Box Office: ‘Aquaman 2’ debut dips with $40 million during Christmas season

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The premiere of “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” failed to make a significant impact at the Christmas box office, bringing in $28 million over the weekend and an estimated $40 million across the four-day holiday period. Despite securing the top spot domestically, surpassing three other new releases – Universal and Illumination’s animated “Migration,” Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell’s romantic comedy “Anyone but You,” and A24’s sports biopic “The Iron Claw” – the film struggled to celebrate its success beyond this ranking.

Warner Bros. and DC Studio’s “Aquaman 2” claimed the number one position but had little else to boast about. With a production cost of $205 million, the sequel marked one of the weakest debuts of the year for a superhero movie. It fell short compared to November’s disappointment, “The Marvels,” which concluded as the lowest-grossing installment in Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe history, despite its $47 million debut. “The Marvels” was an unexpected stumble for the typically successful MCU.

Contrary to its predecessor’s success, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” appears to be following a trend of underperforming DC movies in 2023. Earlier releases like “The Flash” ($55 million debut), “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” ($30 million debut), and “Blue Beetle” ($25 million debut) also faced major setbacks at the box office.

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While December releases often start slow but gain momentum through the new year, the outlook for “Aquaman 2” seems bleak. Despite minimal buzz and unfavorable reviews, “The Lost Kingdom” faces additional challenges as it serves as the final installment before the overhaul of DC’s superhero universe by new leadership.

On Christmas Day, movie theaters welcomed new releases like Warner’s musical adaptation of “The Color Purple,” Neon’s racing drama “Ferrari,” and director George Clooney’s inspirational narrative “The Boys in the Boat.” However, the industry lacked a potential blockbuster akin to “Spider-Man: No Way Home” or “Avatar: The Way of Water,” resulting in a lackluster holiday season.

David A. Gross, from Franchise Entertainment Research, noted the subdued nature of business compared to past Decembers that boasted major hits like “Star Wars” or “Jumanji.”

Overall, 2023 proved to be a challenging year for comic book adaptations, with only a few exceptions like Disney’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” and Sony’s “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” making significant earnings. The rest, including Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” disappointed at the box office.

Gross remains optimistic about the genre’s future, anticipating that upcoming 2024 releases such as “Deadpool 3,” “Joker 2,” and “Venom 3” will resonate better with audiences. However, he acknowledges that the era of exponential growth for these movies has ceased, signaling a change in the landscape of the industry.

Beyond “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” other movies vied for attention at the box office. “Migration,” despite positive reviews and an “A” CinemaScore, made a modest start, hoping for a sustained run similar to past family films. Sony’s “Anyone But You” and A24’s “The Iron Claw” also debuted with lukewarm numbers, while the Indian action drama “Salaar Part 1 – Ceasefire” rounded out the top five.

Meanwhile, “Wonka,” Warner Bros.’ fantasy musical, maintained its position but without any standout successes, grossing $26 million and reaching a total of $83.5 million domestically and over $254.9 million worldwide.

In the limited release category, Searchlight’s romantic drama “All of Us Strangers” showed promise, generating $132,000 from four theaters during the weekend and an estimated $188,000 through Monday, indicating potential in the awards season landscape.