Written by Dapo Olowu
It’s Christmas time, and the Box Office bells aren’t so much jingling than crashing in with a deafening roar as a record eight new wide releases sound in the weekend.
We start with Disney’s ‘Mary Poppins Returns’, the big-budget sequel to Robert Stevenson’s 1964 classic. Over half a century after ‘Mary Poppins’ wowed the world, Disney faces the joint task of appealing to the original fans while introducing a new generation of youngsters to the magic of P. L. Travers’ creation.
The mega-studio seem to be appealing to all so far, with the film earning a solid 77% on the Tomatometer, alongside an A- on Cinemascore. ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ $4.8m Wednesday opening may insignificant next to its hulking $130m budget, but we mustn’t forget how ‘The Greatest Showman’s entire opening weekend of just $8.8m preceded a whopping $174.3m total this time last year. A leggy run is possible, especially for a well-received family musical released at Christmas.
Let’s make this clear, however: Rob Marshall’s ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is no ‘Greatest Showman’. It’s Friday to Sunday opening, for one, is more likely to finish in the $35m region than below $10m (similar to ‘A Wrinkle in Time’), and won’t have the extraordinary 20x opening weekend multiplier that ‘Greatest Showman’ had.
Still, the film, which sees Poppins (Emily Blunt) return to the Banks’ (Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer) after 30 years, will hope that Mary’s counter-programming magic will see it defeat Paramount’s ‘Bumblebee’ for second place this weekend, behind James Wan’s ‘Aquaman’.
Both ‘Aquaman’ and ‘Bumblebee’ enter U.S. cinemas looking to become the catalysts for their respective franchise’s revivals. Both come from properties struggling in recent years, where their latest releases barely made over $600m from $200m+ budgets. While the DCEU still has a breath of fresh air in ‘Wonder Woman’, the name ‘Transformers’ became Box Office poison after last summer’s ‘The Last Knight’ grossed half a billion less than its 2014 predecessor.
‘Aquaman’s position is much less precarious than ‘Bumblebee’s. After last year’s ‘Justice League’ earned a disappointing $657.9m worldwide off a $300m budget, ‘Aquaman’ has seemingly bounced the DCEU back from the brink, already grossing $332m outside the U.S. in a matter of weeks, including a Warner Bros best $209.5m from China. The film has set its sights seriously on becoming the first DC movie since ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ to hit $1bn.
‘Bumblebee’, on the other hand, has had to completely reboot the franchise and even remove all mention of ‘Transformers’ from its name, an indication of Paramount’s intention to start anew.
It isn’t just the name that’s different. For the first time, a ‘Transformers’ film is critically adored (not that that’s ever affected its Box Office takings), with ‘Bumblebee’ boasting a franchise-best 94% on the Tomatometer. Similarly, ‘Aquaman’ is getting the plaudits with 64% (and an audience score of 86%) – only behind ‘Wonder Woman’ in the DCEU’s best reviews films. The film is a continuation of the events in ‘Justice League’, and sees Jason Momoa as the title character, who must fight his half-brother on behalf of the surface world.
While it’s clear that ‘Aquaman’ will top the Box Office with ease this weekend, with around $83m from Friday to Sunday (just over ‘Venom’s $80m from October), forecasting ‘Bumblebee’s performance remains a bit of a mystery. It doesn’t benefit from the counter-programming of a Disney musical like ‘Mary Poppins Returns’, but instead appeals to a very similar demographic to ‘Aquaman’, as both aim to please those looking for big-budget spectacle over the holidays.
‘Bumblebee’ sees Hailee Steinfeld as Charlie, who befriends and must protect the aforementioned Autobot Transformer against agent Jack Burns (John Cena) of Sector 7, a government agency that investigates aliens on earth.
Its interesting premise won’t necessarily translate into high Box Office takings in its first weekend with just $26m, but Paramount can bank on the film to restore some faith in the failing franchise in coming weeks to potentially push the film into profitability. Remember, if ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ could finish on $404.5m after opening to $36.2m, there’s hope for ‘Bumblebee’ yet.
Jennifer Lopez-fronted rom-com ‘Second Act’ looks to finish STX Films’ torrid time at the Box Office this year on a high note with a $10m opening, similar to that of ‘Love Simon’ ($11.8m) and ‘Aloha’ ($9.7m). Benefiting from half the budget of STX’s biggest domestic grosser of the year ‘I Feel Pretty’, ‘Second Act’ should find little trouble in at least breaking even by the time its theatrical run is done.
A flop was always expected with such a high number of new releases, and in this case, it falls to the ‘Downsizing’ of 2018, ‘Welcome to Marwen’, starring Steve Carrell and directed by Robert Zemeckis. Made on inflated $39m budget, we’re forecasting this to open below last Christmas’ ‘Downsizing’ ($5m), at around $4.3m.
Finally, period dramas ‘The Favourite’ and ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ hit 800 cinemas each in their wide releases, but won’t trouble the top ten, earning around $2m each. War documentary ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ opened on a special one-day release on Monday to $2.3m, and will be re-released on the December 27th.