‘Jumanji: The Next Level’: Can Sony Make Box Office Lightning Strike Twice?

Sequel to a $960 million hit arrives a week before “Star Wars”

Jumanji Next Level

Two years after “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” became a surprise box office hit, Sony is hoping to strike box office fortune again with the sequel, “The Next Level” — even though the Dwayne Johnson-Kevin Hart comedy adventure film is opening one week before Disney’s eagerly awaited saga finale “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”

Analysts don’t expect “The Next Level” to match the unexpected success of 2017’s “Welcome to the Jungle,” but also note that the film can still be a hit for Sony. The film has already grossed $53 million overseas and is projected to earn a domestic opening in the low $50 million range, similar to the $55 million 4-day Christmas opening that “Welcome to the Jungle” earned. Sony is projecting a $35 million launch.

“Welcome to the Jungle,” a sequel to the 1995 Robin Williams adventure film that turned the original film’s magical board game into a video game that sucks whoever plays it into a magical world, was a late December release that proved that other films could thrive alongside “Star Wars” in theaters. Both Sony’s film and Fox’s “The Greatest Showman” had box office legs that carried them well into January.

While 2017’s “The Last Jedi” grossed $1.33 billion worldwide, “Welcome to the Jungle” grossed an impressive $962 million, becoming one of Sony’s top 3 highest grossing releases ever and setting new personal domestic records for the film’s entire main cast. That includes box office titan Dwayne Johnson, who has been a part of higher grossing films globally (the “Fast & Furious” series) but broke the $400 million domestic milestone for the first time with “Jumanji.”

The breakout success of “Welcome to the Jungle” came as a much needed win for Sony, preventing it from finishing with an annual total below $1 billion for a third straight year. Sony has already passed that mark in 2019 thanks to the success of last summer’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” That takes some of the pressure off “The Next Level,” which would be considered a success even if it has a much lower global run of around $500 million.

“We won’t really be able to judge whether or not ‘The Next Level’ is going to be a success until around New Year’s Day,” Boxoffice.com analyst Shawn Robbins told TheWrap. “It will have a pretty decent opening weekend and then probably see a big drop because of ‘Star Wars.’ But ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ did so well because it grabbed the interest of audiences, especially families, who wanted something else to see during Christmastime after seeing ‘The Last Jedi.’ If ‘Jumanji’ becomes that again this year, it could really last in theaters for a long time.”

In addition to Johnson and Hart, “Jumanji: The Next Level” stars Jack Black, Karen Gillan and Nick Jonas as the avatars of the “Jumanji” video game that four teens got sucked into and had to escape in “Welcome to the Jungle.” While the game was destroyed at the end of the last film, Spencer (Alex Wolff), one of the teens who survived, decides to put it back together and go back inside. The film also features newcomers like Danny DeVito, Danny Glover and Awkwafina. Jake Kasdan directs from a script he co-wrote with Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg. Critics have been positive so far with an 81% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Also releasing wide this weekend is Warner Bros.’ “Richard Jewell,” Clint Eastwood’s latest film starring Paul Walter Hauser in the true story of the security guard who was falsely accused of being involved in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing. The film comes a year after Eastwood released another box office hit at the age of 88 with “The Mule,” which opened to $17 million and grossed $174 million worldwide against a $50 million budget. “Richard Jewell,” meanwhile, is projected for an opening weekend in the $10-11 million range.

That success can be attributable to the fact that Eastwood has a very devout fan base among older, male moviegoers, particularly in more conservative communities. But unlike in “The Mule,” Eastwood is not also appearing on screen.

To get around this, Warner Bros. has made TV spots and online featurettes in which Eastwood personally introduces the film and explains why telling its story of justice, mob mentality and media hysteria was so important to him. The studio took a similar approach to Eastwood’s 2014 blockbuster “American Sniper,” which exploded to a $350 million domestic run.

“Richard Jewell” was written by Billy Ray and also stars Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, and Kathy Bates, the latter of whom received a Golden Globe nomination on Monday for her performance in this film. Critics have been generally positive, with an 86% Rotten Tomatoes score.

Finally, Universal will release the seasonal horror film “Black Christmas,” a remake of the 1974 cult film about a serial killer who attacks a sorority during the holidays. It’s a Blumhouse horror film, which means that its projected $10-12 million opening will be enough to ensure a profit. Sophia Takal, who co-wrote the screenplay with April Wolfe, is the first female director of a Blumhouse horror film.

In her updated take on “Black Christmas,” the sorority sisters become a quartet of fighters ready to battle to their would-be murderer to the death. Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon, Lily Donoghue, and Brittany O’Grady star with Cary Elwes, and the film does not currently have a Rotten Tomatoes score.