The Biggest Movies Coming to Theaters in December 2021

Images courtesy: Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Studios, Warner Bros.

Could December become the highest grossing month since domestic theaters reopened from the pandemic? The pandemic’s top figures at the box office come from October 2021 ($622.2M) but new installments from popular franchises like Spider-Man and The Matrix could make this holiday season the best month yet for the cinema recovery effort. 

Here are some of the biggest wide release films arriving to cinemas next month.


West Side Story

20th Century Studios

Friday, December 10

Premise: Steven Spielberg directs his first musical, a remake of 1961’s classic about a gang member who falls in love with a rival gang leader’s sister in mid-20th century New York City. Ansel Elgort and newcomer Rachel Zegler play the star-crossed Tony and Maria, the lead roles originated on screen by Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood. The original version won Academy Awards for both Best Supporting Actor, for George Chakiris as Bernardo, and Best Supporting Actress, for Rita Moreno as Anita; let’s see if those characters’ modern portrayers David Alvarez and Ariana DeBose can contend this time around. 

Box office comparisons: Musicals have proven to be hard to call at the domestic box office in recent years. Hits include 2010s titles like Les Miserables ($128.8M), Into the Woods ($128.0M), The Greatest Showman ($174.3M), and La La Land ($151.1M). More recent efforts, however, have failed to gain traction with audiences with titles like Cats ($27.1M) and In the Heights ($29.8M in theaters while debuting day-and-date on HBO Max) failing to gain significant traction with audiences. 


National Champions

STX Entertainment

Friday, December 10

Premise: A Heisman Trophy winner and projected #1 NFL draft pick leads college athletes in a strike of the college football national championship game, to protest players’ lack of salary and dearth of legal protections. J.K. Simmons, an Academy Award winner for Whiplash, plays the championship contender team’s head coach in this sports drama.

Box office comparisons: Other similar dramas about college or high school football include 2006’s We Are Marshall starring Mcconaughey ($43.5M), 2004’s Friday Night Lights ($61.2M), and 2003’s Radio ($52.3M).


Spider-Man: No Way Home

Sony Pictures / Marvel Studios

Friday, December 17

Premise: Tom Holland’s Peter Parker teams up with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange to open up a “multiverse,” bringing in other characters previously seen in former Spider-Man films that starred lead actors Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield. The trailers so far have explicitly shown such prior villains as Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin from 2002’s Spider-Man, Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus from 2004’s Spider-Man 2, and Jamie Foxx’s Electro from 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Box office comparisons: The Holland-led franchise’s two previous installments were 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming ($334.2M) and 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home ($390.5M). This third installment will almost certainly be the highest-grossing movie of the year domestically, an honor currently held by Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.


Nightmare Alley

Searchlight Pictures

Friday, December 17

Premise: Guillermo Del Toro directs and co-writes this psychological thriller, his first film since winning the Academy Award for both Best Director and Best Picture for 2017’s The Shape of Water. Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett star as a carnival operator and a psychiatrist who discover that neither of them are quite who the other believes, in this remake of a 1947 film based on a 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham.

Box office comparisons: Del Toro’s prior films include The Shape of Water ($63.8M), 2015’s Crimson Peak ($31.0M), and 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth ($37.6M).


The Matrix Resurrections

Warner Bros.

Wednesday, December 22

Premise: The original trilogy — 1999’s The Matrix, 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded, and also-2003’s The Matrix Revolutions — have earned their place in the popular culture pantheon. The trailer for this fourth installment appears to blow up so many of the preset “rules” of the original trilogy. Why does Keanu Reeves’ character Neo look so different from his prior appearances, dissheveled and with shoulder-length hair? Judging by a shot of numerous elevator passengers all on their smartphones, how is it even possible that the film appears to take place in 2021, when the original trilogy clearly established that the the Matrix itself — the simulated reality implanted into humans’ brains by machines in the distant future — simulates the year 1999?

Box office comparisons: While the first installment is considered a science-fiction classic, ranking as the #16 highest-rated movie of all time on IMDb, the second and third installments aren’t. So will audiences treat this more like the first intsallment, or the second and third?

This was reflected in the three films’ respective box office hauls. The first installment was a slow burn: spending 13 weekends in the top 10 as word of mouth continually spread, ultimately earning $171.4M (or $304.1M adjusted for ticket price inflation), and finishing with a superb 6.1x its opening weekend gross. The second installment opened huge but flamed out comparatively quickly with $281.5M (or $420.7M adjusted), a 3.0x multiple due to poorer word-of-mouth. The third installment, meanwhile, earned even less than the original had with $131.9M (or $208.0M adjusted), with the franchise’s lowest-yet 2.8x multiple. 

Also, to what extent will the simultaneous day-and-date release on HBO Max render box comparisons to the three prior theatrically-exclusive Matrix installments inexact?


Sing 2

Universal

Wednesday, December 22

Premise: 2016’s original animated Sing, about a group of animals competing in a musical contest, starred the voices of Matthew McConaughey as a koala, Reese Witherspoon as a pig, and Scarlett Johansson as a porcupine. This sequel adds several big names to the voice cast, include Bono as a lion. The trailers released so far have shown the characters singing or rapping such hits as My Name Is by Eminem, Hotline Bling by Drake, Bury a Friend by Billie Eilish, Chop Suey by System of a Down, There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back by Shawn Mendes, Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys, and I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2. 

Box office comparisons: A fun trivia fact — 2006’s original is the highest grossing movie of all time that never reached #1 at the weekend box office. Earning $270.3M, it spent both of its first two frames as the runner-up behind Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Now Sing 2 may do something similar, as it will be almost impossible to overtake No Way Home at the weekend box office in either of its first two frames. (Although it also seems almost impossible to match its predecessor’s $270.3M total, either.)


The King’s Man

20th Century Studios

Wednesday, December 22

Premise: The first trailer for this R-rated action comedy prequel came out all the way back in July 2019, for an intended release date of November 2019. More than two years later, this third installment in the franchise directed by Matthew Vaughn is finally coming out. Set in the World War I era, it follows the origins of the spy agency depicted in the present day in 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service and 2017’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Box office comparisons: Secret Service earned $128.2M, while Golden Circle earned $100.2M. However, this installment seems unlikely to match that; not only does it take place a century earlier and return none of the fan favorite characters, but the two prior installments came out during the comparatively less-congested late January and September periods respectively, rather than the busiest-of-the-year holiday season.


A Journal for Jordan

Sony Pictures

Saturday, December 25

Premise: Denzel Washington directs this family and war drama based on the true story of Sgt. Charles Monroe King, who deployed to Iraq while his fiancée and newborn son were still stateside. Michael B. Jordan stars.

Box office comparisons: Jordan starred in another Christmas Day drama release in 2019, Just Mercy, which earned $36.0M. Washington’s previous directorial effort was another December drama release, 2016’s Fences, which made $57.6M.


American Underdog

Lionsgate

Saturday, December 25

Premise: Zachary Levi (Shazam!) stars in this inspirational sports drama biopic as Kurt Warner, who went from stocking grocery shelves to starting quarterback for the St. Louis Rams. To date, Warner’s 1999 wins of NFL Most Valuable Player and Super Bowl Most Valuable Player makes him the last man to claim both awards in the same season.

Box office comparisons: 2006’s Invincible starred Mark Wahlberg in a biopic about real-life 1970s NFL player Vince Papale, who also went from unemployment to a pro career. It earned $57.8M, although that’s above most current projections for American Underdog. 2015’s Concussion starred Will Smith as a doctor trying to prevent the titlular malady in NFL players, also premiering on Christmas Day and earning $34.5M.

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