Moviegoers had a wide range of options over Christmas weekend with four new major studio releases opening on Friday. Exhibitors looked forward to welcoming diverse audiences to see AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM (Superhero), MIGRATION (Family Animated), THE IRON CLAW (Sports), and ANYONE BUT YOU (Romcom).
It is also important to note that the box office was somewhat dampened by Christmas Eve falling on a weekend day at a time when the families’ activities begin to take over the agenda and some theatres close in the early evening. This year’s Christmas Eve was on Sunday, whereas last year was on Saturday. Our discussion of the weekend results needs to take this into account, with the possibility that lower grosses this weekend may be compensated by an uptick next weekend.
Last weekend, WONKA’s three-day gross of $39.0M could not hold a candle to the $134.1M last year from the opening of AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER. This led to a huge disparity in the comparison of the total box office for all titles, with Weekend 50 from 2023 coming in at $77.8M, which was only 51% of the $153.3M brought in during the same weekend in 2022.
The gap between the two years closed significantly this weekend, with AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM opening to $28.1M and all films together earning $94.6M, or 99% of last year’s $95.1M. Three more movies will open on Monday, Christmas Day, including THE COLOR PURPLE, FERRARI, and THE BOYS IN THE BOAT. With all these options, next weekend is primed to close out the year on a high note. We predict that the annual box office for 2023 will beat 2022 by 20%.
Warner Bros.’ AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM finished in first place with $28.1M in its opening weekend. The fifteenth and final installment of the DC Extended Universe is a sequel to the original AQUAMAN that opened five years ago on December 22, 2018.
That movie did $67.9M in its opening weekend and went on to earn $335.4M domestic and $1.2B worldwide. While this weekend’s opening met current expectations, it continued the pattern of Superhero movies in 2023 coming in far below similar titles from yesteryear.
WONKA finished in second with $17.7M, showing a decline of 55% from last weekend’s opening numbers. Warner Bros.’s first and second-place finish this weekend keeps the studio in the lead for market share in 2023. Together with Monday’s opening of THE COLOR PURPLE, WB is ending the year with a powerful trifecta of titles.
Universal’s MIGRATION grabbed third place by taking in $12.3M in its first three days. The newest animated entry from Illumination follows a family of ducks whose young members convince their overprotective father to go on a vacation of a lifetime, flying from New England to the Bahamas but on the way, they are forced to navigate the New York skyline to prove that they have what it takes.
The movie was directed by Oscar-nominee Benjamin Renner and is based on an original screenplay by Mike White (SCHOOL OF ROCK and WHITE LOTUS). The characters are voiced by Elizabeth Banks, Awkwafina, Danny DeVito, and Keegan-Michael Key. It has received a lukewarm response from reviewers, who gave it a so-so 69% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, but moviegoers have been more positive with an 85% audience score.
While Universal may have wanted more from MIGRATION’s opening, it’s worth noting that Universal saw only $12.4M last year on the same weekend as the opening of PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH. That film went on to gross $185.5M domestic, which is a stunning 15x multiple of its opening weekend, compared to the industry average of between 2.5x and 3x.
MIGRATION will most likely wind up as a profitable venture, after spending only $72M on its production, modest for an animated title. Universal will be very pleased if the opening weekend multiple for MIGRATION winds up anywhere close to that of PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH.
Sony’s ANYONE BUT YOU sold $6.2M in tickets this weekend, good enough for a fourth-place finish. The edgy Romcom revolves around two people who think they are made for each other after their amazing first date, but later struggle to survive the tribulations of a destination wedding in Australia. The film stars Sydney Sweeney, Glen Powell, Rachel Griffiths, and Dermot Mulroney.
Critics don’t care much for it, giving a 47% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but the general public enjoyed its witty banter, giving it an 86% audience score. The film was made on a production budget of only $25M and given the productive moviegoing stretch over the next two weeks it will almost certainly make its way to profitability.
Finishing in fifth place is SALAAR: PART 1 – CEASEFIRE was able to capture $5.5M. This film from India was released in the U.S. and Canada by Morksha Movies and Prathyangira Cinemas and played at 802 theatres in its opening. This is the fourth consecutive weekend that at least one film from Japan or India placed in the domestic top five.
It tells the story of the steps taken by a gang leader to avenge the murder of his friend by an opposing gang. The success of this film could have been predicted after its teaser trailer had more than 83 million views in 24 hours after its teaser trailer dropped on July 6th, breaking all records for an Indian film.
The final wide opening this week was A24’s THE IRON CLAW, which earned $5.0M and a sixth-place finish. The story of the film centers on the Von Erich family, a dynasty of professional wrestlers, who enjoyed enormous success in the 1980’s by popularizing the “Iron Claw” wrestling hold.
Not only did they battle in the ring but they also faced numerous personal tragedies that spawned the expression the “Von Erich Curse.” The film stars Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, and Maura Tierney. The R-rated movie has been compared to Fox Searchlight’s THE WRESTLER from 2008, which starred Mickey Rourke and Marissa Tomei who were both nominated for Academy Awards.
THE WRESTLER opened on December 17th in only four theatres and grew through a very slow expansion to reach its peak on February 27, 2009, at 776 locations. This slow-roll strategy yielded a domestic gross of $26.2M. A24 is no stranger to platform releasing but decided to open THE IRON CLAW at 2,771 theatres, thinking this would be the best approach for this film this year. With a production budget of only $16M, it will most likely be a profitable project, as the film will remain on most screens through mid-January.
Where Are We as of 12/21
After 50 weeks, the 2023 year-to-date box office stands at 122% compared with the same point in 2022 and 82% of the numbers from 2019.