It’s been a rough couple of years for Warner Bros. Starting with the disastrous day-and-date experiment of 2021, Warner Bros. has had few wins since.
Let’s look at what did work. THE BATMAN was a smash. Though smaller in scale, ELVIS was given the same level of commitment as WB gave for BARBIE. And the studio’s curation of the CREED films has been exceptional. But, in between, there has been fire after fire: The stuck-in-mud Wizarding World, the entire DON’T WORRY DARLING publicity cycle, and the three-headed DC fiasco (BLACK ADAM, SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS, THE FLASH), that has the studio heads counting the days until the beginning of the Gunn/Safran era.
If the studio can just manage its way through BLUE BEETLE, sunnier days lie ahead this fall with THE NUN II and DUNE: PART TWO (though we have our concerns about DUNE). But it’s the holiday season where WB looks to shine. The studio is releasing three films in 11 days. WONKA (Timothée Chalamet’s other tentpole) arrives on December 15th, followed by AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM on the 20th, and THE COLOR PURPLE on Christmas Day.
Releasing three movies in quick succession is an enormous undertaking. It’s no small feat opening one title, let alone three. That’s why a studio rarely releases more than two films a month. But December is its own beast. The second half of month is one of the highest grossing corridors of the year. Who doesn’t want to be a part of that?
But the big reward requires big risk. Studios will stretch their resources to play in that game. It requires massive mobilization and coordination across the entire enterprise—especially with the marketing and distribution teams. (While the talent agencies famously close down for two weeks at the end of the year, studio employees are all hands on deck.) And yet, believe it or not, it’s not unheard of to see a studio release three titles in late December. Fox did it in 2016 and again in 2017.
In 2016, it gave us HIDDEN FIGURES, WHY HIM?, and ASSASSINS CREED. FIGURES was a huge success—the other two, not so much. The following year, Fox released THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, FERDINAND, and THE POST, and all three were solid hits, though they all trailed THE LAST JEDI and JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE as the top grossing films of the holiday season. Bottom line, it’s one thing to release three films, it’s another thing for them all to be hits.
What makes this year so unique is that the Warner Bros. offerings stand a good chance of dominating the holiday box office in a way few studios have ever done before. Over the past 50 years, no single studio has had the three highest grossing films of December. Warner Bros. may have difficulty pulling off that hat trick, but If the studio can land these campaigns, it looks poised to have three of the four highest grossing December releases. Of course, it helps that Sony pushed the GHOSTBUSTERS SEQUEL from December 20th to March of next year. Still, WB has an opportunity to achieve unmatched success with three very different films.
The tracking for these three films is quite remarkable. WONKA, AQUAMAN and PURPLE are all showing early strength. Looking at the awareness and interest numbers as of today, AQUAMAN and WONKA are at the top of the field, while PURPLE is solidly in 3rd place.
Of course, tracking is always a snapshot of a moment in time. And right now, the three WB titles are leading the pack.
But, on the heels of THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE, it would be foolish to bet against Illumination’s MIGRATION. This one will likely land near the top, but at the moment, it’s hard to say precisely where. Can it beat PURPLE? Sure. How about WONKA or AQUAMAN? Those might be harder to beat. It is interesting to note, however, that the tracking for MIGRATION is still on the low side despite the release of two trailers. Something tells us, however, that MIGRATION will get where it needs to by the time it opens.
The greatest threat to WB, however, doesn’t come from MIGRATION. It comes from the strikes. A handful of films have already moved to 2024, because they require either re-shoots, ADR, post, or publicity. It seems likely that more changes are to come. Will AQUAMAN move to 2024? Could DUNE shift from November to December? Does WONKA also move if that happens?
We all know that date changes have ripple effects across the entire release calendar. Those ripple effects grow more pronounced when changes happen to multiple films so close to release. If the strike drags on, anything goes. But as of now, Warner Bros. looks well positioned to dominate the holidays in a way few studios have ever done.