After a two-week lull, the final charge to the end of 2018 is back on at the box office as Christmas releases begin to make their entrance. And now it’s time for Sony to ask the world a question: after “Infinity War” and “Venom,” are you ready for more Spider-Man?
Sony is hoping the answer is an emphatic ‘yes’ as they release “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” an ambitious, animated take on Stan Lee’s most famous creation that is earning even greater critical acclaim than last year’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” It currently sits as one of the top films of the year on Rotten Tomatoes with a critics’ score of 99 percent.
But the strong reviews haven’t improved opening estimates from independent trackers, which have stayed still at $35 million over the past three weeks. For a comparison, we turn to last year’s “The Lego Batman Movie,” another adaptation of a frequently filmed superhero with ambitious animation and Chris Miller & Phil Lord listed in the credits. In February 2017, that film opened to $53 million.
With a budget of $90 million, this is far from the big start that Sony’s last Spider-Man spinoff, “Venom,” earned two months ago. If “Spider-Verse” has a muted performance despite the strong reviews, it may be a sign that there may be a limit to how much Spider-Man audiences want.
But Sony is expecting that the film will leg out well into January, somewhat similar to how their last Xmas release, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” did last year. Exhibitor Relations’ Jeff Bock says Sony has reason to be confident in this film.
“I think quality is going to win out, and I think this is going to show what a strong draw Spider-Man still is at the box office,” Bock said. “Sony has done a great job providing a version of this superhero that we’ve never seen before, and don’t underestimate the draw that Miles Morales is going to have with African-American and Latino families.”
A final domestic total of $150-175 million is the likely goal for this film, as that’s the range reached by “Lego Batman” and by Sony’s “Hotel Transylvania” sequels. The highest grossing animated Sony release is “Hotel Transylvania 3,” which grossed $167.5 million domestically and $527 million worldwide this past summer.
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” follows gifted teen Miles Morales as he follows in the footsteps of Peter Parker when he gets bit by a radioactive spider and becomes a new Spider-Man. But before he can get the hang of his powers, he runs into a washed-up, older incarnation of Peter (Jake Johnson) from another timeline, as well as four other people who have taken up the Spider-Man mantle in alternate universes thanks to a machine devised by the evil Kingpin (Liev Schreiber).
The cast also includes Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, and Nicolas Cage, and is directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman. Phil Lord wrote the screenplay with Rothman and is listed as a producer with Chris Miller.
Also releasing this weekend is Warner Bros.’ “The Mule,” Clint Eastwood’s latest film that sees him reunite with “American Sniper” star Bradley Cooper. While “The Mule” isn’t expected to draw nearly as many moviegoers as that 2014 war biopic, it’s still expected to draw huge interest from Eastwood’s devoted base of older, generally conservative fans.
“We don’t as much anymore about certain stars being box office draws, but Clint Eastwood has a huge fanbase among older moviegoers in middle America,” said comScore’s Paul Dergarabedian. “They’ll show up to anything he makes or stars in, and as we saw with ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ Warner Bros. knows how to market these smaller films to a specific, very interested demographic.”
To find the last mid-December release starring Eastwood, you have to go back a decade to the acclaimed “Gran Torino,” which opened in limited release and earned a $29 million wide opening in January. “The Mule” is currently projected for a $20 million start, but could over-perform if the film over-indexes in the central and southern U.S. Regardless, it will be higher than the $12 million opening earned earlier this year by Eastwood’s last directorial project, “The 15:17 to Paris.”
Also directed and produced by Eastwood, “The Mule” stars the Oscar winner as a broke Korean War veteran who is desperately searching for money and a way to reconcile with his estranged family. He takes a job as a delivery man, only to discover that he is transporting millions of dollars in cocaine.
The film is based on the true story of Is the Box Office Ready for More Spider-Man With ‘Into the Spider-Verse’, a veteran and horticulturist who was convicted of drug trafficking for the Sinaloa cartel at the age of 87. Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest, and Andy Garcia also star, with the screenplay written by “Gran Torino” scribe Nick Schenk.
Finally, there’s Universal’s “Mortal Engines,” which is looking like it will join Lionsgate’s “Robin Hood” as one of the biggest blockbuster bombs of the year. Written and produced by the “Lord of the Rings” trio of Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, the film is based on Philip Reeve’s dystopian steampunk novels and sports a reported budget of $100 million.
But marketing the connection to “LOTR” has done little to raise interest in this film, which is currently projected for a domestic opening of $12-13 million, with Universal projecting just a $10 million launch. It’s a rough ending to what has been a very good 2018 for Universal, grossing $1.68 billion domestically thanks to a “Jurassic World” sequel and strong releases from Illumination and Blumhouse.
“Mortal Engines” takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where the remnants of humanity have gathered in large, mobile cities, with a war between the larger cities that wish to conquer other and an alliance of smaller settlements trying to end the invasions. Directed by Christian Rivers, a longtime collaborator with Peter Jackson, the film stars Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, and Hugo Weaving.