The Quorum

Holiday Box Office Preview

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME looks like a sure thing, but what else will join it at the top of the box office?

The summer box office has wrapped, and the fall equinox has passed, which means it’s time for us to look forward to the holiday box office. This year, there are 11 films that either open or expand wide from December 10th through the end of the year.

If you think it’s too early to be looking at the holiday box office, consider that nine of those 11 films have had trailers released. In other words, for most of them, the material is out there for building awareness.

Before looking at those films, a few historicals. When we discuss the holiday box office, we do so in terms of total gross, not opening weekend. That’s because the window between December 23rd and January 2nd functions like one extended weekend. As a result, holiday releases have huge multiples, well above the 2.8 industry average. 

Before the pandemic, the holiday box office fell into neat clusters. In any given year, there would usually be one or two huge movies that grossed over $200M (in teal). In 2017, we got STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI and JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE. There was only one in 2018 with AQUAMAN, though SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SIDER-VERSE came close. The following year the top two performers were sequels to the top two from 2017.

After that, there would be two or three films that cross $100M (dark green), another two or three that would break $50M (medium green), and the rest fell below $50M (light green). 

What’s unclear is whether those box office thresholds will continue in this pandemic era. There could be two breakout holiday films, but this year a top-tier box office performer may look more like $150M+ rather than $200M+ from previous years. 

So, how do the 2021 holiday films look as of today? As always, we start with awareness. To no one’s surprise, SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME is easily leading the pack at 54. It is in good position to be the highest-grossing film of the holiday season.

If any film is going to dethrone SPIDER-MAN, it will likely come from the three films that currently have awareness in the mid-’30s: THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS, SING 2, or WEST SIDE STORY. But which one?

We get additional clarity when we look at interest.

Again, SPIDER-MAN leads the field with an interest score of 6.4. But right behind that, it’s MATRIX with a 6.2. The other two contenders – SING 2 and WEST SIDE STORY – are in the middle of the pack when it comes to interest. Based on this, MATRIX looks positioned to be the 2nd breakout of the holiday.

But, there are other variables to consider.

THE CASE AGAINST THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS: Is there a world in which MATRIX isn’t among the elite performers this holiday season? Yes. The teaser trailer from two weeks ago did little to improve awareness. And as noted above, awareness for the film lags interest.

You also have to factor in that MATRIX will be the last of the Warner Bros. 2021 titles to get a hybrid theatrical and streaming release. Not only will that cut into the box office, but it’s a title that could be highly susceptible to the piracy that comes hand-in-hand with streaming releases. 

Also, keep in mind that the film will likely be dependent upon large-format screens like IMAX. The problem is that MATRIX will be competing with SPIDER-MAN for those screens. If given a choice, will a theater-owner book SPIDER-MAN or MATRIX? Exhibition may still be smarting from Warner’s decision to release their entire 2021 slate on HBO Max. Will they be punitive and give those screens to Sony?

THE CASE FOR SING 2: Hold up, why aren’t we giving more consideration for SING 2? After all, the original one grossed $270M over the holidays in 2016. Had we included 2016 in the first chart above, SING would have firmly been in the teal camp. It also set a high-water mark for purely animated holiday films, which other studios have struggled to duplicate. Notice that neither FERDINAND in 2017 nor SPIES IN DISGUISE in 2019 came close to the numbers that SING pulled in. 

At the moment, interest in SING 2 is the sticking point. At 4.9, SING 2 ranks 6th among the nine animated films currently being tracked by The Quorum. We’d feel much more comfortable shifting SING 2 to elite status if the interest score started to go up. 

THE CASE FOR WEST SIDE STORY: The audience for WEST may not be broad enough to lift the box office to the upper echelons of the holiday season. And while Steven Spielberg has had eight movies cross $200M domestically, none were released in December. 

When Spielberg brings us aliens, dinosaurs, or Indiana Jones, he pulls in enormous numbers. Those movies open in the summer. His more dramatic films live in December. Those films simply don’t gross as much.

Among Spielberg’s December offerings over the years: 1941, HOOK, THE COLOR PURPLE, EMPIRE OF THE SUN, AMISTAD, ALWAYS, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, MUNICH, THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, WAR HORSE and THE POST. None reached $200M at the time, though to be fair, both HOOK and CATCH ME would have earned $200M when adjusted for inflation. Of course, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but it would be a high-water mark for the filmmaker.

We will revisit this as the holidays get closer. In the meantime, Sony can take comfort in knowing it has the one sure-thing this holiday season.

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