Moviegoers are singing “Spidey Bells,” being Scrooges to all other releases, and Other Box Office News.
Note: this article originally ran on Set the Tape (link).
Back from the typical Xmas/New Year week break. How was your amorphous period where days cease to mean anything and a vague sense of existential malaise/depression coats those waking hours in a way that makes getting back on the grind more difficult than it should be? Do anything nice? Lucky enough not to have almost literally everyone you know come down with COVID or deal with a COVID scare? That last one is statistically unlikely, but god I can hope y’all did better than me, at least. This is what I get for semi-joking about my need for the world to have remained on-the-rails just long enough so I could see The Matrix Resurrections and then it could all happily go to Hell. I don’t even know why I carry this monkey paw around with me, honestly. The frogurt that shopkeeper threw in with it, the one with Potassium Benzoate, wasn’t even that nice!
(I’m joking about this because almost everybody I know did actually get COVID over the holiday period and this is my way of trying to alleviate the stress. Thankfully, everyone seems to have pulled through ok but it’s still not been a fun few days. So, sincerely, I hope you and yours had a nice safe holiday period.)
In spite of the Omicron tsunami engulfing most of the world right now, new movies kept on a trucking over the holiday break and moviegoers kept turning out to see them! …OK, maybe not the new movies released during the weird five-day free-for-all December window. But they saw movies! …OK, they saw a movie, Spider-Man: No Way Home which continues to just ruinously bully every single other picture off the block with a third-straight weekend at the top and more than the rest of the Top 10 combined thrice in a row. That new Domestic total of $609 million officially makes it the 10th highest grossing film of all-time, leapfrogging Incredibles II’s $608 million (wait what?), and, with nothing else which could seriously dent its haul releasing until… shit, I dunno, Moonfall(?) in February, there is a very real chance it could sniff Black Panther’s $700 mil before all’s said and done. Oh, and it’s already well over $1.3 billion worldwide because of course it is. Anyone would think there wasn’t a deadly ever-resurgent pandemic going on with numbers like these. I have… really mixed feelings about this, but let’s do what nobody else could be bothered to and check out those new releases instead.
Let’s start with the closest thing we have to a no-qualifiers winner out of the slaughtered lambs: Illumination Entertainment’s continuing efforts to bring down the general perception of animation as a medium being little more than creatively-bankrupt corporately-synergistic tyke-silencers, Sing 2. Perhaps because the significantly better Encanto is now on Disney+ meaning that there are no proper family movies in cinemas, the jukebox sequel has been the only thing able to take even half-an-ounce of flesh out of the Spider-monster; kicking off last weekend with a five-day haul of $39.5 million, and dropping just 12% in the traditional three-day this weekend with $19.6 million. In other words, this is definitely hitting $120 mil domestic. A feat that the rest of the field likely won’t reach even if we added them all together.
Arguably taking silver in the Pity Olympics is faith-based football biopic with the most oxymoronic title possible American Underdog, which took $5.8 million last weekend but did so with only two days in release – having opened on Xmas Day, a Saturday; don’t ask for details, this is complicated enough in the abstract. With a full weekend, it only dropped a respectable 30% for $4 million. Technically, it’s being decently outgrossed by Matthew Vaughn’s long-delayed and coolly-received Kingsman prequel, The King’s Man, especially this weekend with a $4.5 million take and 24% three-day drop. Except that King’s Man didn’t do so hot over the five-day Xmas period, posting a mere $9.5 million, and any drops don’t go so hot when your film cost well over $100 million to make.
Which, yes, brings us to Lana Wachowski’s The Matrix Resurrections. Am I surprised that it could only make $22 million over the five-day holiday weekend? Not in the least, since there’s that HBO Max simul-release doing one last serial-killer-esque revival. Am I at all shocked that the three-day $12 mil taking plummeted 68% in its sophomore weekend to a terminal $3.8 mil? Not at all, because even in my post-screening euphoria I knew for a fact that SO MANY PEOPLE were going to outright HAAAAAAAAAAATE the thing. Does it nonetheless still hurt me, a queer-ass cinephile, to see yet another Wachowski project fail so spectacularly at the Box Office? Heck yes it does, and not just because this will inevitably get turned into ammo for shitty Culture War and Bad-Take YouTube vultures to push their false narratives about both Wachowskis being rubbish filmmakers who only got lucky one time. That is a factor, don’t get me wrong, particularly since the YouTube algorithms keep trying to force Jeremy Jahns and RedLetterMedia into my eyes. But more that I just want Lana (and Lilly when she’s up to it) to be able to keep making movies. Ah, well, at least I got this beautiful film before Director’s Jail locks Lana away for good.
Still, Lana and the Warner Bros. executives who are about to be fired out of a cannon for giving her $190 million and no leash can at least take solace in not being the biggest failure of the season. That’d be Sony Pictures and Denzel Washington’s Oscar bait, A Journal for Jordan. This weepy memoir-adaptation’s effort to get Michael B. Jordan his long-overdue Academy Award nomination limped out of the gates on Xmas day with $2.2 million for the abbreviated weekend, only for that limp-y leg to go gangrenous and need amputating this past full weekend, dropping 47% with a mere $1.175 million. Meanwhile, perhaps sensing the writing on the wall (or perhaps just being ran by too-late-on-the-ball clueless motherfuckers), United Artists significantly scaled back the planned-Wide expansion of Paul Thomas Anderson’s acclaimed and gangbusters-performing Licorice Pizza to a mere 786 theatres at the last possible second. Some might argue that displays great long-term confidence in a film’s performance. An Xmas weekend gross of $1.9 mil and an NYE weekend gross of $1.2 million, the latter of which was bested by the seventh week of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, would instead display that nobody knows what the fuck they’re doing.
What does this all mean, then? As we enter a new year and everybody desperately hopes that Spider-Man is a bellwether of things getting back to what used to be normal, rather than a freakish unhealthy anomaly unsustainably crushing all in sight as pop culture continues eating its own tail to thunderous applause. Is this a sign that everything’s going to be OK? Well, the tone of the sentence prior to that last one is probably an indication of how I feel. Spider-Man as a character and a franchise has always been an anomaly all of its own when it comes to the Box Office, able to weather almost any storm in order to continually break records and engender audience goodwill even in the shit ones. No Way Home is basically the Endgame of 20 years’ worth of Spider-Man movies – keeping it as vague as I can for those who haven’t seen it yet due to not feeling comfortable going to the cinema. No wonder this has been the one that tempted everybody back even whilst the pandemic rages unabated. It’s crowdpleasing, unchallenging spectacle attached to recognisable IP with big stars, a pervasive air of nostalgia, and no home viewing option. Take a look at the ten biggest domestic earners of 2021 and you’ll find those are traits not unique to the webslinger.
Whilst No Way Home’s numbers are absurd compared to everything else released this year, the general pattern that the movie sits within isn’t anything unusual. The MCU (and MCU-adjacent Venom 2) has the top four spots on lock, an indicator that the brand still rules over everything else and can launch relatively-obscure characters into major A-list players just like it did in pre-pandemic times (Shang-Chi). The outlier, obviously, is Eternals but even then was only barely beaten out by F9 for fifth – we call that “Wild Wild West-era Will Smith bombing” around these parts. No Time to Die is a Craig Bond film, incapable of not making a tonne of money even when the films have been bad (especially in Britain). Ghostbusters: Afterlife pulled a Force Awakens on the Ghostbusters franchise, as well as filing the serial numbers off of Stranger Things. F9 was more Fast & Furious. A Quiet Place Part II was a major horror sequel designed for shared theatrical viewing with a simultaneous streaming release nobody cared about because nobody knew about said rubbish streaming service; see also, the just-missing-out-on-$100 mil Halloween Kills. Oh, and all were PG-13, obviously.
The thing is… in its own way, this is the Box Office getting back to normal. Hell, this was the story of the final year in the Before Times, 2019: comforting, nostalgia-heavy, crowdpleasing blockbusters, usually by Disney, completely dominating the cinema, and everyone else having to fight over scraps. Scraps meaning not just ticket sales, but advertising budgets and even screening times – the fracas that The Last Duel had to deal with this year isn’t something unique to the pandemic era. If the pandemic has done and will continue to do anything, based on how the second-half of 2021 has gone, it’s exacerbate and hasten the divide between the Box Office Haves and the Box Office Have-Nots – hey, that sounds like a metaphor for the impact this pandemic has had on Capitalis-NO BAD CALLIE NO POLITICS! In many ways, we were already headed for this point, albeit likely with bigger numbers than the ones we do have. We all just thought it’d take at least another five years to reach this potentially cataclysmic point-of-no-return and maybe stem the bleeding – which also sounds like a metaphor for the wider societal issue of climate ch-NO BAD CALLIE NO POLITICS.
In any case, we now have the typical January dumping ground of no-hopers and garbage to contend with. So, this hypothetical has got a little while yet before it can be truly tested. At least your regular service of terrible jokes and withering snark from myself will continue unabated for the time being. Happy New Year.
Oh, right, there was supposed to be a Full List. Hold on.
US Box Office Results: Friday 31st December 2021 – Sunday 2nd January 2022
|1]||Spider-Man: No Way Home||$52,700,000||$609,892,000|
|3]||The King’s Man||$4,500,000||$19,515,514|
|5]||The Matrix Resurrections||$3,825,000||$30,900,000|
|6]||West Side Story||$2,100,000||$29,564,013|
|9]||A Journal for Jordan||$1,175,000||$4,740,000|
Dropped out: ‘83
Callie Petch never meant to be the needle that broke your back.