Dec 9, 2021 • 6M

THB #51: A December To Remember?

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West Side Story
National Champions
Nightmare Alley
Spider-Man: No Way Home
Sing 2
The King’s Man
The Matrix Resurrections
A Journal For Jordan
American Underdog


In terms of the box office, this is the entirety of your next 3 weeks. Nine wide releases (in order of release). The densest pack of wide-release titles in 21 months.

And the only one in the industry’s comfort zone is Spidey… though predictions on his success make him scary too. If Spider-Man: No Way Home doesn’t open to $100 million and get close to $1 billion worldwide by the end, the negativity drumbeat will not only continue, but get louder. (There are some crazy projections out there of it opening to $200m domestic and $500m worldwide next weekend… that’s a lot of Kool-Aid… almost like someone wants to make sure the opening is seen as a failure.)

First out of the box, tonight, tonight, is West Side Story and, let’s not forget, National Champions. No one in Los Angeles wants to see National Champions pull a flyover surprise and top the Spielberg epic musical this weekend. Unlikely to happen. But unlikely has been a popular character this long COVID season.

The Penskes are doing their best to promote the Disney hopes for the film. It’s getting to be a weekly event for those of us who watch the box office to see Pam, Tony, and Becs stake out slightly different turf on the same story. They could be the cousin world leaders of the upcoming The King’s Man, played by the same actor with different hair and body padding.

But what The Penskes can’t spin away from is the $10m - $15m tracking on the movie, opening tonight, tonight. (In the spirit of the joke, I did it twice.)

This weekend, the 2nd weekend of December, #50, is not just another weekend, historically. This is when you release a Christmas-period movie that you expect to play hard for 3 full weeks or at least 2 full weeks and a big added weekend. Jumanji: The Next Level, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi were the openers in this slot in the 3 years before the pandemic.

To be fair, there can be some variety in this. Sometimes, studios wait to put out their biggest guns on Weekend #51. And indeed, Spider-Man is coming out on that weekend this year.

Searchlight seems to be pushing the commercial-first button on Nightmare Alley, opening wide, but it’s a tough one to win. The movie and its dark soul is a lot more fun than many would suspect. But “the kids” don’t want to know from “noir." The Real Guillermo’s last directorial effort won Best Picture, but didn’t go wide until after it was nominated. That was 8 weeks of staying under 1000 screens, for those of you scoring at home. The couple films before that (Crimson Peak and Pacific Rim) launched wide via Universal. But those sells were much more traditional, horror and big action.

I expect Nightmare to get a bunch of Oscar nominations. It’s December box office will likely be a distant memory when that happens, unless it rises to unexpected heights.

The following weekend offers the unusual sight of a sequel, a three-quel and a four-quel, all rolling out next to one another. Sing 2 will likely over-deliver, as the original did. Sing managed $166 million domestic by the end of the New Year’s holiday. I don’t think we will see that this time…but $100 million is realistic and being the highest grossing (domestic) animated film of 2021 is pretty much assured, though Encanto should become the top animated film by the end of this weekend and moving forward.

I personally think the angle that has become accepted about family films being trouble is iffy, at best. I’m glad Encanto opened theatrical-first, but it was clear in October that the push wasn’t as intense as it has been for previous Disney Thanksgiving hits. But behind that, a series of Disney animated films - their hallmark - pushed to streaming or available on both.

Aside from that, since July, it’s been animation aimed at younger children. And when live-action family films got good word of mouth, you got Shang-Chi and before it - though it will have a lot more juice in post-theatrical than the box office would suggest - Free Guy.

The King’s Man is the most sophisticated of the Kingsman movies from Matthew Vaughn. Vaughn’s vision for a franchise has proven to be to lean away from repeating himself at all. So while The King’s Man has some great action sequences and some larger-than-life performances that kill, it’s more 1970s than 2020s. I will watch the box office results with wide eyes.

That leaves Matrix Resurrections as the last of the biggies. And I just don’t know. It’s easy to imagine passionate Matrix people coming out in droves, hoping to have their minds blown again. But with the film as the last Kilar day-n-disaster movie, will a lot of potential ticket buyers try it out and then decide whether they need to go to a theater to see it properly? I don’t see that as a winning proposition. And frankly, I don’t know why Warner Media is sticking with this failed strategy to the bitter end… except that they likely already paid a lot of people off to let it happen. Their team has 3 months until The Batman launches only in cinemas. This should have been the warm-up. That is, unless they think it sucks and would wilt in the heat. I don’t know… haven’t seen it. But I still have the memory of the first Matrix being released and the studio giving it a March 31 release date and not realizing what a monster they had on their hands. Cost them $100 million domestic easy, imo.

And… you have your 2 inspirational football movies (National Championship and American Underdog) and A Journal For Jordan, which is a drama with a big star and a big star director but which seems to be very targeted for a very small audience.

I don’t expect that this will be a December to remember at the box office. We may see some new “records” for the pandemic era. And there are good movies to see. But the month is short a tentpole.

Looking at the release calendar, it is still my contention that there isn’t going to be anything looking at all like “normal” until the summer. That is when the level of product and the density of the release schedule will look “normal” for the first time.

Until tomorrow…