Christmas Weekend Box Office Forecast: Wonder Woman 1984‘s Unconventional Release; News of the World and Promising Young Woman Debut

Photo Credits: Warner Bros. ("Wonder Woman 1984"); Universal Pictures ("News of the World")

After a handful of pandemic-induced delays, Wonder Woman 1984 is finally releasing to domestic audiences this weekend — but it will be a far different kind of event than anyone ever imagined.

Warner Bros.’ highly anticipated DC sequel will be opening day-and-date in theaters and streaming on their parent company’s HBO Max platform. It’s an unprecedented move, and one that made shockwaves throughout the industry when it was announced last month.

Director Patty Jenkins’ follow-up to the domestic market’s third-highest grossing film of 2017 will open in an estimated 2,150 locations amid the ongoing winter surge of COVID-19, currently responsible for daily national records in cases and hospitalizations. That fact alone is the reason why roughly 60 percent of domestic cinemas are temporarily closed, and why even audiences in areas where theaters are open may opt to stay home this weekend — especially with a streaming option easily available to them.

Wonder Woman 1984 is coming off a lukewarm international debut that generated an estimate of $38.5 million outside North America through Sunday — including a disappointing $18.8 million weekend start in China. A number of factors related to the pandemic provide color to those results, and the expectation of this film’s immediate availability to pirating websites can’t be discounted as — at the very least — a peripheral element underscoring the potential impact of this hybrid release from Warner Bros.

Nevertheless, it’s the biggest film yet to release during the pandemic, and those moviegoers willing and able to visit theaters are scooping up tickets in a manner reflective of such. Internal pre-sales observations are out-pacing those of Tenet ($9.5 million three-day weekend) and The Croods: A New Age ($9.7 million three-day weekend) ahead of their domestic releases when viewed on a location-by-location basis.

Denting that comparison, however, is the fact that far fewer theaters are open right now than were during Thanksgiving for Universal’s Croods sequel, and even less than back in late August for Christopher Nolan’s film. Furthermore, neither of those films had a day-and-date streaming component weighing onto forecasting models.

The short of it: Once again, we’re in the wild west of box office projections. There has never been a release like this for a movie that was budgeted, produced, and originally planned (multiple times) for an exclusively theatrical release. The complete fallout may take months (if not years) to determine, and the studio is already remaining quieter than normal — having not sent out a traditional pre-weekend release note yet. Warner was equally protective about reporting on Tenet, and the same is expected this time around.

According to Showtimes Dashboard, domestic theaters are dedicating 30 percent of their bookings to Wonder Woman 1984. That’s on par with the percentage allocated to the Croods sequel over Thanksgiving weekend. Given that Christmas is traditionally a major moviegoing day for families, and this film has a built-in fan base to boot, Friday and Saturday’s figures should register among the best of the pandemic era when it comes to box office.

Still, any box office numbers will be a far cry short of what we traditionally see from a major tentpole this time of year, not to mention for a film that was once a leading candidate to become the year’s biggest box office hit with a chance to reach $1 billion globally. That clearly won’t be happening now, but it’ll be fascinating to see what the film can achieve under the circumstances.

Other New Releases This Weekend

Universal is also returning to the new release game themselves with News of the World hitting an estimated 1,896 locations this weekend. The Tom Hanks-led western reunites the star with director Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips) and is making a play for adult audiences heading into a hopeful award season run.

Current showtime bookings account for roughly 13 percent, second only to Wonder Woman 1984. World‘s marketing has been fairly high profile by pandemic standards, and a release to PVOD — like other recent Universal titles the past few months — is planned for January 15.

Universal’s sibling, Focus Features, will also deliver fresh content to theaters this weekend via Promising Young Woman, another award candidate. Starring Carey Mulligan, the film targets an estimated 1,310 domestic locations starting Christmas Day.

Last but not least on the opener front, Roadside Attractions will distribute the latest reimagining of Pinocchio in over 750 locations this weekend. Currently, it accounts for an estimated 5 percent of booked showtimes.

Not to be forgotten in the mix of Christmas-slated films, Disney will push Pixar’s Soul straight to its Disney+ streaming platform at no additional charge to subscribers this Friday. It’s a strategy that bypasses any theatrical release stateside, but excludes the premium charge employed by Mulan a few months back. The studio’s latest original animation opens in direct competition with Wonder Woman 1984, providing another intriguing angle to this highly atypical weekend brought on by the pandemic.

Soul will stream in territories where Disney+ is available, but it does have a theatrical release in China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and several smaller markets beginning this weekend. More theatrical and streaming markets will follow in January.

Weekend Forecast

Film Distributor 3-Day Weekend Forecast Projected Domestic Total through Sunday, December 27 % Change from Last Wknd
Wonder Woman 1984 Warner Bros. Studios $10,000,000 – $15,000,000 $10,000,000 – $15,000,000 NEW
News of the World Universal Pictures $3,750,000 $3,750,000 NEW
The Croods: A New Age Universal Pictures $1,900,000 $30,800,000 -9%
Promising Young Woman Focus Features $1,750,000 $1,750,000 NEW
Monster Hunter Sony / Columbia $1,300,000 $5,000,000 -41%
Fatale Lionsgate $700,000 $2,200,000 -24%
Pinocchio (2020) Roadside Attractions $400,000 $400,000 NEW
Elf (2020 Re-Issue) New Line Cinema (Warner Bros.) $290,000 $2,350,000 -20%
Half Brothers Focus Features $220,000 $2,200,000 -19%
The Polar Express (2020 Re-Issue) Warner Bros. Studios $190,000 $980,000 -18%

All forecasts subject to change before the first confirmation of weekend estimates from studios or alternative sources.

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Photo Credits: Warner Bros. ("Wonder Woman 1984"); Universal Pictures ("News of the World")