Guess what, folks. Eight movies are scheduled for wide release between December 15th and Christmas Day. That’s a far cry from the four that we got last year. And that doesn’t even include films likely to expand wide from a platform release. Talk about a wealth of riches.
Truth be told, eight wide releases is more like the norm. Last year, most of the studios skipped the holidays for fear of being steamrolled by AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER. Speaking of, the previous two holiday seasons were dominated by a single film. AVATAR last year and SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME in 2021.
This year, the dollars should be more evenly dispersed. No single film looks to dominate like the last two years.
When it comes to forecasting late December releases, we focus on total gross rather than opening weekend. We do that because that corridor is so crowded that openings tend to be suppressed. Also, some films open on Christmas Day, which can fall on any day of the week. That completely disrupts the typical Friday – Sunday opening weekend we’re used to.
Plus, the stretch between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day behaves much like a protracted nine-day weekend, meaning lower openings can convert to large totals. The multiples go way up.
Pre-pandemic, the holiday films fell into one of four categories. Typically, one or two titles become breakout blockbusters, totaling over $200M. The next category down were the solid hits that made over $100M. There are usually two to four of those. The “Meh” group consists of films earning $50-$99M. Then there are the soft performers that failed to reach $50M.
These are not hard and fast labels; budget has to be factored in. For example, in 2018, SECOND ACT made $39M on a $16M budget. That’s not a bad return. Though it falls into the “soft” category, the name doesn’t necessarily apply to that film. Still, the framework mostly holds up.
With that construct in mind, how are the eight holiday releases looking today?
In early August, we noted that Warner Bros. was in an excellent position to dominate the holiday box office. Is that still true? How has the tracking changed for this year’s crop of eight titles?
Let’s start by looking at awareness. Indeed, Warner Bros. still looks strong with WONKA, AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM, and THE COLOR PURPLE. Awareness for PURPLE has been flat since early August, but WONKA is up ten points, and KINGDOM has added four points thanks to the recent release of the long-awaited trailer and poster.
Further down, MIGRATION saw a nice uptick in awareness, adding six points. And FERRARI saw a modest gain thanks to its trailer, though we are still waiting on that one-sheet. Note to Neon: awareness increases when moviegoers see key art in theaters.
The other three films, none of which have trailers or posters, haven’t moved in the past seven weeks.
On the interest side, Warner Bros. still owns the top three, though the race for #3 is close. AQUAMAN not only saw a four-point gain in awareness but also an identical gain in interest. As for FERRARI, the increases in awareness were modest, but interest jumped an impressive five points.
With this tracking data in mind, how might these eight films land in the categories outlined above?
BLOCKBUSTER ($200M+ Total Domestic Gross)
The first AQUAMAN grossed $335M during the holidays in 2018. Yes, DC does appear somewhat diminished on the heels of BLACK ADAM, THE FLASH, and BLUE BEETLE. And, the late campaign launch for KINGDOM doesn’t instill confidence. But, it would be shocking if KINGDOM couldn’t at least break $200M, or just 60% of the first one.
Tracking for WONKA has been strong since it first arrived on tracking. It ranks 2nd in awareness and 3rd in interest among all the films currently being tracked by The Quorum. Therefore, we think it has a shot at joining Blockbuster status. In fact, we wouldn’t rule it out as the top film of the holiday season.
SOLID HITS ($100M – $199M Total Domestic Gross)
Let’s talk about Illumination. From DESPICABLE ME and the MINIONS to SING and THE SUPER MARIO BROS MOVIE, all Illumination titles have grossed over $100M. Only three of their 13 titles have made less than $200M. So why isn’t MIGRATION listed among the BLOCKBUSTER group? Mainly because the tracking has been somewhat muted and it’s original IP. Betting against Illumination is foolish. And if tracking picks up, it could easily jump to the Blockbuster category. But for now, we have it performing under $200M.
If you’ve seen the trailer for THE COLOR PURPLE, you know this film is stacked with superstar talent in front of and behind the camera. The original was nominated for 11 Academy Awards nominations but walked away empty-handed. There’s reason to believe this version could finally bring home some hardware. If it plays through the award season, it could easily top $100M
MEH ($50M – $99M Total Domestic Gross)
Michael Mann is one of our greatest directors. But even prestige filmmakers can struggle during the holidays. Just look at Ridley Scott, who’s ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD made only $25M during the 2017 holiday season. Still, there is a groundswell of interest in FERRARI, which suggests it could cross $50M in total.
SOFT (<$50M Total Domestic Gross)
The remaining three films, ANYONE BUT YOU, THE IRON CLAW, and THE BOYS IN THE BOAT, look poised to land in the bottom category. That doesn’t mean they won’t be financial successes. These are likely lower budget titles. It’s more a question of real estate. Not every film is going to succeed during the holidays. We see year after year that nearly half the holiday releases make less than $50M. The lack of a campaign already puts these films at a disadvantage.
That’s where things stand now. We will revisit this in the coming weeks with an eye towards how these projections change once the remaining films release material. As we look at these films, it’s exciting to see the dollars being spread out more than in the last two holiday seasons. Let’s toast to more winners this year.