James Wan’s Aquaman may have started with the lowest opening ever in the DC Universe, but seven days later, it is looking more like Michael Phelps than some lowly dog paddler. The film is entering very exclusive territory this weekend just as two more December releases join the $100 million club by the time the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. That makes 32 for 2018 with at least two more films still hoping to surpass last year’s (and 2014’s) total of 33 to become second only to 2013’s 35 $100 million-plus films. That record may come up short, but Hollywood has shot past its previous ticket sales record ($11.37 billion in 2016) and is now eyeing a $12 billion year at the box office.
After its first weekend, Aquaman was $26 million behind Justice League. After weekend two it is now $17 million ahead and climbing. How high? Quite actually. Because as of this Sunday, Wan’s film is now the sixth highest grossing December release after 10 days, behind five little films: Star Wars trio The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and Rogue One, as well as Avatar and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. All seven December films to have made $150 million by this point have reached the $300 million mark, and Aquaman is $20 million ahead of The Two Towers. Peter Jackson’s film opened on a Wednesday, so that pace will tighten over the next couple of days. But Return of the King made $48.8 million in its second weekend and ended with $339.7 million. Aquaman grossed $51.5 million and is likely looking at a final gross in that vicinity, which would surpass both Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman for second highest grossing feature film in the DC Universe behind Wonder Woman. With $748 million worldwide, it is the seventh highest grossing film of 2018 and will be passing Mission: Impossible – Fallout and Venom soon with its eye then on a billion dollars.
Speaking of Peter Jackson, his WWI 3D documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old, has become one of the top-grossing documentaries of the year. After just two nights. Fathom Events held special single-night screenings on December 17, when it broke the company’s record with $2.3 million, and then again this past Thursday, when it broke it again with another $3.37 million. That was more than this week’s openers, Holmes & Watson and Vice, grossed on Thursday with a full day of screenings. With $5.7 million in two nights it has made nearly as much as partisan documentaries, Death of a Nation (with a 0% Tomatometer score) from pardoned felon Dinesh D’Souza ($5.88 million) and Michael Moore’s Fahrehheit 11/9 ($6.35 million). Warner Bros. will open the film in a few cities on January 11, and you can expect it to rise from the seventh highest grossing documentary of 2018 into the top five – and maybe even higher.
Holmes & Watson opened in theaters without being screened for critics. Hey, Disney did the same thing for Christmas opener, Tombstone, back in the day, too. How bad could it be? Well, it is currently just the third wide-release of the year to score lower than 10% on the Tomatometer after Slender Man and Death of a Nation’s golden doughnut of 0%. That is where Holmes was with its initial set of reviews, but folks were already in the midst of paying good money to see it on Christmas Day. Around $6.4 million and 24 hours later, some were already calling it a “commercial flop” on Twitter despite the fact that only four of 23 films to open on Christmas to more than $6 million failed to reach $60 million.
That still would not have been enough to cover its $42 million budget in domestic dollars, but it’s not like it was Mortal Engines or Welcome to Marwen this month; however, Holmes & Watson’s audience numbers have been scaling down to its current Rotten Tomatoes score of 9%. Though $19.7 million after its first six days still has it pacing for somewhere between $40-60 million, its numbers are diminishing at the pace of Aliens Vs. Predator – Requiem, which finished with just $41.7 million after it opened on Christmas. So it will depend on international audiences to determine whether the film is “a commercial flop” or not.
Mary Poppins Returns just missed becoming the 26th film opening in December to reach $100 million in its first 12 days; though it will do so on New Year’s Eve. Of the films in its 12-day company that had between $97 million to $107 million at this point, Poppins’ $28-million weekend is second only to Daddy’s Home’s $29.2 million. (Poppins is likely to fly past Daddy’s Home’s $150 million.) The next crop of films above them (sans Marley & Me) are all $200 million grossers. So as long as Rob Marshall’s film maintains its current pace it should rise high enough to be one of the three highest grossing films of the season.
Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse did join the $100 million club this weekend. At $103.6 million it is in the company of Catch Me If You Can, Les Miserables (2012), Into the Woods, True Grit (2010), and Unbroken, but its third weekend of $18.3 million surpasses all of theirs, suggesting the film is headed for north of $160 million — an estimate that could continue to rise with the word-of-mouth it is receiving.
Bumblebee, with another $20 million this weekend, is also headed for $100 million like every other film from December to have $60 million after 10 days. Clint Eastwood’s The Mule, on the other hand, took 17 days to hit the $60 million mark, but it is not out of the running to become the 34th film of 2018 to reach $100 million. For a film that needs around $150 million to break even, $80 million seems to be the worst-case domestic scenario at this moment. As it is pretty closely aligned with the $100.7 million–grossing The Pelican Brief, there is still a possibility this will be Clint’s sixth film as a director to reach that height.
While Holmes and Watson was grossing $6.4 million on Christmas Day, Adam McKay’s award hopeful, Vice, was gathering up $4.7 million and a 64% score on the Tomatometer. It has made $18 million in its first six days and eyes somewhere around $50 million final domestic gross, but is already Annapurna’s highest grossing film to date surpassing this summer’s Sundance pickup, Sorry To Bother You. Ralph Breaks the Internet has fallen behind the pace of last year’s Coco, but is still $9 million ahead of Tangled, which keeps $200 million very much in the picture. It only takes Ralph and Poppins to break the single-year record of most films to reach the milestone in any year. A $300 million final gross may be out of reach for Illumination’s The Grinch, but its $266 million makes it undoubtedly one of the biggest hits of the season, even while it could end up being the company’s third-lowest grossing film to date; albeit one with still over $100 million in profit.
Beyond the Top Ten you will find both The Favourite ($15.2 million) and Mary Queen of Scots ($9 million) doing decent business in less than 850 theaters each. Both continue to do better than Robert Zemeckis’ Welcome to Marwen, which has grossed $7.7 million. There are still seven films this year further in the red than Marwen (including Ralph Breaks the Internet), though it is still little comfort being among the 10 biggest financial losers of 2018.
In further limited release news, we have the three best per-theater-averages of the week: The Ruth Bader Ginsburg drama, On the Basis of Sex (74%) averaged $20,909 this weekend and has made $1.5 million in 33 theaters since Christmas. Destroyer (76%) has been in three theaters since Christmas and has made $115,661. It averaged $19,491 this weekend. Then there is Stan & Ollie (89%), which opened on Friday in five theaters, averaging $15,935 for a total of $79,674. Aquaman had the fourth best average with $12,497, and Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk was fifth, adding 60 theaters (for a total of 65). It averaged $11,686 and has grossed nearly $2 million.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi maintained the top spot for a third straight week (and passed the $500 million mark), though Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle closed the gap with a $52.5 million-to-$50 million showdown. Christmas day openers, All the Money in the World and Molly’s Game made $12.7 million and $5.3 million, respectively, in their first full week of release. Steven Spielberg’s The Post and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread led the per-theater-average list with $62,342 (nine theaters) and $54,124 (four theaters). The Top Ten films grossed a total of $173.3 million over the weekend, which included New Year’s Eve, and they averaged 65.1% on the Tomatometer. This year’s Top Ten grossed $163.1 million and averaged 65.6%.
The new year kicks off with horror about domains from which there appears to be no safe room, though do not expect to see a Tomatometer score for either until later in the week. The PG-13 Escape Room with Taylor Russell, Deborah Ann Woll, and Tyler Labine should get a score just before it opens. Then Eli, from the director of Sinister II, will get reviews from critics brave enough to check out the tale of a boy with auto-immune issues stuck in a dangerous home when it opens on Friday.
[box office figures via Box Office Mojo]