Surprising as it may be, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — if the estimates hold — just had the best opening ever for an animated film in December. That is in no way meant to be a slight on its quality. After all, we are talking about a film with a 97% on the Tomatometer, a number reached — or surpassed — by only four other films that received a launch in over 3,700 theaters – Paddington 2, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, and Black Panther. Not bad company as audiences prepare to settle the film in for a nice run through the holiday season.
Without looking, it would have been easy to assume that some animated title would have a massive opening this month. Most of them tend to get out early before the Thanksgiving holiday, which opened the door for Sing to grab the top spot for an animated film with a $35.2 million back in December of 2016. Now the mantle has been taken by Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with a $36 million opening. Films opening between $30-40 million this month have averaged a final haul of $171 million. Sing’s $250 million is a big part of that, as is last year’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which finished with over $400 million. Scott Derrickson’s The Day the Earth Stood Still remake in 2008 is the only one to finish with less than $100 million ($79.3 million, to be precise). Spider-Verse will have some challengers opening this week, but this is still likely to be a top choice over at least one of them in the long run. Only the Hotel Transylvania films have opened better for Sony in their animation department, though if Spider-Verse can best the aforementioned average, it will pass all of them to become their biggest success to date.
There is no way around the Mortal Engines numbers. They are abysmal, and we’re not talking about just the 28% it received on the Tomatometer. It has joined the list of bottom five December films opening in 3,000 theaters, a list that now looks like this:
Thanks to the holiday season playing out the way it does, those other films finished between $31 and $40.1 million. Mortal Engines, however, is the most expensive among them, with a budget of $100 million (Walking with Dinosaurs cost $80 million). Suggesting that this is the flop of the year might make for juicy headlines, but it simply is not the case. Mortal Engines could have made two cents this weekend and both A Wrinkle in Time and Solo: A Star Wars Story would have lost more money. It is not even the worst domestic opening vs. its overall production budget. In other words, yes, it is bad and it is a bit embarrassing, but look at the broader picture.
The Peter Jackson production could still be saved with a decent international haul (it has made $19.3 million so far). But it shows the peril of trying to mount an expensive fantasy production in this day and age that did not come from the mind of George Lucas or the pages of comic books. Even adaptations such as John Carter, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and Ghost in the Shell failed to generate enough interest with American audiences. Universal has also had their issues over the years (including 1995’s Waterworld) with failed attempts at Robin Hood (2010) & Peter Pan (2003), but also more recently with 47 Ronin, Cowboys & Aliens, The Great Wall, and their attempts at reimagining or rebooting their classic monster series (Van Helsing, The Wolfman, and The Mummy). Universal has had an otherwise solid year with big hits like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Halloween, and Fifty Shades Freed (see a pattern?), but they are likely preparing Mortal Engines to join Pacific Rim Uprising and Skyscraper in the red column for 2018.
Clint Eastwood is in front of the camera for the first time since 2012’s Trouble with the Curve this weekend, and despite Warner Bros. almost going out of their way not to campaign the film for awards and keep it from critics as long as possible, it still managed to squeak by with a score of 63%. The $17.2 million opening for The Mule (63%) is actually Eastwood’s third best of any movie he’s starred in. Space Cowboys opened to $18 million in 2000 and Gran Torino, after four weeks of playing in less than 100 screens, exploded to a $29.4 million weekend in January 2009. Since 1990, 23 films have opened in December between $16-20 million and ten of them reached $100 million (four of which were R-rated Best Picture nominees, including Jerry Maguire, The Green Mile, and The Wolf of Wall Street). We will know better next week whether it can come close to the $90.6 million average final gross of those 23 films or even join Gran Torino, In the Line of Fire, Unforgiven, and Million Dollar Baby as Clint’s $100 million star vehicles.
Meanwhile, Illumination’s The Grinch continues to forge a path to over $270 million with the smallest drop in the Top Ten (23%); Ralph Breaks the Internet has officially fallen behind it on the chart. Disney’s sequel has nearly an identical haul to Bohemian Rhapsody in its first 26 days, and it should still have enough in the tank to at least match the original’s $189 million gross. That Queen movie, though, remains the WOW of the holiday box office with nearly $609 million worldwide. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is not far behind with $575 million, though both are likely to be eclipsed by Mary Poppins Returns and Aquaman, which has already grossed over $263 million internationally.
The PG-13 alternate cut of Deadpool 2, Once Upon a Deadpool, has grossed $3.8 million since it opened on Wednesday. Fox nearly made as much this weekend with The Favourite (just $30,000 less than Deadpool) and its total is up to $6.7 million after expanding into 439 theaters. Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of If Beale Street Could Talk is opening to $219,174 in just four theaters. Its $54,794 per-theater average is the fifth best of 2018 after Suspiria ($92,019), Eighth Grade ($65.949), Isle of Dogs ($60,011), and Avengers: Infinity War ($57,599)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi had the second largest opening weekend of all-time with $220 million. It became the sixth highest-grossing film of all time. (It is now 8th thanks to Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War this year.) Fox’s animated Ferdinand was a very decent second with $13.4 million while Coco was passing the $150 million mark. The remainder of the top ten grossed a grand total of $47.1 million, but thanks to the power of the Force, last year’s haul beat this weekend’s take $267.1 million to $102.8 million. With five films at over 90% on the Tomatometer, last year’s Top Ten averaged 74.4% while this year’s is currently averaging 65%.
A busy week is descending upon your local theater. Mary Poppins Returns heads into theaters on Wednesday; it may lose the battle for the weekend when Aquaman opens two days later, but could ultimately win the war for the top spot at the holiday box office. Transformers prequel/reboot/more-family-friendly adventure Bumblebee could end up being the most liked film in the series by critics but the least successful one to boot. Jennifer Lopez returns on screen for the first time since 2015 in Second Act, and Universal is taking a somewhat limited approach to Robert Zemeckis’ Welcome to Marwen with Steve Carell, based on the true-life inspiration of the documentary, Marwencol. Also on Monday, look for Peter Jackson’s WWII documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old.
[box office figures via Box Office Mojo]