‘Grinch,’ ‘Fantastic Beasts’ and ‘Aquaman’ Expected to End Holiday Box Office Streak
Without question, 2018 has cemented its fair share of box office history over the course of the past 10 months. Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ $248 million opening weekend record was taken down in April with a snap of the fingers, thanks to Avengers: Infinity War ($257.7 million). Back in February, Marvel’s Black Panther defied any and all expectations, becoming the first superhero film to pass $700 million domestically. Pixar’s Incredibles 2 broke new box office ground for animation, becoming the first animated film to surpass not only $500 million, but $600 million as well. With that being said, the 2018 holiday box office may end a momentous 12 months with a unfortunate, deflated finish.
Since 2009, the holiday box office has transformed into a major summer event season. Granted, November and December have always pushed blockbuster hits – How the Grinch Stole Christmas ($55.1 million), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone ($90.3 million) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ($72.6 million) for starters. With the one exception of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in 2005, those two lucrative months wouldn’t see any film opening over the century mark until 2009. December would have to wait six more years until Star Wars: The Force Awakens shattered box office records in 2015.
Consistent years of The Twilight Saga, The Hunger Games and Star Wars guaranteed $100 openers at the holiday box office every year. Until 2013, Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment owned the top three November openings with its YA vampire series. The Twilight Saga: New Moon ($142.8 million), The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 ($138.1 million) and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 ($141.1 million) were all quick wins for Lionsgate and Summit over Thanksgiving weekend between 2009 and 2012. Interest shifted gears as the final three Hunger Games films became the event film of the holiday. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ($158.1 million), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 ($121.9 million) and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 ($102.7 million) were all successful between 2013 and 2015. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 ($125.0 million) and Thor: Ragnarok ($122.7 million) also joined the $100 million club back in 2010 and 2017 respectively.
December is a bit simpler. Since Disney’s relaunch of Star Wars, the 41-year-old franchise became an even greater juggernaut than its traditional Memorial Day release. The success of The Force Awakens speaks for itself, still the highest-grossing film of all-time with $936.7 million. While not as massive, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ($155.1 million) and Star Wars: The Last Jedi ($220.0 million) second and third-largest debuts for the never-ending space opera. This year’s Solo: A Star Wars Story ($84.4 million) broke the recent mold, reverting back to a Memorial Day release. Between a lack of holiday box office legs, backlash from The Last Jedi and neck-breaking six-month turnaround, Solo became the lowest-grossing film in the series, finishing with $213.8 million domestically. Without a Star Wars film or major franchise in the holiday fold, there is a good possibility we may lack one more $100 million opener in 2018.
Now, by no means am I saying the 2018 holiday box office is doomed. At least three films will have issues finishing above $200 million, but we’re just lacking the expected “event film” that seemed so commonplace over the past decade. Even if no film can manage a $100 million opening over the next two months, there will surely be some sort of recent holiday box office shocker like The Greatest Showman, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Sing or La La Land to have the pundits talking. My money is on either Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse or Mary Poppins Returns legging it out into 2019. Again, that’s just a gut feeling, but we’ll see how everything plays out in the final two months of 2018. To be fair, there’s only four films left that stand a chance at drawing in the massive crowds on opening weekend this holiday season.
Back in 2000, How the Grinch Stole Christmas was the fourth-biggest opener ever. Only behind The Lost World: Jurassic Park ($72.1 million), Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace ($64.8 million) and Toy Story 2 ($57.4 million), The Grinch packed theaters over Thanksgiving and Christmas 18 years ago. Illumination Entertainment’s bringing the iconic holiday meanie back to the big screen on November 10th for a new generation. With the exception of 2011’s Hop, Illumination Entertainment continues to strike gold again and again with its animated releases grossing at least $200 million. Illumination is no stranger to opening over $100 million with Minions ($115.7 million) and The Secret Life of Pets ($104.4 million) surpassing expectations in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Can The Grinch rack up similar numbers? Besides The Nutcracker and the Four Realms opening one week prior, The Grinch has complete reign over the family-friendly audience. Smallfoot and Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween performed decently in the past six weeks. Sadly, there hasn’t been much competition since Incredibles 2 and Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. Even as the de-facto family film in two weeks, is it way too early to be thinking about Christmas? Early-released Christmas films such as Elf ($31.1 million), The Polar Express ($23.3 million), A Christmas Carol ($30.1 million) tend to get off to a moderate stuff then leg out throughout November and December. Even opening somewhere between $60-80 million, The Grinch could follow suit (and not just a red and white one).
One week after The Grinch, we venture back into the Wizarding World with Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. While Harry Potter fandom is still very much alive, 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them may have been a low point for the series. Debuting with a franchise-low $74.4 million, the first Fantastic Beasts chapter failed to conjure up the typical Potter numbers. Reviews, albeit positive for the most part, were less enthusiastic than with the previous eight films. The Crimes of Grindelwald offers some redemption for the franchise, bridging the gap between the two wizard eras. From the trailers, we get to see a younger Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), Voldemort’s pet snake Nagini in human form and even our beloved Hogwarts. Those Potter vibes absent in Fantastic Beasts appear to be coming back in the second installment. Does that spell well for success at the holiday box office? Deadline is anticipating a lower turnout that the first film. Opening anywhere between $65-75 million seems to be in the cards for The Crimes of Grindelwald. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Sequels tend to drop off in a second outing. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets dipped 3% from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug dropped 13% from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey one year prior. Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s drop from The Force Awakens was equally similar, down 12%. With three chapter remaining, hopefully the Fantastic Beasts pentalogy can keep the momentum going to a potential 2024 finish.
Once The Crimes of Grindelwald tries to work some magic on the holiday box office, Disney will put all its focus on Thanksgiving weekend. With Ralph Breaks the Internet, Disney is hoping for another holiday win. Since the second Disney Renaissance started, the studio has had incredible success over the holiday weekend. Tangled ($48.8 million), Frozen ($67.4 million) and Moana ($56.6 million) capitalized on the Thanksgiving release date without any issue. Even earlier November releases such as Wreck-It Ralph ($49.0 million) and Big Hero 6 ($56.2 million) found plenty of success. Yes, it’s been six years since Wreck-It Ralph and full of less cynical Internet gags than The Emoji Movie, but Ralph Breaks the Internet will be another big win for Disney. More than likely, Ralph Break the Internet will play exactly like the other Disney films, opening between $50-60 million. The long-haul three-way race between The Grinch, Ralph Breaks the Internet and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse will certainly be an interesting follow. A $200 million run is do-able, but we can’t expect a breakout opening come Thanksgiving weekend. Opening on Wednesday alone with spread the wealth over the extended five-day weekend.
If 2018 has one final shot at a major holiday box office debut, it’d be down to Aquaman. Even crowded by Mary Poppins Returns and Bumblebee released in the same weekend, the DC faithful will turn out for Super Khal Drogo. In all seriousness, Aquaman’s been on the radar since his brief introduction in 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Given more screen time in Justice League one year later, audiences witnessed what Jason Mamoa could do with the character. Tracking Aquaman is rather tricky. With the exception of Justice League ($93.8 million), opening above $100 million was the standard for the DC Extended Universe. Currently, Aquaman is tracking between $40-60 million. On the surface, that’s seems like franchise collapse for the DCEU and doesn’t bode well for Shazam! next April as well. What will save Aquaman in the long run are those holiday box office legs. Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, every day at the box office plays like a Saturday. A smaller start shouldn’t cause for worry. Optimistically, Aquaman could open at $80 million and rival The Grinch as the biggest film left in 2018.
It’s disappointing that the remainder of 2018 lacks that ultimate event film we’ve been accustomed to in recent years. Even with a handful of $200 million hits as well as smaller $100 million hits, there’s still plenty of energy left between now and the year. Perhaps Bohemian Rhapsody, Creed II and Mary Poppins Returns will fill in the missing pieces where 2018’s bigger holiday blockbusters will overlook. At least, we won’t have to have this discussion next year with Star Wars Episode IX due out next December.