Sony’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home” has given theaters around the world an early Christmas gift with its $600 million global launch last weekend. But now the question is: Can any of the films opening this holiday weekend find a foothold with Spidey both and COVID-19 dominating the headlines?
Leading the group of newcomers is Warner Bros.’ “The Matrix Resurrections,” which reunites Keanu Reeves, Carrie Anne-Moss and director Lana Wachowski in a meta spin on the 1999 sci-fi classic and its two sequels. Taking a radical visual departure from its predecessors and even questioning its own existence, “Matrix Resurrections” has received generally positive reviews from critics, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 71% at the time of writing.
“Matrix 4,” which opens at 3,550 locations on Wednesday, will be the last Warner Bros. release that debuts simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, nearly one year to the day that “Wonder Woman 1984” began the studio’s day-and-date experiment. As fate would have it, “Matrix” finds itself in a position somewhat similar to “WW84,” with a winter surge of COVID-19 making the streaming option likely more palatable to many intrigued would-be moviegoers.
Of course, this time a good portion of the public is vaccinated, though the HBO Max option may weigh down theatrical grosses as it has for all Warner films this year. Studio projections for “Matrix Resurrections” are at $40 million for the five-day period while independent projections are set at $60 million.
The film faces bigger challenges overseas. The surge from COVID’s Omicron variant is so bad that officials in Denmark and the Netherlands have announced closures of theaters and other businesses at least until mid-January, and officials in Great Britain and Germany have signaled that they may take similar measures. Such closures could not only damage the global launch of “Matrix Resurrections,” but also the overall box office of “No Way Home” as both films had hoped to capitalize on a resurgent holiday moviegoing rush.
Beyond the COVID challenges, there’s still the possibility that aside from “No Way Home,” most moviegoers just aren’t interested in “Matrix” or anything else on offer from Hollywood for Christmas. “No Way Home” added another $37 million in domestic grosses on Monday, and on Tuesday became the first film of the pandemic era to top $300 million in North America. The demand for this Marvel blockbuster won’t dissipate anytime soon, but distributors and theater owners alike are clinging to hope that the love for Spidey will trickle down into a wider love for moviegoing.
“What Sony did with ‘Spider-Man’ is absolutely fantastic and should be taken as good news for everyone in the industry, but Christmas is really the weekend where we will get a better sense of where the box office currently is,” one rival distributor told TheWrap. “During the holiday break, we will have multiple blockbusters, plus an animated family film, a faith-based film and a Paul Thomas Anderson film in the marketplace, and we will see whether people are confident enough in feeling safe at the movies and interested in what’s on offer enough to turn out.”
Let’s break down all the films mentioned by this distributor opening alongside “Matrix”. First, there’s Universal/Illumination’s “Sing 2,” a sequel to the 2016 animated animal musical that features U2 legend Bono in his first major voice acting role. It currently has a 64% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Sing 2” is the second major animated release this year to open exclusively in theaters. Disney’s “Encanto,” which opened on Thanksgiving weekend, has a running count of just $81.5 million domestic and $176.4 million globally, which still makes it the top-grossing animated film of 2021. “Sing 2” is projected to open in the $40 million range over the five-day period, which could top the $40.5 million Thanksgiving weekend start of “Encanto” if families show up.
20th Century Studios will release “The King’s Man,” a prequel to Matthew Vaughn’s “Kingsmen” films that stars Ralph Fiennes. The mixed reviews, including a 46% RT score, have muted opening projections to the mid-to-high teens from 3,100 theaters. Like the studio’s struggling “West Side Story,” “The King’s Man” was greenlit by 20th Century Fox before its acquisition by Disney and has had its release repeatedly pushed back from its initial November 2019 slot due to both the acquisition and the pandemic.
Beyond Wednesday, a pair of films will open in wide release on Christmas Day Saturday: Sony’s “A Journal for Jordan” and Lionsgate/Kingdom Story Company’s “American Underdog.” Both films are projected to gross under $10 million between Saturday and Monday.
“A Journal for Jordan” is directed by Denzel Washington and stars Michael B. Jordan as a U.S. Army sergeant who keeps a journal of wisdom for his infant child while deployed in Iraq. “American Underdog,” directed by faith-based auteurs Jon and Andrew Erwin, stars Zachary Levi as NFL legend Kurt Warner in a retelling of how Warner became the only undrafted quarterback ever to win the Super Bowl. Both films have less than 20 reviews logged on Rotten Tomatoes, with “Jordan” holding a 45% score while “Underdog” has 94%.
Finally, MGM/United Artists will expand Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” to around 800 theaters following a very strong run in limited release. With strong critical and audience acclaim, the film earned a pandemic-best theater average of $86,289 and has so far grossed $1.28 million from just four screens in New York and Los Angeles.
The ’70s coming-of-age drama stars Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman and was initially intended for an expansion to 2,000 theaters on Christmas Day. Instead, United Artists is going smaller and hopes to build more word of mouth over the holidays before further expanding in January.