Timothee Chalamet stars as a young Willy Wonka in Warner Bros.’ “Wonka.”

Warner Bros. Discovery

LOS ANGELES — There are just a few weeks left at the 2023 box office, and they’ll be dominated by movies from Warner Bros.

The studio is capping off the year with three big features — “Wonka,” “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” and “The Color Purple” — although it’s unclear whether any or all of them will be hits.

December is a crucial time for the domestic box office. In the five years before the pandemic, the month accounted for more than $1 billion in ticket sales, according to data from Comscore. While December 2021 nearly hit this mark, aided by the release of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” from Sony and Disney, December 2022 tallied less than $700 million.

Overall, the 2023 box office lags around 19% compared with 2019, standing at $8.3 billion as of Dec. 3. Box-office analysts are hopeful that it could reach $9 billion before the end of the year.

After all, with the weekend release of Beyonce’s “Renaissance” tour film as well as continued ticket sales from Lionsgate’s “Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” Universal’s “Trolls Band Together” and Disney’s “Wish,” the domestic box office generated nearly $100 million in the first three days of December, according to Comscore data.

Remaining December releases

  • Dec. 8 — “The Boy and the Heron” (GKIDS)
  • Dec. 15 — “Wonka” (Warner Bros. Discovery)
  • Dec. 22 — “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” (Warner Bros. Discovery)
  • Dec. 22 — “Migration” (Universal)
  • Dec. 22 — “Anyone But You” (Sony)
  • Dec. 22 — “The Iron Claw” (A24)
  • Dec. 22 — “American Fiction” (Amazon-MGM)
  • Dec. 25 — “The Color Purple” (Warner Bros. Discovery)
  • Dec. 25 — “Ferrari” (Neon)
  • Dec. 25 — “The Boys in the Boat” (Amazon-MGM)

“appreciate so many sporting events, contests of skill or the proverbial horse race, the outcome of any given box office year often comes down to the final moments,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “This year, December is particularly important in terms of the high-profile lineup of films on the calendar on which the full weight of a less than stellar month of November and a rather slow Thanksgiving [rests].”

Warner Bros. releases will have a lot to say about whether December will ring up big bucks. The studio has already provided the 2023 box office with the billion-dollar global hit “Barbie,” and its three December releases are expected to offer the biggest box-office punch alongside Universal and Illumination’s animated feature “Migration.”

Warner Bros. Discovery is still evolving after WarnerMedia and Discovery merged only last year. Chief Executive David Zaslav has been working to pay down debt while building up free cash flow in order to set up potential acquisitions of smaller studios. Part of that cost-cutting started early in the new company’s history with the axing of “Batgirl” and “Scoob! Holiday Haunt” before their releases and the cancellation of more than a dozen TV shows set for its streaming service.

Shares of the company are up 15% year to date through Wednesday.

Taraji P. Henson stars in Warner Bros. “The Color Purple.”

Warner Bros. Discovery

Both “Wonka” and “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” are expected to create between $32 million and $42 million during their openings, according to BoxOffice.com. “The Color Purple” is set for at least a $13 million debut. (“Migration” is forecast to tally between $20 million and $30 million.)

Expectations are high that “Wonka” will deliver families to theaters, as the musical prequel has already generated goodwill with critics, scoring a clear “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And “The Color Purple,” also a musical, could lure in a more mature crowd, given the movie’s literary and theatrical pedigree.

The king of Atlantis vs. a family of ducks

It’s Warner Bros.’ “Aquaman” sequel that is most worrisome to box-office analysts. Audiences have been lackluster on superhero flicks this year, with Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe posting its worst-ever opening weekend in its history with “The Marvels.” The film has generated less than $200 million globally since its Nov. 10 release through the weekend, another low point for the MCU.

DC has faced deeper difficulties at the box office compared with rival Marvel. “Shazam: Fury of the Gods” and “Blue Beetle” both tallied less than $150 million during their global run in theaters this year, and “The Flash” secured less than $275 million worldwide.

“The DC brand, in particular, is very challenged after three middling-to-soft performances already this year and a general aura of limbo among fans knowing that the franchise is effectively getting a soft reboot in 2025,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “I’m very cautious on ‘Aquaman’ projections under those circumstances.”

The new “Aquaman” film has a lot to live up to, as well. The first film, released back in 2018, generated more than $1 billion at the global box office, making it the highest-grossing film in the DC Extended Universe franchise. Much of the interest from fans came following the 2017 release of “Justice League,” as moviegoers expected “Aquaman” to launch the franchise forward.

Jason Momoa stars as Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, in Warner Bros.’ “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.”

Warner Bros. Discovery

The majority of its ticket sales were international, including nearly $300 million from the China region alone. Domestic ticket sales were just 30%, or $335 million, of the movie’s total global box office, according to Comscore.

The new “Aquaman” will also be released in China. But non-Chinese movies have not seen the same benefit in China as in the pre-pandemic years.

While Disney and 20th Century’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” secured $245 million in China, American superhero flicks have failed to drum up interest in the country in the last year. Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” generated only $40 million in ticket sales, DC’s “The Flash” took in just $25 million from the region, and the MCU’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” grabbed just $15 million. “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3” grossed $86 million in China.

“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” also faces an uphill battle because of comments from the new co-head of DC Studios, James Gunn. He effectively said the remaining films in the DCEU, including the “Aquaman” sequel, will have no connection to future projects from the studio. Thus, fans have one less reason to head out to cinemas.

The other wild card is Universal’s “Migration,” a comedy about a family of ducks that opens the same day as the new “Aquaman.”

The Comcast-owned studio has flourished at the box office in recent years with its animated fare from its Illumination and DreamWorks animation arms. “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” and “Trolls Band Together” have delivered strong ticket sales in the wake of the pandemic. Of course, all those films are tied to existing intellectual property.

“Migration” is an original story, but if it’s well-received it could spark its own franchise for the studio.

“No original animated movie has reached the kind of mega-blockbuster numbers of ‘Mario’ or ‘Minions’ during the post-pandemic era yet,” Robbins noted. “That fact alone makes it difficult to project what kind of ceiling ‘Migration’ may or may not have in the wake of films appreciate Disney’s ‘Wish’ and Pixar’s ‘Elemental’ this year.”

Yet few would count out Universal to be the studio to accomplish such a feat, especially since the movie will open as kids begin their holiday school breaks.

“As the only major animated film opening in theaters later this month, though, there is certainly a path to success,” Robbins added. “If any studio can break the trend and capture wide family audience appeal with an original animated flick right now, it’s Illumination.”

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal is the distributor of “Migration,” “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” “Trolls Band Together” and “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” NBCUniversal also owns Rotten Tomatoes.

Source link