‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi,’ ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ Save Box Office From Disaster

2017 Box office down 2.3% from a year earlier, but December for the ages softened blow.

December 31, 2017 5:00 pm
Star Wars
BB-8 from STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (Lucasfilm Ltd. ..© 2017)

On the last day of 2017, the movie industry enjoyed a box office report that seemed like a happy ending straight out of a Hollywood script. Especially because much of the year seemed more like a page from a horror movie.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi earned $52.4 million over the three-day weekend (with a projection of $64.5 million for the full holiday weekend), good enough for a third straight box office crown. Despite a mixed reaction from loyal Star Wars fans, the eighth installment in the saga has already earned $517.1 million in North America — leapfrogging another Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast, as the biggest hit of the year — and passing the $1 billion mark internationally. In any other stretch, industry insiders would be focused on the strong performance of box office runner-up, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which took in $50.6 million over the 3-day weekend, and a projected $67 million for the full holiday weekend.

Even with the strong finish, however, the box office overall is down 2.3% from this time last year. Just a few months ago, we were in a cold summer for the industry — a climate change which seemed to herald a post-apocalyptic future off-screen in which everyone stayed home to watch streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.

“Just like A Tale of Two Cities, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” ComScore senior box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian told RealClearLife.

“If the whole year looked like the past month, we’d be running away with a record year.”

And as the champagne flows Sunday night, there’s the usual heady optimism going into a new year — especially a 2018 stocked with Avengers: Infinity War, the sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a Scorcese movie that teams Pacino and De Niro (The Irishman,) and another Star Wars movie (Solo).

“We’re heading into 2018 with many lessons learned, some cuts and bruises and a year that looks very strong on paper,” said Dergarabedian.

(l to r) Kevin Hart (Franklin “Moose” Finbar), Karen Gillan (Ruby Roundhouse) Jack Black (Professor Shelly Oberon) and Dwayne Johnson (Dr. Smolder Bravestone) star in JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE.

But of course it’s dubious whether the studios will learn from their mistakes this year. Those much-needed lessons, as RCL sees them:

1.) Take a stab at more smart horror movies. What It and Get Out proved is that a well-written, R-rated horror movie is the most cost-effective genre of movie to make. It’s the dumb, PG-13 knockoffs that scare away customers.

2.) Stop making derivative R-rated comedies. Aside from the successful Girls’ Trip, most were serious failures at the box office. Call it The Hangover hangover after films like Rough Night and Father Figures had rough weeks.

3.) Don’t repeat the mistake of unnecessary sequels. Not every franchise has the power of a Star Wars. By the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean, even the most ardent fan wanted to throw themselves overboard. Put the Transformers back in the toy-box. Audiences, however, will pay to see the right sequels, as this past weekend proves. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle worked because pairing Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart was a solid chess move, and there’s no fatigue when there’s 22 years between installments.  There still seems to be some tread on the tires of the Fast and Furious franchise even after all those laps. And The Last Jedi, the second part of a trilogy, had a built in audience eager to see what happened next.

4.) Quit with the over-sharing! Once Marvel hit the motherlode with Avengers, every studio wanted their own shared cinematic universe. Thus began a cold war where slates were planned five years in advance before the first script was written just to swat on plum release dates. That’s no way to ensure quality movies. Warner Bros. stumbled from the critically-acclaimed Wonder Woman to the disappointing Justice League in a single bound, because filmmakers didn’t have time to see what worked in the former and apply it to the latter.

“They’re not widgets: You can have a release date and a concept, but that’s not a movie,” said Dergarabedian. “The money will follow the quality.”

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