that it doesn’t really feel like that at all because that kind of feeling takes at least a month to sink in. Right about now, with the hustle and bustle of December gone (and good riddance!), it feels like business as usual. Hollywood is surely happy about this, however, as now people’s moviegoing habits will return to normal and not every movie will feel like a big gamble. That’s particularly true of this month of January, a month that is widely known to be Hollywood’s dumping ground where any movie that the studio deems financially inviable can be dumped unceremoniously in the hopes of making a quick buck. This weekend will unveil the very first new film of the year, Escape Room, from perennial January movie dumping distributor Sony Screen Gems. While the high concept premise actually looks quite fun, all eyes are instead likely to be on the Christmas holdovers as they all begin to settle into regular box office patterns and we see which ones truly emerge as top grossers to fully cap off 2018.
In first place, you’re likely expecting Aquaman and you would be correct! The film has continued to out-surf the competition at every step of the way, so much so that it is now actually gaining on Wonder Woman at this same point in the release cycle. Having originally debuted with a gross about $35 million behind that of Themiscyra’s Champion, Aquaman now only has $5 million dollars of distance between it and Wonder Woman with a total domestic haul of $222.8 million (as of the writing of this post). Indeed it seems as though Warner Bros. has found a prime piece of box office real estate and they would do well to stake out a claim on Christmas weekend for 2020, especially given that Star Wars, which has famously used this date to release all but one of their films (the financial bomb that was Solo) in their new Disney-owned era, is reportedly wrapping up its latest trilogy come Christmas 2019 with no solo films on the horizon. Worldwide, Aquaman has nearly reached $850 million; and aside from being all but guaranteed to hit $900 million by next week (if not this weekend), the $1 billion mark is getting closer and closer by the minute.
As for this coming weekend, this will be the first test of Aquaman‘s box office strength outside the Christmas bubble, with no fluctuating moviegoing behavior to give it a potential boost. As a result, Aquaman is highly likely to see a more regular box office drop for blockbusters, somewhere in the 50%s. That said, something tells me that the film will be able to manage a stronger hold than that. The film is still polling well amongst all audience groups, and I suspect that this will allow it to see, at worst, a healthy drop of 49% for a gross of $26.5 million. This may seem like a bit of an arbitrary prediction, but considering all the factors has led me to an interesting conclusion; I believe Aquaman might just be the DCEU’s Beauty & the Beast. Consider this, Beauty & the Beast (from 2017) was a highly anticipated live-action adaptation of a beloved property that was noted for its very high production values and spectacle. At the same time, the film faced significant criticism for its script, which many derided “hollow”. These criticisms were significant enough to cause the film to show up on Rotten Tomatoes with a “rotten” score in the 50%s when reviews first dropped. Though they eventually stabilized at 71% “fresh”, lower than usual for a Disney film, critics to this day still aren’t very fond of the film. That didn’t stop it, however, from making a splashy debut with a gross of $174 million and going on to make $1.2 billion at the box office, for a time making it the tenth highest grossing film of all time. Aquaman finds itself very much in the same boat, with critics praising the production value yet criticizing its uneven script, causing it to settle just on the edges of a good Rotten Tomatoes score. Despite this, audiences are quite taken with the film and powering it to incredible heights at the box office. It’s for this reason that I am predicting a 49% drop for the film in its first proper weekend given that Beauty & the Beast had a similar drop of 48.3% in its second weekend. A drop like this would certainly push Aquaman past $250 million by the end of the weekend.
In second place, we are looking at Mary Poppins Returns which celebrated two milestones this week, one being it passing the century mark at the domestic box office and the other being that it has surmounted $200 million worldwide. Now, as I wrote in my last post, Mary Poppins Returns is certainly no Greatest Showman for a variety of reasons, but it is performing quite well in its own right. Despite an underwhelming debut, Poppins has indeed found an audience that will likely help it have a solid run here in the states. Interestingly enough, the best comparison that I am finding for the film is that of Emily Blunt’s last musical endeavor with Disney, Into the Woods, but not in the way that one would imagine. Into the Woods was a notable underperformer for Disney, performing modestly at the box office but looking like a relative failure standing next to other Disney offerings and given the fact that it saw no significant boost from the post-Christmas weekend given the lack of major competition. Poppins, on the other hand, managed to fully take advantage of that post-Christmas bump and leapfrog ahead of Into the Woods at this same point in the release cycle, now standing nearly $26 million in front of the latter. For this reason, Into the Woods is serving as a good barometer for the film’s performance as I can predict Poppins to be healthy ahead of it. As for this coming weekend, I’m predicting a 40% drop for a gross of $17 million.
In third place, Bumblebee is looking at a potentially tight race between itself and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as it tries to hold on to the spot it has occupied for the past two weekends. I personally believe that the film is going to lose out to Spider-Verse in the end, however, because the latter simply has no detractors. As has been mentioned several times before, Spider-Verse has immensely positive word-of-mouth, signified by an “A+” Cinemascore that virtually proves that the only people who don’t like the film are those who’ve yet to see it. Meanwhile, Bumblebee has great reviews, but as we saw last weekend, it ended up falling slightly while almost every other film in the top ten saw a notable boost. I surmised that Bumblebee‘s audience might be more niche than originally expected of this family-oriented picture. To its credit, the film is looking to pass $100 million domestic quite soon, likely by next week, but Spider-Verse is coming out of a much stronger brand that appears on the surface to have a broader appeal. Spider-Verse is also helped in part by the fact that it is a contender at this Sunday’s Golden Globes ceremony. While not many general audience members keep up with awards season, the Golden Globes are the second most widely recognized film awards in the world behind that of the Oscars. Given that Spider-Verse is a frontrunner in the Best Animated Feature category, more people may be inclined to check it out before the broadcast which would boost the film’s profile and weekend gross significantly. As for weekend grosses, I’m predicting that Spider-Verse will come in third for a gross of about $12 million (off of a 35% drop) while Bumblebee will likely fall around 40% for a gross of about $11.4 million.
Rounding out the top five is likely to be this year’s first new release, Escape Room. A high concept thriller from Sony Screen Gems, the film follows a group of strangers who are invited to participate in an eponymous Escape Room game in the hopes of winning a million dollar prize. Little do they know that the Escape Rooms are not only hyper-immersive but also contain deadly traps in them from which they must escape or meet their end. I first saw the trailer for this film in October where it admittedly piqued my interest (you can see it here if you’d like) as both a fun branding tie-in to the real life Escape Rooms as well as a genuinely intriguing premise. Sure enough, reviews for the film surprisingly echo my original appraisal of the trailer. While not necessarily fabulous, the reviews are actually okay, praising the films premise and overall well-executed thrills (I’ve seen a few Final Destination comparisons made, and not necessarily in a negative way) despite an apparently mediocre ending which is resulting in 58% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 49 on Metacritic (once again, not fabulous, but still a cut above what’s typical for January horror/thriller fare). The movie is actually pretty well crafted from a business perspective, being both aesthetically and tonally distinct from the rest of the movies in the top ten and thereby having little to no competition this weekend in terms of its target audience. The only thing in its way is really a lack of audience awareness. The official trailer for the film (which has been the only trailer as far as I can see) has under 250,000 views and there has been little more than a digital advertising push on Youtube to promote it. Sony is projecting in the range of $10-13 million for its opening weekend, and I think that is fair. I personally see the film opening somewhere between $11-$12 million which, at best, would allow it to challenge Spider-Verse and Bumblebee for third place; if it can actually take third place, that would be a major accomplishment, but for now, I see it only debuting fifth.
In sixth place, The Mule is looking to return to its regular performance with a drop around 45% for a gross of $6.6 million, though I could see the film grossing a bit more if it got discovered by some a bigger audience over Christmas. Second Act is looking to past $30 million domestically, inching closer to its break-even point of $40 million. I took the time to see the film over the weekend and, as expected given the unfair critical and audience reaction to I Feel Pretty, Second Act turned out to be a really good movie with a great message about having confidence your own ability. I Feel Pretty is actually currently serving as the best comparison to gauge Second Act‘s performance and while I Feel Pretty is currently ahead of this new STX picture, the Jennifer Lopez-starrer is not very far behind. This would seem to indicate that Second Act will at least make it to $45 million domestic but I am curious to see if the film can power itself past I Feel Pretty‘s $48 million total domestic haul and into the $50 millions. Second Act has similar reviews but I Feel Pretty had a bigger problem in the fact that it starred Amy Schumer whom the media and audiences are currently not very fond of for a variety of reasons. On the other end of the spectrum, Jennifer Lopez is almost universally beloved by all for her persona, talent (both as an actress and singer), and professionalism. Second Act plays directly into all these facets as well as draws comparisons to Maid in Manhattan, one of Lopez’s most popular films, so I wonder if the film can drum up enough goodwill to boost its box office even higher than that of typical STX Entertainment films, which at their best tend to end their domestic runs in the mid-to-low $40 millions. Currently, the film is looking to drop 40% for a gross of $4.3 million in seventh place but I am rooting for it and hoping that it can do better.
In eighth place, we’re looking at Vice, which is looking highly unlikely to be able to break even at all at this point. To the film’s credit, it is doing relatively well given its late opening and delivering solid grosses day-to-day. However, this simply doesn’t look like it is going to be enough as the weekend projections show it only grossing around $4.2 million making it highly unlikely that the film will be able to reach the century mark domestically. I’d say that maybe we could count on foreign grosses given Christian Bale in the lead, but aside from not being sure if Annapurna has any foreign distribution hubs (I believe it would likely have to sell off the rights to foreign distributors), I doubt many international audiences are interested in seeing a film about Dick Cheney. Ninth place will likely see Ralph Breaks the Internet make its final stand in the top ten with $3.6 million while I anticipate a massive drop of 60% for Holmes & Watson, rounding out the top ten with $2.9 million.
The specialty market won’t be seeing any new releases given the new year and the lack of potential for Oscar consideration though some more awards-friendly fare is indeed coming down the line this month. The main areas of concentration will be that of If Beale Street Could Talk and On the Basis of Sex which each continue to expand. On the Basis of Sex will be expanding into 113 theaters this weekend and is potentially looking to gross somewhere around $1 million as it has performed notably well in the past week for a limited release. Meanwhile, If Beale Street Could Talk is expanding into 335 theaters in the hopes of capitalizing on its Golden Globes buzz. With many pundits predicting Regina King to win in the Supporting Actress category, Annapurna is hoping to give Beale Street the necessary shot in the arm to give it back the momentum it lost in its lukewarm debut.