Sony Pictures is more conservative, predicting a $35 million debut instead. Both numbers are impressive for a film opening in early December, a typically slow time of the year for the box office before the busy holiday season. But these are not typical times, as blockbuster hits are coming all year round.
The real test however will come next week when it faces off with a “Star Wars” sequel, “The Rise of Skywalker,” creating a match-up first seen in December 2017 when “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” competed with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” was a big surprise hit for Sony Pictures and for Hollywood. The film, a sequel to the 1995 classic rebooted with a brand new cast, got off to a slow start with a $36 million opening, but it went on to make nearly $1 billion worldwide — a reminder that with word-of-mouth promotion, a movie doesn’t need a big opening to be a big hit.
“‘Welcome to the Jungle’ was able to find an audience well into February and even topped the box office weeks after it opened,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “That’s pretty rare.”
The last time a December release topped the box office two months later was when “Titanic” came out in 1997.
It was also an impressive feat considering it wasn’t only competing with a “Star Wars” sequel, but also “The Greatest Showman” — an ambitious musical starring Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum.
“Jumanji: The Next Level” will be pitted against another musical when “Cats” opens next weekend. So while a $45 million bow is not exceptional, it should give “Jumanji,” which cost $125 million to make, a head start in what is shaping up to be a competitive holiday season.
The film made $4.7 million domestically when it opened on Thursday night.
Sony’s big year
“Next Level” isn’t changing the winning formula by much. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan and Kevin Hart are reprising their “Welcome to the Jungle” roles. This time, they are joined by Awkwafina, Danny Glover, and Danny DeVito.
Johnson is one of the most bankable actors whose films have made over $10 billion worldwide.
“Next Level” could be the perfect cap to a benchmark year for Sony, which backed two other hits in 2019: “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” The latter is being hailed an awards contender and so are two other Sony productions, “A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood” and “Little Women.”
“Sony has had an incredible year,” Nikki Novak, a correspondent for Fandango, told CNN Business. “The studio has been very successful at offering a diverse group of films across all genres.”
“Next Level” could also give the North American box office a much-needed boost. It’s down 5.6% compared to last year and there is less than three weeks left to narrow the gap.
“Every movie counts right now,” Dergarabedian said. “And ‘Jumanji’ is exactly the type of blockbuster the industry needs to help push it over the finish line.”