Weekend Box Office

Weekend Box Office Results: Aquaman Wins Holiday Weekend Dominated by New Releases

Eight of the top 10 films over the Christmas weekend were new releases, including a new musical, an A24 project, and a pair of Indian films.

by | December 26, 2023 | Comments


Warner Bros. is trying to corner the market this Christmas season with three high-profile films. A prequel, a sequel and a musical remake (or new adaptation) stuck to their guns amidst the various strikes and did not abandon their post like Dune Part Two did back in November, and for the time being, the headlines favor the strategy. While the first half of December was so barren that it allowed the cinema of Japan a window for audience attendance, the holiday was stacked with multiple releases and the usual crop of award season hopefuls. This Christmas, at least, belonged to the existing IP.

King of the Crop: Aquaman Wins Holiday Weekend Dominated by New Releases

Last week we presented a lesson in not undervaluing numbers that appear less than stellar for films opening around the holiday season. We will get back to Wonka, which is proving what we held to be true in the previous column, in a moment. Will the same hold true for Warner Bros. and the DC Extended Universe’s Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom?

Opening on a Christmas Eve weekend when theaters usually close earlier before the big day, Aquaman Deux debuted to just $27.7 million for the three-day (plus previews) with another estimated $10.6 million on Christmas day. A four-day start of $38-39 million is significantly less than the $67.8 million that the first film opened to back in 2018 on this same weekend (sans the Sunday Eve). That film ended up multiplying that opening by a factor of nearly five and went on to be a billion-dollar grosser and the most successful film in the DCEU. That Universe is now over, and the question remains just how much of a whimper its final film will bow out with.

Last week, we told you how only two films ever opened to $25 million in December and failed to reach $100 million. The two weeks of vacation for schools could help Aquaman get to that figure… unless it’s treated like The Flash, which managed a $55 million opening last summer, $87 million after 10 days, and then grossed less than $19 million after that. It was a remarkable fall that reflected less a word-of-mouth failure (many expressed appreciation for it and even critics kept it at 63% on the Tomatometer) than a sign of audiences feeling disconnected from event cinema that had been canceled in favor of a new direction. Even Marvel is feeling that crunch.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom could still gross a bit, but it’s fighting an uphill battle with a $205 million production budget and an international audience that is also currently not buying the way they used to on comic book films (beyond Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse), with lackluster grosses on Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania ($261.5 million), The Flash ($162.5 million), The Marvels ($120 million), and Blue Beetle ($56.8 million). If Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom ends up on that list, it will join the other dreaded list of the biggest money losers of 2023. Through the weekend, the film has added $80 million internationally.

The Top 10 and Beyond: Wonka Holds on to Second, The Color Purple Leads the Rest of the Pack

It is a different story for Wonka, which followed up its $39 million start with an $18 million weekend. That gives it a 10-day total of $75.8 million with an anticipated Christmas bringing it up to $85.8 million. Wonka is now aligned behind Sing 2, which in 2021 (during a then-vaccinated season of the pandemic) had $76.4 million after a $20.1 million second weekend. Ultimately, it finished with over $162 million, which would put Wonka behind the finishing line of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, seemingly the only other film in the running to win the crown of the holiday season. (It is currently up to over $153 million after an estimated $4 million through Christmas.) Wonka is doing solid international numbers too, driving its global total over $250 million on its way to become just the 16th film this year to gross over $300 million and only the second since the summer. It will be a success for Warner Bros, though not nearly enough to cover the inevitable Aquaman failure.

But we’re not done with Warner Bros. yet, because they took the top three spots through Christmas, even with one of the films opening on Monday. The musical version of The Color Purple made an estimated $18.15 million on Christmas Day, earning more than both Aquaman ($10.6 million) and Wonka ($10.4 million). In fact, if the estimates hold, it will rank as the 12th-best Christmas Day haul ever, just ahead of 2012’s Les Miserables, which made $18.11 million, and second on the list of all-time Christmas Day openers, a list that now looks as follows:

Sherlock Holmes – $24.6 million, The Color Purple (2023) – $18.15 million, Les Miserables (2012) – $18.11 million, Daddy’s Home – $15.7 million, Unbroken – $15.4 million, Into the Woods – $15.08 million, Django Unchained – $15.01 million, Marley and Me – $14.3 million, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – $11.8 million, Bedtime Stories – $10.5 million

The only film to gross $10 million on Christmas Day and not break $100 million was Michael Mann’s Ali. That is promising for The Color Purple, a $100 million production which may need every domestic dollar possible to cover that expense.

Speaking of Mr. Mann, his latest film Ferrari currently sports a 74% on the Tomatometer and made an estimated $2.88 million on Christmas Day (including $656,000 on Christmas Eve). It may only be a single day, but it’s a long way from Enzo balancing the books on its $95 million pricetag. Also opening was George Clooney’s The Boys in the Boat, which doubled Ferrari’s number with a solid $5.7 million start (including $1.7 million in Christmas Eve previews). Only five films since 1997 have opened to at least $5 million on Dec. 25 and failed to reach $50 million. They include Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, Fat Albert, The Gambler (2014), 47 Ronin, and Holmes & Watson.

Sports biopics are a big trend this season, and coming out on top of the crop was Sean Durkin’s The Iron Claw, earning $4.8 million over the weekend and an estimated $6.8 million through Christmas Day. The A24 release is a hit with critics (currently Certified Fresh at 87%) and we will see if the unrelenting tragedy of the Von Erich family will be too much for audiences amidst the joy of the holidays.

Flying into fourth place with a broken wing is Illumination’s Migration, opening to $12.4 million and $17.5 million through Christmas. They may have had the animated hit of the year with The Super Mario Bros. Movie, but everything in its wake has been less than stellar with family dollars. Elemental was one of the lowest-grossing Pixar films; Trolls Band Together is just barely going to get over $100 million (it grossed an estimated $2.37 million through the holiday for a current total of $93.5 million), but like Elemental will be a financial loser; Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie can at least brag about being a success against its miniscule budget, but still grossed just $65 million; and, of course, there is this season’s Wish, which grossed $1.09 million this weekend and may barely cross $60 million after over a month in release (and is only at $144 million globally).

Migration’s weekend is less than those of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius and Ferdinand, both of which did manage to gross over $80 million during their seasons. But that could mean this is the first production from the animation company not to gross over $100 million, replacing Hop ($108 million) as their lowest-grossing domestic release to date. Meanwhile, Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron, which opened to $13 million two weeks ago, grossed another $3.5 million with a total of nearly $31 million through Christmas.

The momentary return of the romantic comedy with Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell did not exactly live up to whatever expectations there were for it. At $6 million for the weekend, Sony’s Anyone But You comes in lower than the seasonal releases of Kate and Leopold ($9.7 million) with Hugh Jackman and Meg Ryan; How Do You Know ($7.4 million) with Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, and Owen Wilson; and Did You Hear About The Morgans ($6.6 million) with Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker. The good news is the R-rated Anyone But You cost almost half as much ($25 million) as the cheapest of those three releases, though even that may be a hill to climb absent some very supportive word-of-mouth through the season.

In fifth place is Salaar Part 1: Ceasefire, which made an estimated $6.6 million through Christmas. Earlier this month, Animal opened to $6.4 million in its first three days with a fuller slate of Sunday screenings and ended up grossing $13.6 million. Yash Raj’s release of Dunki in 686 theaters itself grossed $2.6 million through Christmas Eve and $3.7 million through Christmas, giving it a total of $4.6 million since Thursday. Toho International’s Godzilla Minus One, smartly foregoing a single weekend release, has now grossed over $40 million after racking up another $3.2 million through the holidays in its fourth weekend. This has turned into one of the highest-grossing non-English releases ever in North America, and this week it made the short list for visual effects qualifiers for the Oscars. Hold it through the season and watch it approach $50 million. It has made another $33.8 million internationally to date.

Expanding its run into 800 theaters, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things made $2.09 million over the weekend, running its total up to around $6 million. That is better than Searchlight’s release of last year’s The Banshees of Inisherin, which moved into 895 theaters in its third week and grossed $2.05 million. Lanthimos’ previous film, The Favourite, had grossed $3.54 million after 17 days but did not have a wide release until its fifth week. Interest in Poor Things will increase as awards season continues to chug along. Searchlight also opened Andrew Haigh’s All of Us Strangers this weekend to $119,000 in four theaters. The $29,750 per-theater average is just outside of the 10 best of the year.

Still in limited release is Amazon/MGM’s American Fiction. The literary satire from first-time feature director Cord Jefferson grossed $429,000 in 33 theaters over the weekend and $592,000 through Christmas in 40 theaters. It has grossed nearly a million in its first 11 days and will be expanding further. Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest from A24 grossed $90,000 over the weekend and through Christmas is expected to be around $350,000 to date. Finally, Ketchup Entertainment’s release of Memory with Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard grossed $36,500 in just two theaters.

Full List of Box Office Results: December 22-25, 2023

  • $27.7 million (3-day) / $38.3 million (4-day); $38.3 million total

  • $18 million (3-day) / $28 million (4-day); $85.5 million total

  • $0 (3-day) / $18 million (4-day); $18 million total

  • $12.4 million (3-day) / $17.5 million (4-day); $17.5 million total

  • $6 million (3-day) / $8 million (4-day); $8 million total

  • $5 million (3-day) / $6.8 million (4-day); $6.8 million total

  • $5.4 million (3-day) / $6.6 million (4-day); $6.6 million total

  • $0 (3-day) / $5.7 million (4-day); $5.7 million total

  • $2.6 million (3-day) / $3.7 million (4-day); $3.7 million total

  • $3.15 million (3-day) / $3.6 million (4-day); $30.1 million total

  • $3.05 million (3-day) / $4 million (4-day); $153.3 million total

Erik Childress can be heard each week evaluating box office on Business First AM with Angela Miles and his Movie Madness Podcast.

[box office figures via Box Office Mojo]

Thumbnail image by ©Warner Bros. Studios

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