‘Star Wars’ and ‘Jumanji’ Sequels Dominate Holiday Box Office

“1917” also got a strong start in limited play.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” (Disney) dominated initial holiday grosses, combined with family-friendly “Jumanji: The Next Wave” (Sony) doing more than half the business of the past two days. Among new releases, Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” (Sony) looks biggest so far, with initial reaction suggesting a possible lengthy run and significant returns at the high end of prognostications.

1917” (Universal) got off to a strong start in initial limited engagements, buttressing its legitimacy as a top awards contender. “Just Mercy” (Warner Bros.) played in fewer theaters, but looks to have decent starting interest.

While Christmas Day grosses get the attention, distributors and exhibitors know the day after Christmas reveals what’s really going on. December 25 is an anomaly — top-heavy with families and special events. December 26 often gives a better view of what the eventual results will be, with early word of mouth kicking in and more regular moviegoers making their choices.

Two-day totals for all films came in a little over $140 million. That compares to $127 million last year. The difference of $13 million and then some can be ascribed to “The Rise of Skywalker.” Its two-day $63 million is $24 million better than last year’s number one, “Aquaman,” achieved over the same span.

The small increase over last year is somewhat less than originally hoped for, mainly due to the weaker-than-expected showings for three newer titles — “Cats” (Universal), “Bombshell” (Lionsgate), and “Richard Jewell” (Warner Bros.), all on the mediocre-to-worse side of the equation, and not so far rebounding.

Results shifted a little between the days, and the weekend ahead could reshape the order somewhat. But here’s where things stand so far.

"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker"

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

Disney

Top 10 Grosses, Combined Wednesday & Thursday

1. “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” (Disney) $62.7 million in 4,406 theaters, total $289.7 (Weds #1 – $32.2, Thurs #1 – $30.5)

The latest “Star Wars” entry, just now completing its first week, ruled. Comparing December 25-26 grosses with 2017’s “The Last Jedi” make this look terrific — that film did $55 million for the same period. But there’s an important caveat so far unreported. With a December 15 release date, “Jedi” already had its second weekend prior to the holiday two years ago, and through December 26 was at $423 million, or $133 million more at this point.

The B+ Cinemascore and 25% opening weekend drop for “Skywalker” vs. “Jedi” made some suspect of the staying power for J.J. Abrams’ film. Christmas has, for the moment, saved the day. But there was more potential business on the holiday for “Skywalker” than “Jedi” given the new film’s December 20 date, and its temporary improvement on the franchise shouldn’t be attributed to interest surging above normal. Still, “Skywalker” looks like it will end up possibly short of $500 million domestic, compared to $620 million for “Jedi.”

2. “Jumanji: The Next Level” (Sony) $23.7 million in 4,227 theaters, total $140.2 (Weds #2 – $12.6, Thurs #2 – 11.1)

Completing its second week, the sequel to this franchise reboot is substantially ahead of the “Welcome to the Jungle” numbers through December 26. It had grossed $89 million through December 26 in 2017. But this opened earlier, with two weekends in before the holiday. The two-day number last time was $36.2 million, more than 50% better. At this point, “Next Level” looks like a strong ultimate performer, but one that will fall substantially short of the $405 million domestic for “Welcome to the Jungle.”

3. “Little Women” (Sony) $12.5 million in 3,308 theaters, total $12.5 (Weds #3 – $6.4, Thurs #3 – $6.1)

Easily the top performer among the Christmas-day wide debuts, and ahead of all the other releases from previous weeks except “Star Wars” and “Jumanji,” this is a better than expected start. Given the film’s non-universal, strongly female appeal, the intense interest among its core potential viewers has initially been realized. No Cinemascore yet — Sony seems to as a policy delay these, though past cases have been positive. But the small drop Thursday for what should have been an elevated Christmas Day title is very encouraging. It will take the weekend and beyond to determine a fair eventual estimate, but so far this looks quite promising.

4. “Frozen 2” (Disney) $9.6 million in 3,265 theaters, total $404.8 (Weds #6 – $4.1, Thurs #4 – $5.5)

With a weekend surge, “Frozen 2” could rise to third place. Meanwhile, its total is approaching what 2013’s original did (adjusted, to this point, around $425 million). That film saw the two days take in $16 million, substantially ahead of the take this time. “Frozen 2″‘s pre-Thanksgiving release took in much more of its gross before the holiday. This still looks on track to reach $500 million.

"Uncut Gems"

“Uncut Gems”

A24

5. “Uncut Gems” (A24) $9.3 million in 2,341 theaters, total $10.4 million (Weds #4 – $5.9, Thurs #6 – $3.4)

This unlikely wide Christmas release seems, so far, to be paying off. Adam Sandler’s portrayal of a besieged Manhattan diamond dealer did much better than expected so far. Its C+ Cinemascore suggests it is polarizing, but don’t take the Thursday drop as a big deal. Among the new releases, it was the only one with Tuesday previews, and its appeal is decidedly not family- or Christmas-friendly. Again, the weekend performance will tell more, but this already looks like it could be headed to $30 million or more, an outstanding result for a more limited-appeal film like this.

6. “Spies in Disguise” (20th Century Fox) $9.0 million in 3,502 theaters, total $9.0 (Weds #5 – $4.1, Thurs #5 – $4.5)

Though at fifth place on Christmas and December 26, this Blue Sky Animation kids’ spy comedy, in combined totals, ended up #6 overall. Expect a higher result for the weekend. Clearly affected by “Skywalker” and “Frozen,” it did achieve an increase of the producers’ “Ferdinand” two years ago. That grossed $6.8 for the two days, but only after having already amassed  $27 million following a release five days earlier that also included a weekend.

7. “Knives Out” (Lionsgate) $6.9 million in 2,002 theaters, total $100.5 (Weds #7 – $3.7, Thurs #7 – $3.4)

This is the stunner in the group. Rian Johnson’s audience-beloved comedy/mystery is holding on to top several high profile Christmas-aimed wide totals — and with a reduced theater count, and facing internal competition for screens from the same company’s “Bombshell.” This now looks like it could reach $125 million or better.

"Cats"

“Cats”

Universa

8. “Cats” (Universal) $3.9 million in 3,380 theaters, total $13.0 (Weds # 8 – $2.1, Thurs #8 – $1.8)

How much interest in this comes from real fans versus the film’s notoriety — and in less than a week — is unclear. The numbers are awful however they have come, with not even the rest of the holidays likely to propel this beyond a $25 million domestic total.

9. “Bombshell” (Lionsgate) $3.6 million in 1,480 theaters; total $10.9 (Weds #9 – $2.0, Thurs #9 0 $1.6)

Disappointing results abound so far for Jay Roach’s top-star retelling of sexual harassment at Fox News. Last year, the similarly appealing “Vice” opened on Christmas with a two-day gross of $7.7 million (though in about 1,000 more theaters). Awards prospects could help, but so far this is not looking like a big-impact film.

10. “Richard Jewell” (Warner Bros.) 2.4 million in 2,502 theaters; total $13.1 (Weds #10 – $1.4, Thurs #10 – $1.0)

The die was already cast for Clint Eastwood’s latest, which despite better reviews than his hit “The Mule” last Christmas, is struggling to make it into the new year. “Mule,” which also had opened earlier, did $8.6 million for the two days.

“1917”

Universal Pictures

Limited openers

“1917” (Universal) – $438,100 in 11 theaters (Weds – $251,262, Thurs  – $186,837)

Sam Mendes’ visually experimental World War I, battleground-set story opened in seven cities — more than the usual two for a platform. The initial results — in some cases seat- and screen-restricted — come to a two-day, per-theater average of $39,827. There aren’t a lot of precedents for this range of cities initially, let alone at Christmas (apart from five theaters  in New York and Los Angeles, this also played two in Dallas, and one each in Washington, Toronto, San Francisco, and Chicago). The expected strong numbers in the two coastal standard markets found one Dallas theater in the top four, but the grosses are strong throughout. For its awards chances as well as an upcoming January 10 wide release, this is an excellent start.

“Just Mercy” (Warner Bros). – $118,072 in 4 theaters (Weds – $81,072, $37,000)

New York and Los Angeles key theater dates for this drama with Michael B. Jordan as a death-row attorney fighting to save the life of inmate Jamie Foxx had a respectable start. The per-theater average of $29,518 is promising, particularly considering the competition. This also expands wide in January.

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