The week of Christmas is one of the more unpredictable frames at the box office. Sure, we all know that people just love going to the movie theater during the holidays, but with the sheer number of highly-anticipated films being released around this time (especially with a new “Star Wars” feature), the 2019 holiday box office has been surprising, to say the least.
Of course, we have to start the discussion with a review of what “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” was able to do during the holiday week. As expected, the JJ Abrams-directed film was dominant over the last week, turning in some truly great numbers as it destroyed everything in its path on its way to another #1 showing during its second weekend. The film earned an estimated $72 million in its second weekend, down only -59% from its debut. This is encouraging for Lucasfilm and Disney, as 2017’s ‘The Last Jedi’ dropped a massive -68% from its opening.
Now, before the Mouse House starts popping the champagne bottles, there is a disclaimer to this good news. Rian Johnson’s ‘The Last Jedi,’ which was a deeply polarizing film amongst fans and is seen as the bar that Disney needs to jump over in terms of box office performance, was released on December 15 instead of December 20 for ‘Rise.’ This means that ‘The Last Jedi’ ended its second weekend on Christmas Eve, a notoriously bad day for theaters. So, while ‘Rise of Skywalker’ seems to be going neck-and-neck with ‘The Last Jedi’ through 10 days ($363 million vs. $368 million, respectively), for a true apples-to-apples comparison, we need to look at three weekends.
That being said, we have to say this is all Disney box office math, where numbers are way higher than most studios and therefore seem ridiculous to debate. However, for the legacy of this sequel trilogy and the future of the franchise, the execs will be paying close attention to see if ‘Rise of Skywalker’ outgrosses ‘The Last Jedi’ or not. Because if ‘Rise’ can’t beat ‘The Last Jedi,’ with the former’s rampant nostalgia and fan service, then this would be a sign of a terrible, devastating trend that frightens all franchises — waning interest.
But, as of today, there are anecdotal signs that ‘Rise’ is going to outperform ‘The Last Jedi,’ primarily in the quote-unquote Discourse online that seems to point to fans (by and large) being pretty pleased with Abrams’ film, even if they’re not over the moon. And the percentage drop is almost 10 points better than ‘The Last Jedi.’ Again, that is a sign that, even with the disappointing opening weekend, ‘Rise’ could have better box office legs than ‘The Last Jedi.’
Last week, I talked about the worldwide grosses to keep an eye on in terms of how well ‘Rise’ will fare versus the rest of the “Star Wars” films. After 10 days, ‘Rise of Skywalker’ sits at $704 million globally. And though this may seem completely crazy given the number, there’s no way that Disney would be pleased with anything less than $1.5 billion for the Skywalker Saga finale. That would outgross ‘The Last Jedi’ and its $1.33 billion total but still fall well short of the $2+ billion that ‘The Force Awakens’ earned in 2015. As we said last time, if ‘Rise’ ends up below ‘The Last Jedi,’ that’s the worst-case scenario for Lucasfilm and the Mouse House.
While the champagne bottles remained corked at Lucasfilm, we have to assume that the Safdie Brothers, Adam Sandler, and the folks at A24 have to be in full-on party mode after the first wide-release weekend for “Uncut Gems.” The indie film has been impressive during its limited release rollout the last couple of weeks, but hit almost 2,400 locations on Christmas Day, earning a three-day weekend total of $9.55 million and a five-day total of $18.88 million, bringing its total domestic cume to $20 million.
Though there’s no reported budget right now for the Sandler film, a $20 million start for A24 is pretty incredible, especially given that the actor is clearly the biggest factor in driving business for the film. The Safdie Brothers’ previous film, “Good Time,” starring Robert Pattinson, only earned $3.2 million in total. And in terms of A24 releases in 2019, the film has already surpassed “The Farewell” ($17.7 million), “The Lighthouse” ($10.7 million), “Gloria Bell” ($5.6 million), and “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” ($4.5 million). The only A24 to outgross it, so far in 2019, is Ari Aster’s “Midsommar” ($27.4 million), though that seems to be squarely in the sights of “Uncut Gems.”
Assuming it passes “Midsommar,” the only A24 films ahead of it would be “Moonlight” ($27.8 million), “Hereditary” ($44 million), and “Lady Bird” ($49 million). So, even after only a short time, the Safdies have already entered some rarified air for the studio. If you’re a reader of The Playlist, you know we’ve been beating the drum for Josh and Benny Safdie for years now, so this is one sign that even with all the terrible shit going on in 2019, at least there are plenty of sensible film fans willing to go see quality cinema at the theater. Thank god.
But it’s not all great news for “Uncut Gems.” Sadly, the film only earned a CinemaScore of C+, pointing to mixed reaction from audiences. Now, if you’ve seen the film (and you definitely should), you know that the Safdies have crafted a film that is not what most people would expect from films in 2019 and definitely not from Adam Sandler. So, perhaps this is a sign that people came in without knowing what to expect. Hopefully, the word-of-mouth won’t be bad, as we’ve seen other films with polarizing aspects (perhaps most famously, the aforementioned “Hereditary” and its D+ CinemaScore) succeed in the long run with bad polling. But we’ll definitely find out when the next weekend’s box office hits.
So that we don’t end the “Uncut Gems” analysis on a down note, let’s talk about the hugely expensive (relatively speaking) films that the thriller has already outgrossed. At $20 million, “Uncut Gems” has already outgrossed “Cats” (estimated budget is $95 million and has only earned $17.8 million), “Bombshell” (estimated budget is $32 million and has only earned $15.6 million), and “Richard Jewell” (estimated budget is $45 million and has only earned $16.1 million).
Speaking of “Cats,” the film’s second weekend proved to be the clumpy pile of kitty poop we all anticipated. Whereas most films have growth over their 3-day totals during the week of Christmas, the musical actually fell -27% during its second weekend and only earned $4.8 million. As mentioned, the current domestic cume sits at $17.8 million and any hope that “Cats” turns into another “Greatest Showman” is dashed. This is a film that Universal will gladly like to forget about as we approach 2020.
There are some other films we have to talk about that debuted during the holidays, led by Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” which earned a respectable $29 million during its first five days. For a film that holds a reported budget of only $40 million (before advertising), this is a solid start. With incredible reviews (currently at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes) and some anticipated Oscars love, “Little Women” is poised to be a film that can attract families in the weeks to come, once the “Star Wars” hype dies down. And if you’re a parent looking for a film to take your young children to that doesn’t involve animated bird spies or laser swords, you can’t go wrong with Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel.
Speaking of animated bird spies, “Spies in Disguise” opened and earned an estimated $22 million in its first five days. Yep, so that’s a thing. Will Smith and Tom Holland’s film earned a good A- CinemaScore, showing that kids and families were pretty pleased. But let’s be real, there is just too much competition (“Frozen 2” outgrossed it this weekend) for this film to do anything special.
And in limited release, “1917,” “Just Mercy,” and “Clemency” all did really well in their holiday weekend debuts. As far as Per-Theater-Average (the only thing that really matters in limited release analysis), “1917” won the weekend with a PTA of $51,818. “Just Mercy” and “Clemency” fared pretty well, also, with PTAs of $27,750 and $18,539 respectively. “1917” is expected to do pretty great business when it opens wide in January, with “Just Mercy” and “Clemency” hoping to build buzz before they both open wide in the weeks to come.
Next week, the only major opening is the horror remake/sequel/reboot “The Grudge.” The first week in January has become a staple for horror films in recent years, so we’ll see if the post-holiday success for horror films continues with Nicolas Pesce’s upcoming film.
Here’s the 3-day domestic totals for December 27 to December 29:
1. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – $72M ($363M Overall)
2. Jumanji: The Next Level – $35M ($175M)
3. Little Women – $16.525M ($29M)
4. Frozen II – $16.5M ($421M)
5. Spies in Disguise – $13.2M ($22M)
6. Knives Out – $9.7M ($110M)
7. Uncut Gems – $9.55M ($20M)
8. Cats – $4.8M ($17.8M)
9. Bombshell – $4.7M ($15.6M)
10. Richard Jewell – $3M ($16M)