Two December ago, an incredibly belated quasi-sequel to 1995’s Jumanji, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, staked its claim as counter-programming to that season’s new Star Wars film by opening five days after that film. It became a bigger hit than anyone could have ever imagined, becoming Sony’s highest grossing domestic release of all time and having the best legs of any new wide release this decade, save The Greatest Showman (released the same day as Welcome to the Jungle). This year, a much less belated sequel, Jumanji: The Next Level, hopes lightning can strike twice but with a slightly swapped release strategy: Next Level will be opening seven days before the latest Star Wars.
Welcome to the Jungle‘s box office legs indicated incredible word-of-mouth, but non-comic book sequels this year have been struggling all over. For ever John Wick where the latest installment only builds on the previous movie’s gross, there have been massive audience dropoffs for sequels as varied as The Secret Life of Pets 2 (dropping from $368.4 million to $158.3 million domestically), and It: Chapter Two (dropping from $327 million to $211.6 million domestically). A total drop-off for The Next Level seems likely, but figuring out where the film is start is difficult. Welcome to the Jungle grossed $36.2 million in its opening weekend and $52.8 million in its first five days, but that film opened when a majority of schools were on break. Next Level is opening at least a week before they start letting out, which means that even audiences anticipating the film might be holding off until closer to holiday break before checking out the film. Look for a first weekend gross of $45 million, with the hope of strong legs over the next few weeks.
The first horror film since Doctor Sleep also opens tomorrow, Black Christmas. The second remake of the 1974 horror film of the same name, this film looks to correct the mistake the first remake made in 2006. That film was released on December 25 to a solid $3.3 million opening day, then dropped off before finishing with $16.2 million total, a heinous opening-day-to-total multiplier. Opening 12 days before the holiday isn’t much more lead time, but cheap horror films like this tend to have a short lifespan anyway, especially ones with mixed-to-poor reviews (the embargo only lifted this afternoon, but early reviews scores are 45 on Metacritic and 44% on Rotten Tomatoes). December hasn’t been a strong release time for horror films (not since the Scream films, anyway), but a seasonal option like this should bring out a modestly-sized audience, especially with tomorrow being a Friday the 13th, which almost always gives a small boost to horror fare. Expect a $12 million opening weekend.
The third new wide release this weekend, Richard Jewell, is a bit of a wildcard. It’s the newest directorial effort from Clint Eastwood, hoping to replicate the success of his recent true story successes like American Sniper, Sully, and The Mule (the last of which opened one year ago this weekend). However, those three films are not only the only releases by Eastwood in the last 10 years to crack $100 million, they’re the only ones to crack $50 million. Other true story works like Invictus, J. Edgar, and The 15:17 to Paris all finished with extremely similar $36-38 million totals. Jewell has received better reviews than at least Edgar and 15:17 (75% on Rotten Tomatoes, 67 on Metacritic), but the film has also been hit by bad publicity for its potentially slanderous portrayal of a real-life reporter in the film, played by Olivia Wilde. Still, the film has received a major marketing push towards heartland viewers, who might be interested in seeing the true story of an ordinary man becoming a hero only to be vilified by the media. An opening of $11 million would be a promising start for a film likely to have strong legs through the holiday.
In limited release, two films will be opening in limited release as a prelude to a wide expansion closer to the holidays. Uncut Gems, the Safdie Brothers’ follow-up to Good Time, opens in New York and Los Angeles. While Good Time was not quite a breakout, grossing only $2 million total, the Safdies have Adam Sandler this time around, receiving career-best raves. The last time Sandler went the acclaimed art house route was Punch Drunk Love in 2002, which started its run with a $73,441 per-theater-average, one of the biggest ever at the time. With a few awards under its belt already (including Actor and Screenplay wins from the National Board of Review and nominations from the Critics Choice Awards for Picture, Director, and Actor), the film should be looking at a stron $85,000 PTA. Also opening in limited release hot off awards love is Bombshell, the four-time SAG Awards nominee. The film opens in wide release next weekend and has received far more divisive reviews than Gems (66 on Metacritic, 63% on Rotten Tomatoes), so a more modest PTA of $30,000 is likely, but don’t expect those numbers to be reflections of how both films do in wider release (where Bombshell should have an easier time appealing to general audiences).
1. Jumanji: The Next Level – $45 million (NEW)
2. Frozen II – $23.5 million (-36%)
3. Black Christmas – $12 million (NEW)
4. Richard Jewell – $11 million (NEW)
5. Knives Out – $10.1 million (-29%)
6. Ford v Ferrari – $4.8 million (-28%)
7. Queen & Slim – $4.1 million (-38%)
8. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood $3.6 million (-31%)
9. Dark Waters – $2.4 million (-40%)
10. 21 Bridges – $1.7 million (-40%)