Weekend Preview December 17th-19th (cont.) How does the Weekend look outside of Spider-Man: No Way Home?

I covered Spider-man in an earlier post but wanted to make sure I made a note of the rest of the top ten this weekend. With just Nightmare Alley, and nothing of note in the Specialty Market, debuting this weekend, all I can really do his hope for a better year next year.

In my last post, I said that No Way Home presents a bit of a challenge when predicting the weekend’s box office (more accurately, I said it was a nightmare). This isn’t just because gauging the most anticipated blockbuster of the year’s financial performance is tough-which it is-but even more so because trying to gauge the rest of the box office turns into something of a crapshoot. The fact of the matter is that no matter what happens, No Way Home is going to suck the air out of the overall box office and leave very little of an audience for the rest of the movies this weekend to fight over. It also doesn’t help that Spider-Man as a film property really appeals to the vast majority demographic groups, so there is really very little space to carve out any sort of niche audience. There is one other new film this weekend that can potentially be spared the wrath of Spider-Man at the box office, but that is largely due to it being an awards contender and it already being pegged as a likely flop (though, as I’ll discuss later, it does have a trick up its sleeve that might help it). Outside of that, pretty much everyone else is at No Way Home‘s mercy, so let us survey the likely damage.

Starting with West Side Story, I’m thinking that it is likely to have one of the stronger holds in the top ten. While the film is starting from an undeniable place of weakness given its $10.5 million opening last weekend, I postulated that the film still had a chance at great legs. I still think this is the case based on a few factors. The first is that…..it’s a musical! Did you think I was going to say, “It’s a Spielberg movie!” Sike! But you’re right and I will touch on that. But honestly, I do think that the film being a musical does give it a bit of an advantage in the marketplace going forward, even beyond this weekend. For one thing, musicals are fun. Now, West Side Story isn’t necessarily the happiest of musicals (it is based on Romeo & Juliet after all), but musical numbers, in general, make for very lively and fun spectacle, the kind that you would get on Broadway, which can play very well to audiences this time of year. The Greatest Showman, aka the biggest box office miracle of our modern times, was able to soar on the strength of its soundtrack and musical numbers from a dismal $8.8 million opening weekend to an incredible $174.3 million domestic total. That movie felt like a live show in the theater and it stands to reason that with superb technical production values, West Side Story could benefit from creating that kind of cinematic experience as well.

Of course, The Greatest Showman and West Side Story do not make for a one-to-one comparison. For one thing, The Greatest Showman is an original musical whereas West Side Story is a remake of another musical; arguably its biggest Achilles heel with regards to box office performance (read my analysis of that situation here). Also, and slightly more pertinent to our current discussion, The Greatest Showman was a very family-friendly film that all audiences could enjoy. Meanwhile, West Side Story, with its weigher themes and more grizzly plot details, skews noticeably more adult. Kids are likely not able to watch the movie and even more likely don’t want to. Now, to some degree, this actually helps the movie as it will not share as much of an audience with No Way Home and will be cannibalized to a lesser extent. That ties into the second factor contributing to potentially great legs, Spielberg! I told you we’d come back to him! Yes, while West Side Story massively underperformed on opening weekend, Steven Spielberg himself is still a brand and one that is closely associated with quality. It’s for that reason that even when his films don’t really open all that well, they can still have healthy box office runs thanks to strong holds in the ensuing weeks as people get around to checking out his latest feature.

Now, as with The Greatest Showman, there isn’t necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison here, as this West Side Story is in a strange position for a Spielberg movie as of late. Generally, when releasing an adult-skewing theatrical picture from Spielberg in the month of December, most studios have tended to opt for a platform release starting just a few hundred theaters and then widening the release week by week before hitting genuine wide release by the end of the month. When not releasing in December, most of his features open wide immediately but without the crowding of the December corridor to eat too much into his film’s box office, thus allowing them to gain more traction as they continue their runs. West Side Story, due to the pandemic, did opt for a wide release in December so there aren’t really any movies in his recent oeuvre that can make for a comparable comparison unless you look a little further into their runs. Taking data from recent Spielberg pictures like Bridge of Spies, Lincoln, The Post, and War Horse, there is something of a general pattern where movies of this ilk from Spielberg hold “well” once they get to wide release, which is to say somewhere between a 25-45% drop in their second weekend.

Of course, there is one more complication that takes the form of a swinging man in a Spider costume, that being that outside of Ready Player One facing the juggernaut that was Black Panther in the latter’s seventh weekend of release, no Spielberg movie in recent memory has ever had to really contend with a Marvel picture sucking away its audience, especially on opening weekend. As I mentioned above, No Way Home appeals to virtually every single imaginable demographic, and while West Side Story does boast spectacle by way of its technically flawless production values, it’s hard to compete with the image of the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, and Electro fighting against three…….well…..you’ll see….. Anywho, I am inclined to give West Side Story the benefit of the doubt as a Spielberg film, particularly a musical that appeals to awards voters, so I will predict that it can hold its own with a solid 45% hold for a gross of $5.7 million. Still, it will be a bumpy ride for this one, and its chances for long holiday legs aren’t looking amazing.

As for Encanto, which I’d originally predicted to take second place, I’d originally felt that this picture could also see a decent hold of about 45% given that, being a Disney animated feature, it skewed younger than your average Spider-Man fan and could particularly pull in families with much younger kids. Then I remembered something, that being that Encanto debuts for free/at no extra charge on Disney+ on December 24th. That’s just a week from now and is a fact that Disney+ itself is advertising on its service every day. That gives me the distinct sense that many families will skip out on Encanto this coming weekend, especially with No Way Home in theaters and Encanto being available for their viewing pleasure in just a week. In case, I’m predicting that Encanto will be a lot more likely to fall around 50% this weekend for a gross of around $4.95 million.

Now, all opens up a big question as to who exactly will be taking second place this weekend. Earlier on I would have said Encanto, and West Side Story absolutely has a chance. However, honestly, I have a hunch that the race for second place will be a tighter one than we expect. The other new wide release this weekend, a brave little picture daring to go up against the Spidey juggernaut, is that of Guillermo del Toro’s remake of Nightmare Alley. A redo of the 1947 classic starring Tyrone Power, this Nightmare Alley, starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe (he has two movies out today, neat!), David Straithairn, Richard Jenkins in the story of an ambitious con-man who joins the circus with dark and dangerous results, had been hotly anticipated prior to the pandemic as Guillermo del Toro’s follow-up to his Best Picture-winning The Shape of Water. Of course, the Disney acquisition of Fox Searchlight (now known as Searchlight Pictures) and the pandemic put the film on the back burner for quite a while whilst Disney tried to figure out how to handle the situation. The release of this film is pretty meek. Some interesting trailers notwithstanding, this old-fashioned film being put out for release right alongside No Way Home tells me that Disney only looks at the film as potential awards contender and absolutely nothing more. Surprisingly, though, this might actually be the film’s greatest strength.

Debuting to pretty strong reviews that praise the story, performances, atmosphere, and production values, as well as its harkening back to an older form of filmmaking, Nightmare Alley may be perfectly set up as counterprogramming to No Way Home as the darker, more grownup, classical alternative to Spider-Man’s hip, commercial flavor. The film appeals to a much older audience than that of No Way Home; one much more in tune with awards trends and more “prestigious” celebrity personas. Given its reviews and awards buzz, I have more confidence than I would expect for it to carve out its own niche. That said, it is still tracking toward a $5-6 million opening; not great but in line with many adult-orient films we’ve seen this year. Because of the counterprogramming angle, I am going to be a bit bullish and say that it will open at the top end of expectations with $6 million. Guillermo del Toro is something of a brand himself and if the word of mouth is positive, perhaps the film will indeed overperform (I actually really want to see it), but for now, given the immense competition. I’m gonna assume it won’t break out. Still, $6 million would put it in second place, a nice start to get the ball rolling.

After that, the rest of the top ten looks real bleak. Outside of Nightmare Alley, Hollywood is steering clear of No Way Home, both because they don’t want their films to flop, but also because they want No Way Home to have the widest berth possible, fully swinging theaters into the upright position and lining up the shot for a much improved 2022 in terms of box office revenue. As a result, it’s all holdovers from here on out. In fifth place, we’re looking to see Ghostbusters: Afterlife as it hangs on for dear life in the wake of No Way Home. Given that it has established an audience, I’m expecting the drop not to be too steep, maybe around 45% for $3.9 million in fifth place, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see it drop more steeply.

Outside of the top five is where it is going to get very interesting, the rest of the holdovers are not just going up against strong competition but are also losing a metric boatload of screens. Indeed, House of Gucci, Eternals, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, and Clifford, the Big Red Dog, are each losing around 1,500 screens this weekend as cinema free up as much space as possible for the biggest party of the year. That massive drop in screens will likely translate to worse case scenarios for each film. Of the four, I see House of Gucci holding the strongest as it has should surprising resilience in the past few weeks. I’m doubtful that the film will fall more than 60%, which would put it at a gross of less than $1.6 million, but I don’t see any way for it to hold any better than 55%. In that best case scenario, it would place sixth with $1.8 million.

Eternals and Resident Evil are both absolutely diving off a cliff though, as I see each falling a respective 65% and 55% for grosses of $1.08 million and $720k. The only reason I see Resident Evil holding better is due to its impressive staying power over the past few weeks, all things considered. Clearly, though, its time is up. As for Eternals, it will hold on slightly longer as a result of its bigger opening, but with a new Marvel movie coming in to replace it, as well as this week’s announcement of its January 22nd Disney+ release date, audiences are being given ever excuse to abandon it this weekend if they have not already done so.

Then there is Clifford. Poor, little Clifford which had a shot and but just couldn’t hold it together despite its best efforts. Losing nearly 1,600 theaters this week will likely send it plummetting around 60% for a gross of $520K in ninth place. To its credit, it will stay in the top ten, but its shot at a theatrical sequel has been totally trashed. The final, tenth space will likely be going to Dune, which I am inclined to think will hold relatively well at 45% for a gross of $478k, especially given that its demographic (like Nightmare Alley) is divergent from No Way Home, but honestly, who knows what is going to happen?

It’s a bit crazy to me, reading this back, as this might be the first time I have ever seen a potential top 10 list with three entries in it grossing less than $1 million (not counting grosses from the middle of the pandemic where it would be expected). I mean look:

  1. Spider-Man: No Way Home, $175 million
  2. Nightmare Alley, $6 million
  3. West Side Story, $5.7 million
  4. Encanto, $4.9 million
  5. Ghostbusters: Afterlife, $3.9 million
  6. House of Gucci, $1.8 million
  7. Eternals, $1.08 million
  8. Resident Evil, $720K
  9. Clifford, the Big Red Dog, $520K
  10. Dune, $478K

Ironically, this also might still end up being the highest-grossing weekend of 2021. It’s bittersweet to see the year closing out like this, even with a few more movies (Matrix: Resurrections, The King’s Man, A Journal for Jordan, and American Underdog to name a few) coming to fully close out the year at Christmas. To a degree, it does give me hope. If No Way Home can indeed pull in a mega-gross, maybe even $200 million, I do feel that it will signal a true return to the theaters and better times ahead for the business. Obviously, no one is obligated to go out to the theater (or anywhere for that matter) if they don’t feel safe. My hope to see people return is less rooted in a desire for them to support the film business than it is just to see people get back to life. Going out, seeing friends and family, enjoying time with others, I do feel that we are inching closer and closer to normalcy, at least without the shadow of the pandemic still hanging over everyone’s heads. Hopefully, this weekend is just a preview of better times ahead.

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