2020 saw its first breakout opening in the form of a 2019 holdover with 1917, which opened above almost all expectations to a $36.5 million weekend gross. That is the tenth largest opening weekend ever for a January release, and the fourth best for a December holdover, behind only fellow war films American Sniper ($89.3 million) and Lone Survivor ($37.8 million) and fellow period piece Director frontrunner The Revenant ($39.8 million). The weekend is doubly impressive because unlike those films, 1917 did not have any major box office draws above the title, and World War I has rarely been the subject of box office breakouts. After only three days in wide release, the film is already the fourth highest grossing film set during the conflict, behind only Wonder Woman, War Horse, and Lawrence of Arabia. By the end of its run, 1917 will easily pass the (unadjusted) grosses of those last two films.
But just how far can 1917 run from here after such a sizable start? Mainstream audiences seemed to like the film, giving it an ‘A-‘ similar to Dunkirk from two and a half years ago. The weekend gross already saw a boost from surprise wins at the Golden Globes last weekend in the Picture-Drama and Director categories, and the film is likely to get another boost when the Oscar nominations are announced – most awards pundits (including AwardsWatch) predicting at least 7 nominations, although if it over-performs with nominations in categories like Screenplay, Makeup, and Visual Effects, the film could end up being one of the nomination leaders. Combine that with the MLK holiday next Monday, and the film could see a minimal drop next weekend and strong legs for the next few weeks leading up to February 9 ceremony as the last major awards player to enter wide release. Expect those legs to carry the film to at least a $135+ million total, and if it becomes the Best Picture frontrunner, a total above $150 million becomes more likely than not.
Another December limited release entered wide release this weekend, to more modest but still respectable results. Just Mercy tied for 4th place with Like a Boss (more on that in a bit) with a $10 million weekend gross. Just Mercy has had a somewhat underwhelming awards run, getting shut out at the Golden Globes, BAFTA, and just bout all guild awards save for a SAG nomination for Jamie Foxx, so the film failed to reach the heights of past January expanders aimed at African-American audiences like Hidden Figures or Selma. However, like those two, the film managed to receive an A+ Cinemascore, indicating that even if the film is shut out by the Oscars tomorrow morning, the film could still enjoy a leggy run this month off of word-of-mouth. Expect a final total north of $35 million, with a $40 million total possible if the film receives any Oscar love tomorrow.
Tied with Just Mercy for 4th was Like a Boss, opening to an underwhelming $10 million. Not counting comedy-adjacent films like Uncut Gems or Knives Out, Like a Boss was the first comedy for adults to receive a wide release since Last Christmas two months ago, and the first R-rated one since Jexi three months ago, so there was certainly an opening in the market for a flat-out comedy to break out. Unfortunately, none of the three main stars in the film have proven themselves to be consistent draws on their own – Tiffany Haddish comes closest, but this was her first star feature without another major box office draw attached (no Kevin Hart, no Tyler Perry behind the camera). The film was also hit with rather terrible reviews (21% on Rotten Tomatoes), and with a ‘B’ Cinemascore, audiences didn’t seem particularly impressed either, so a final total much above $25 million seems unlikely.
The final opener of the weekend was Underwater, which bellyflopped with a poor $7 million weekend gross. Filmed back in the middle of 2017, the film has bounced around with no real set release date, so the January burn-off was not particularly promising. And while reviews were not terrible (a 53% on Rotten Tomatoes, certainly could be worse), audience gave the film a ‘C’ Cinemascore, so legs are unlikely to save this film from being a flop, whose budget has been reported being between $50 and $80 million. It’ll likely shuffle out of theaters pretty quic, finishing with a final total around $16 million, give or take a million depending on how hard it drops next weekend.
With the holiday season officially over, most holdovers suffered harsh drops over the weekend. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker had the worst drop in the top 10 (-56%), falling to second place with a $15.1 million weekend gross. The film is still on track for a final total above $500 million, but barring a massive re-release, the film is unlikely to pass the domestic gross for spinoff Star entry Rogue One ($532.2 million). Among the films in wide release, only three avoided a 50% drop: Jumanji: The Next Level (-47% to $14 million), Little Women (-44% to $7.65 million), and Knives Out (-36% to $5.7 million), the latter of which had the best hold among all wide releases for the fifth weekend in a row.
1. 1917 – $36.5 million (EXPANSION)
2. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – $15.1 million (-56%)
3. Jumanji: The Next Level – $14 million (-47%)
4. Just Mercy – $10 million (EXPANSION)
4. Like a Boss – $10 million (EXPANSION)
6. Little Women – $7.65 million (-44%)
7. Underwater – $7 million (NEW)
8. Frozen II – $5.8 million (-51%)
9. Knives Out – $5.7 million (-36%)
10. Spies in Disguise – $5.1 million (-51%)