Welcome back to the Beat’s weekly Box Office Preview!

It’s officially Christmas week, and there’s always one or two movies opening or expanding on Christmas Day proper. In the past, whereabouts Christmas Day falls during the week has always had some effect on a movie’s weekend box office, mainly since Christmas Day isn’t always a big movie day, but the week after that through January 1 is like having a week of Saturdays.

The last time Christmas Day fell on a Wednesday was in 2013, when there were four new movies:Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Keanu Reeves47 Ronin, and the DeNiroStallone boxing comedy Grudge Match. They opened on Christmas Day in that order with the Scorsese movie giving The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug a run for the top spot with $9.1 million. By the weekend, all of them had toppled with Wolf of Wall Street in 5th place with $18.3 million and Grudge Match out of the top 10 with just $7 million. The point is that the movies people REALLY want to see, they might go on Weds and Thursday and then over the weekend, other movies can pick up business. We’ll talk a bit more of that below.

SPIES IN DISGUISE (Blue Sky Studios/Fox/Disney)

Spies in Disguise
20th Century Fox

Voice Cast: Will Smith, Tom Holland, Rashida Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Rachel Brosnahan, Reba McEntire, Masi Oka, DJ Khaled
Directed By: Nick Bruno, Troy Quaness
MPAA Rating: PG

In the past, an animated movie featuring the voices of Will Smith and Tom Holland would be a guaranteed holiday hit, but this movie from Blue Sky Films is definitely a little more high concept in terms of its premise, although it will be one of the stronger family offerings this weekend.

Blue Sky is best known for the “Ice Age” movies it’s produced for 20th Century Fox, five movies that amassed $3.1 billion worldwide and $793 million domestically. It’s been a couple years since the studio released a movie, 2017’sFerdinand, which made around $100 million over the holidays after a mid-December release. It was recently merged into Disney with the purchase of Fox, and let’s just say that the new Disney overlords aren’t exactly that into the idea of another animation studio taking away its Pixar and Frozen IImoney. Or at least that’s how it feels.

Even so, Spies in Disguise offers a pretty high concept of Smith voicing a super-spy who accidentally gets turned into a pigeon by the science nerd voiced by Holland. Smith is a fairly reliable box office star as seen by the performance as Disney’s Aladdinover the summer, another $300 million hit for the Mouse House in North America. His fall teaming with Ang Lee, Gemini Man, didn’t fare nearly as well. Holland has already proven to be quite popular as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in two movies made between Sony and Marvel Studios, including Spider-Man: Far from Home, as well as playing a large part in the last two “Avengers” movies and Captain America: Civil War. It’s always hard to gauge whether the kids who like these actors in other movies might connect with them as voice actors.

I wanted to try to find another December animated release as comparison, but it was tough, because studios tend to release the movies either over the summer or in November or other months. December seems to always be about the epic tentpole blockbusters, and the only comparable movie was 2009’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, which opened on the Weds before Xmas Day with $18.8 million and then grossed $48 million over the weekend. That seems like a tough benchmark for Spies in Disguise, since it’s not a known property or a sequel.

Critics seem to be liking Spies in Disguise more than so many other non-Disney animated movies, although it’s fairly review-proof as far as kids and parents just wanting to see something fun to keep them entertained inside a warm theater over the long holiday break.

I’m not sure Spies in Disguise will do huge business on Christmas Day proper, maybe $4 to 5 million tops, but I expect it to get a nice bump on Thursday, and I can see it taking in $20 million or slightly more over the weekend. With so few family films in January, this could end up being another $100 million animated movie with the only upcoming family offering being Universal’s Dolittlein January.

My Review of Spies in Disguise

LITTLE WOMEN (Sony Pictures)

Little Women
Sony Pictures

Cast: Saorsie Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Chris Cooper, Eliza Scanlen
Adapted and Directed By: Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
MPAA Rating: PG

A movie that will hopefully draw women of all ages away from some of the bigger movies like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalkeris the second feature film from Greta Gerwig, an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic piece of female empowerment literature. Although Gerwig maintains the book’s period setting, she gives it a somewhat modern-twist not unlike Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, but maybe with a bit more mainstream appeal due to the awareness and popularity of Alcott’s books.

Gerwig once again teams with three-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan, who has built quite a reputation for the quality of material she takes on, beginning with Joe Wright’s Atonement. The “little women” also includes Emma Watson from Beauty and the Beast and the “Harry Potter” movie;  the burgeoning star Florence Pugh (MidsommarFighting with my Family and next year’s Black Widow); Timothée Chalamet, who has been building quite a fanbase for himself; as well as Laura Dern, who has also  been getting attention for her performance in Gerwig’s partner Noah Baumbach’s new movie, Marriage Story, and she may win an Oscar over there. Much of the film will be sold on that cast, especially the “meet cute” romantic aspect of the Ronan-Chalamet pairing. 

While you would assume that Little Women would be embraced by all critics, and it certainly has great reviews on Rotten Tomatoes – you can also read Hannah Lodge‘s review here –  but it hasn’t done as well with early awards with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) pretty much ignoring the movie, including Ronan. It also didn’t get a Golden Globe nomination despite being in a particularly competitive drama category, and Gerwig’s partner Noah Baumbach didn’t even get a directing nomination despite a picture, screenplay and multiple acting nods.  Ronan got nominated for a Golden Globe for Little Women, but she may have a tougher time at Oscars unless the movie gets a rally at the box office. It’s a very crowded year for awards-worthy movies, but really, the movie has to do better than Charlie’s Angels, so Gerwig can continue making movies. (Up next for her is a Barbie movie.)

Sony is giving Little Women a much wider release than it might have gotten from a smaller studio, into over 3,000 theaters. That should certainly help get the word out there, but it’s still going to be a hard sell to some audiences, men in particular. Women of various ages might make this one of their first choices over other things in theaters, and as we’ve seen a few times this year with Hustlers and Downton Abbey, women can really fill theaters when there’s something they really want to see. Little Womenalso has a PG rating, which means it’s safe family viewing even for younger girls who may just be getting into Alcott at an earlier age.

Not sure how many will rush out to see the movie on Christmas Day and Thursday, but there should be enough business left to do $16 to 19 million over the weekend. If it behaves like most Christmas releases, it should be good for $60 million or more, depending on how well it does as far as Oscar nominations come mid-January.


Uncut Gems

Cast: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, The Weeknd, LaKeith Stanfield, Eric Bogosian, Judd Hirsch, Jacob Igielski
Directed By: Josh and Ben Safdie (Good Time, Heaven Knows What, Daddy Longlegs)
MPAA Rating: R

Oddly, the studio that helped make Greta Gerwig almost a household name by releasing her previous movie Lady Bird is releasing a movie as counter-programming to Little Women, of sorts? The last Christmas Day movie is actually one expanding nationwide after its limited release, and it stars one of the biggest comedy stars on the planet, Adam Sandler.

Uncut Gems is the new movie from the Safdie Brothers, who made waves on the indie scene a few years ago with their crime-thriller Good Time, starring Robert Pattinson.  It actually didn’t make a ton of movie – just $4 million or so – but it did get them attention and respect, enough to convince Sandler to do something a little different by playing a manic jewelry salesman who gets his hand on a valuable gem…and proceeds to lose it, to basketball star Kevin Garnett (playing himself), no less.

It’s kind of interesting to see Sandler back in theaters, since he hasn’t really been doing much theatrically outside the animated “Hotel Transylvania” movies since signing an output deal with Netflix. Those movies continue to do well, but Sandler’s last live action foray in theaters was the 2015 video game adventure-comedy Pixels, which made $78 million in the States.  Oddly, that same year was also Sandler’s last foray into “serious” indie fare with The Cobbler, a poorly-received high concept comedy from director Tom McCarthy, who would win the Oscar for Spotlight the following year.

It will be interesting to see if Sandler’s usual fans might give this a look or will treat it like Jason Reitman’s Men, Women and Children, a major bomb that didn’t even make a million dollars. In general, Sandler does better in America with his high concept low-brow, and it’s a bit of an anomaly that Sandler is actually getting support from the critics for once.

Maybe that’s also because critics love the Safdies, and Uncut Gems is no exception. It had a solid platform release in New York and L.A. a couple weekends back, having grossed a cool million while playing in just five theaters, although it took a pretty big plunge in weekend two. This past weekend, Uncut Gems had a per-theater average of $46,496 and how well it will do with its expansion will depend mostly on how wide A24 expands it on Christmas Day. (Like Lionsgate’s marketing for Knives Out, A24 are selling it as a movie about dysfunctional families, although that really isn’t the case.) I could see Uncut Gems doing fairly well on Xmas Day as that’s a good day for Sandler’s base of single white guys who might go to the movies, but we’ll have to see if it maintains that business through the weekend. I could see it maybe making $5 to 7 million* for positioning at the bottom of the top 10, but again, it all depends on whether it expands into 1,000 theaters, 2,000 theaters or more… or less.

This Week’s Box Office Predictions:

 Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will still win the box office this weekend with relative ease, but the question will be how much the mixed reactions from and critics might affect its repeat viewing in its second weekend. The Last Jedi had a pretty massive second weekend drop, although it also opened a week earlier and the post-Xmas weekend only had a 27% drop. If we move the $40 million in Thursday previews, its second weekend will probably be in the high $80-million range with Jumani: The Next Levelholding a strong second place. Spies in Disguiseand Little Womenwill probably be going up against Frozen 2 for third place. Very few other movies will have much of a drop and likely will be up from last weekend with no school and few people working on Friday or Monday.

  1. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Lucasfilm/Disney) – $83 million -53%
  2. Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony) – $31 million +17%
  3. Spies in Disguise (20th Century Fox) – $20 million N/A
  4. Frozen II (Disney) – $18 million +38%
  5. Little Women (Sony) – $17 million N/A
  6. Uncut Gems (A24) – $8.5 million (up $2 million)*
  7. Knives Out (Lionsgate) – $8 million +23%
  8. Cats (Universal) – $7.8 million +18%
  9. Bombshell (Lionsgate) – $7.4 million +45%
  10. Richard Jewell (Warner Bros.) – $3 million +17%

    *UPDATE: With A24 putting the Safdies’ movie into 2,341 theaters on Christmas Day, it seems likely that the movie should do well enough to end up with a better showing for the weekend, and I’ve raised my weekend prediction accordingly.

There are a couple big studio movies getting limited releases over Christmas to start drumming up some business and interest before their official nationwide releases in early January. The first of them is Sam Mendes’ WWI action-thriller 1917(Universal) – Kyle Pinion reviewed that here.  Michael B. Jordan, Brie Larson and Jamie Foxx star in the true crime-drama Just Mercy (Warner Bros.), which like 1917, will open nationwide on January 10 after a limited release on Christmas Day. A much better drama about the penal system is Clemency (NEON), starring Alfre Woodard and Aldis Hodge, which will open in select cities on Friday.  Also in limited release, Donnie Yen stars as Bruce Lee’s martial arts mentor Ip Man in IP Man 4: The Finale (Go USA Films), which isn’t great but has some great martial arts. Also in New York and L.A. is the drama The Song of Names (Sony Pictures Classics), starring Tim Roth looking for a Polish violin prodigy who vanished on the night of his first solo concert. Also, if you’re in New York City, make sure to check out the doc What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael at the Film Forum, as it’s a great doc about an amazing film critic.

Next week, it’s 2020, and the only new movie is Screen Gems’ The Grudge, so there or may not be a Box Office Preview. We’ll see. I’ll definitely be reviewing the movie and hopefully, doing some interviews. Have a Merry Xmas, Happy Chanukah, Krazy-Kool Kwanzaa, and any other generic December holiday you choose to celebrate this week!


  1. There were a surprising number of empty seats at the matinee of Rise of Skywalker I caught a few days ago. Even Rogue One drew a larger crowd.

    Maybe, after 5 movies in 4 years, people are getting burned out on Star Wars? Or maybe just need a break from it?

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