'Aquaman 2' Struggles With $40 Million Debut Over Slow Christmas

‘Aquaman 2’ Struggles With $40 Million Debut Over Slow Christmas

“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” failed to make a splash at the Christmas box office, debuting to $28 million over the weekend and an estimated $40 million through the four-day holiday weekend.

Those ticket sales were enough to top domestic charts over three other newcomers: 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.”

But Warner Bros. and DC Studio’s “Aquaman 2” has little to boast about beyond its No. 1 spot. The sequel cost $205 million and ranks among the worst debuts of the year for a superhero movie. It’s softer than November’s misfire “The Marvels” ($47 million), which ended its run as the lowest-grossing installment in the history of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe. “The Marvels” was shocking because it was the rare MCU movie to tumble out of the gate.

By contrast, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” is shaping up to be the fourth of four DC movies this year to crumble at the box office. Already in 2023, “The Flash” ($55 million debut), “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” ($30 million debut) and “Blue Beetle” ($25 million debut) majorly flopped in theaters.

December releases are known to start slower but enjoy staying power through the new year. That was the case with 2018’s “Aquaman,” which opened unspectacularly to $67 million and powered to $335 million in North America (and $1.15 billion globally). However, “Aquaman 2” faces choppier waters. Beyond the minimal buzz and terrible reviews, “The Lost Kingdom” is the final installment before DC’s new bosses, James Gunn and Peter Safran, reset the sprawling superhero universe without heroes like Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry to save the day.

Movie theater marquees are getting more crowded on Christmas Day as Warner’s musical adaptation of “The Color Purple,” Neon’s racing drama “Ferrari” and director George Clooney’s inspirational story “The Boys in the Boat” open in theaters. Studios and exhibitors are hoping that moviegoing will pick up on Dec. 25, but overall it’s a lackluster holiday season without a potential billion-dollar blockbuster, like “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Avatar: The Way of Water,” in the mix.

“2023 is finishing on a low note,” says David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. “Business is quiet compared with past Decembers, which had ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Jumanji,’ or the first ‘Aquaman.’”

Unless “The Lost Kingdom” rebounds, it’ll cap off a terrible year for comic book adventures. It’s an ignominious turn for a once-bulletproof box office genre. Disney’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” ($845 million) and Sony’s “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” ($690 million) were hits, but everything else, including Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” became big screen disappointments.

“The genre is by no means dead,” adds Gross, who believes 2024 offerings, such as “Deadpool 3,” “Joker 2” and “Venom 3,” will connect with audiences. “But the growth has stopped. We’re in a different world now.”

Elsewhere at the box office, “Migration” opened in third place with $12.3 million from 3,708 theaters over the weekend and an estimated $17 million through Monday. It’s a modest start for original animation, so the studio is banking on it playing like recent family films such as “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” and Pixar’s “Elemental,” which managed to keep selling tickets months after their debuts. “Migration” has generated positive reviews and landed an “A” CinemaScore, which bodes well for its holiday run.

“Migration, a comedy about a family of mallards who are heading south for the winter, cost $70 million. The film, written by Mike White and featuring the voice cast of Kumail Nanjiani, Elizabeth Banks and Awkwafina, has underwhelmed at the international box office with $22 million after two weeks of release.

Sony’s R-rated “Anyone But You” debuted in fourth place, collecting $9 million from 3,055 theaters over the four-day holiday weekend. It’s a lukewarm bow for a nationwide release, but the budget was economical, costing just $25 million.

“The Iron Claw” landed in sixth with $7.5 million from 2,774 venues over the four-day holiday frame. The $16 million-budgeted drama is one of the select A24 movies to open nationwide rather than roll out in limited release. The indie studio was optimistic about the commercial appeal of “The Iron Claw,” which stars Zac Efron and tells the tragic true story of the Von Erich family, a dynasty of professional wrestlers who were plagued with a series of tragedies.

Indian action drama “Salaar Part 1 – Ceasefire” rounded out the top five with $5.4 million from 802 venues over the weekend and an estimated $6.3 million through Monday. Moksha Movies and Pathyangira Cinemas are distributing the Telugu-language movie, with “Part Two” in development.

Without any breakout hits, last weekend’s champion, Warner Bros. fantasy musical “Wonka,” took second place with $26 million. The prequel story, starring Timothée Chalamet as the eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka, has grossed $83.5 million domestically and more than $254.9 million worldwide to date.

In limited release, Searchlight’s romantic drama “All of Us Strangers,” starring Andrew Scott (aka hot priest from “Fleabag”) and Paul Mescal (“Normal People”) kicked off with $132,000 from four theaters over the weekend and an estimated $188,000 through Monday. It translates to $33,034 per theater, a better average than other awards season hopefuls like “The Zone of Interest” ($32,483), “American Fiction” ($32,067) and “Anatomy of a Fall” ($23,569), but behind “Poor Things” ($72,000).

“Poor Things,” directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and starring Emma Stone, has been slowly expanding its footprint. The Frankenstein-esque fantasy, also from Searchlight, brought in $2.1 million from 800 venues over the weekend and $3 million through Monday’s holiday. So far, “Poor Things” has grossed $6 million.