December 2023 box office preview: Will ‘Aquaman’ turn the 2023 superhero slump around, or will something else win the holidays?

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Hopefully, you’ve already read this week’s weekend movie preview, so you know that “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé,” “Godzilla Minus One,” the revenge thriller “Silent Night” and more will be opening on this slow weekend coming up, so we can focus on the rest of the month, including the lucrative weeks around Christmas Day.

Oddly, the top three movies for the rest of the month might all be from the same studio, which is something fairly unheard of, even and especially during the holidays. Read on for Gold Derby’s December 2023 box office preview.

More from GoldDerby

“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” (Warner Bros. – Dec. 22)

Jason Momoa returns with this “Justice League” superhero in the sequel to the DC movie that opened with $67.8 million almost exactly five years ago and ended up making $1.1 billion globally, not bad for a superhero that’s often been treated as a joke on “Saturday Night Live” to “Entourage.” Director James Wan is back, as is most of the cast including Nicole Kidman, Patrick Wilson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (as villain Black Manta), Amber Heard and Dolph Lundgren, but a lot of has changed since that last one, including a noted downturn in superhero fare with DC seeing its last four movies underperforming in the last two years. Opening so close to Christmas Day can always be a problem, which is why the original made most of its $335 million domestic gross over the holidays and January. “The Lost Kingdom” probably won’t open nearly as big, maybe in the $50 millions, and we’ll have to if it holds up well, though going by recent developments, it could end up closer to $200 million domestically.

SEE Grab the popcorn and sound off in our movie forums

“Wonka” (Warner Bros. – Dec. 15)

Timothée Chalamet stars in his next big studio tentpole, playing the title character Willy Wonka in this prequel to the previous movies based on Roald Dahl‘s popular “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” book. Directed by Paul King (“Paddington”), this musical comedy features a rogue’s gallery of British talent including Hugh Grant (as an Oompa Loompa, no less), Olivia Colman, Sally Hawkins, Rowan Atkinson, as well as Kegan-Michael Key, newcomer Calah Lane, and many more. The important thing is the fact that it’s an original movie-musical (vs. something transposed from Broadway), which means it can find a lot of young fans from the music, similar to Hugh Jackman‘s “The Greatest Showman” in 2017. Having a pre-Christmas weekend all to itself means that it stands a good chance at opening with $40 to 45 million and then continuing to do well into the New Year with $200 to 230 million or more.

“The Color Purple” (Warner Bros. – Dec. 25)

Another big holiday movie this season is the adaptation of the Broadway musical based on the 1985 Steven Spielberg film, which itself was based on Alice Walker‘s prize-winning novel, which led to 11 Oscar nominations. This adaptation of the Broadway musical opens on Christmas Day (which falls on a Monday this year), and it should do huge business over the holiday week and into January, as it’s likely to be a real Oscar player. The Monday opening makes it hard to determine how much business will be left by the weekend, but it should be good for $25 to 30 million that opening week, if not more, and $100 million or more shouldn’t be hard to reach going into January.

“Migration” (Universal Dec. 22)

Universal’s Illumination Entertainment (“Minions”) is making a late play into the year’s insanely crowded animation game with this fun family film involving ducks that was written by Mike White of “The White Lotus.” The voice cast includes Kumail Nanjiani, Elizabeth Banks, Awkwafina, Carol Kane, Keegan-Michael Key (again?), Danny DeVito and more with Benjamin Renner (“Ernest & Celestine”) directing. As with most family films that open in the days before Christmas, don’t expect a ton of opening weekend business, maybe somewhere in the $20 million range but don’t be surprised if it ends up with $150 million or more by the time it leaves theaters since it’s coming out well after “Trolls Band Together” and “Wish” will be moving over to streaming.

“Anyone But You” (Sony – Dec. 22)

Glenn Powell from “Top Gun: Maverick” and Sydney Sweeney from “Euphoria” may already be the oddest couple even before you put them into this rom-com, directed by Will Gluck (“Easy A”). They play Ben and Bea, who have an amazing first date that peters out until they find themselves reunited in Australia at a destination wedding, and they pretend to be a couple. The holidays tend to be a great time to release this kind of rom-com with Sandra Bullock having had some big hits in the season, including “Miss Congeniality” and “Two Weeks Notice.” Both those movies opened in the teens, but went on to gross $100 million, which may be a little optimistic with less star power in play, but there’s no reason this can’t end up with $50 to $60 million by January if audience word-of-mouth is any good.

“American Fiction” (MGM – Dec. 15 limited, Dec. 22 wider)

This year’s biggest hit from the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), winner of that fest’s prestigious People’s Choice Award, is this directorial debut by Cord Jefferson, adapting Pervical Everett‘s novel, “Erasure.” It stars Emmy winner Jeffrey Wright (“Westworld”) as Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, frustrated by his lack of success as someone who doesn’t necessarily write as a “black author,” who makes up a new persona and completely different style to rectify that. This crowd-pleasing social satire will roll out this month, and it should have decent legs once it starts pulling in critic awards and Oscar nominations in January. Don’t be surprised if it ends up making $40 to $50 million or more.

“Poor Things” (Searchlight – Dec. 8 limited; Dec. 22 nationwide)

This oddball mix of “Frankenstein” and “My Fair Lady” once again teams Oscar-winner Emma Stone with her “The Favourite” director Yorgos Lanthimos and that film’s screenwriter, Tony McNamara. In this one, Stone plays Bella Baxter, the science experiment of Willem Dafoe‘s Godfrey Baxter, who is swept away by Mark Ruffalo‘s Duncan for an adventure in carnal desire. Also starring Ramy Youssef, Jerrod Carmichael, Margaret Qualley and Christopher Abbott, the movie has gained many critical fans on the festival circuit, but it’s a real question how much commercial success it can find if Stone’s fans are expecting something like “Cruella.”

Because it’s December, we’re getting a slew of true-story dramas looking for awards attention, including three sports-related films:

“Ferrari” (NEON – Dec. 25)

Adam Driver plays racer-turned-auto maker Enzo Ferrari in this new biopic directed by the legendary Michael Mann, looking at the development of his racing car business and how it was almost derailed by tragedy. It will open fairly wide on Christmas Day as an alternate to “The Color Purple.”

“The Iron Claw” (A24 – Dec. 22)

Zac Efron and Jeremy Allen White from “The Bear” play two of the four wrestling Von Erich Brothers, whose careers in Texas were exploding just as the family was struck by tragedy – I’m detecting a theme here. The movie is directed by Sean Durkin (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”), and though it didn’t play the festival circuit, it certainly has some awards potential that can help it over the holidays, even if it might struggle its opening weekend.

“The Boys in the Boat” (MGM – Dec. 25)

Director George Clooney returns with this feel-good holiday sports drama… that probably will be overcome by tragedy, because why not? Set in the ’30s, this one stars Joel Edgerton (“Loving”), as it follow the University of Washington rowing team from their beginnings during the Depression on their way to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Ah, I knew it. You may have noticed that there are three* sports dramas released within three days of each other, so there should be some cannibalization of business in play. (*See below for a fourth!)

“The Boy and the Heron” (GKIDS – Dec. 8)

What was meant to be Hayao Miyazaki‘s final animated film seems to not be the case, as the 82-year-old filmmaker has received such praise and acclaim for his latest movie that he might keep going. Although this has been working in select cities since Thanksgiving, it’s going to expand nationwide this weekend, pretty much on its own, but it might have a tough time hitting the top 5, depending on its theaters count.

SEE Box office: All time domestic top-grossing movies

December will also have a wide variety of limited releases, some which may expand wider in the New Year.

“Our Son” (Vertical – Dec. 8)

Luke Evans and Billy Porter star as a married gay couple going through a separation and having to decide on custody of their young son. Directed by Bill Oliver, the movie premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in June and will get a brief theatrical release before it hits VOD on Dec. 15.

“Lord of Misrule” (Magnolia – Dec. 8)

“The Boy” director William Brent Bell helms this horror-thriller, starring Tuppence Middleton (“Downton Abbey”) as the new priest for a small town that holds a dark secret.

“The Cello” (Destiny Entertainment – Dec. 8)

Filmmaker Darren Lynn Bousman (“Spiral”) goes overseas to make this Saudi horror film about a cello player who gets his hands on an instrument haunted by a malevolent spirit.

“The Zone of Interest” (A24 – Dec. 15)

British filmmaker Jonathan Glazer returns with this portrait of a Nazi commandant (Christian Friedel) and his family (including Sandra Müller from “Anatomy of a Fall”), whose house resides next door to the Auschwitz concentration camp. It’s grim but gorgeous, and it also won four awards at the Cannes Film Festival, when it debuted.

“All Of Us Strangers” (Searchlight – Dec. 22)

The new entry from another British filmmaker, Andrew Haigh, has also received much acclaim on the film festival circuit, is this adaptation of Taichi Yamada‘s novel about a gay man (Andrew Scott) who starts experiencing odd occurrences, including reuniting with his parents who died when he was 12. The movie also stars Paul Mescal, Jamie Bell and Claire Foy, and is vying for awards for a possible January expansion.

“Freud’s Last Session” (Sony Classics – Dec. 22)

Sir Anthony Hopkins and Matthew Goode star as Sigmund Freud and “Narnia” author C.S. Lewis in this drama from Matt Brown (“The Man Who Knew Infinity”) set on the brink of WWII, as the two men engage in a debate about the existence of God.

“Memory” (NEON – Dec. 22, expansion on Jan. 5, 2024)

Peter Sarsgaard and Jessica Chastain star in this acclaimed drama from Michel Franco about a man suffering from early-stage dementia and the woman he befriends, which premiered in Venice this past September, winning Sarsgaard an acting award.

“Occupied City” (A24 – Dec. 25)

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”) turns his eye to documentary filmmaking with this four-hour look at Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation and how it affected the city.

“The Teacher’s Lounge” (Sony Classics – Dec. 25)

Germany’s Oscar submission is Ilker Çatak‘s drama surrounding Leonie (“The White Ribbon”) Benesch‘s middle school teacher Carla, who has to contend with a series of thefts at her school.

Two higher-profile Netflix releases will receive limited releases a few weeks before streaming.

“Rebel Moon – Part 1: A Child of Fire” (Netflix – Dec. 15)

Hitting theaters before its Netflix debut later in the month is the first part of Zack Snyder‘s outer space epic, starring Jena Malone, Sofia Boutella, Ed Skrein, Charlie Hunnam and Sir Anthony Hopkins.

“Society of the Snow” (Netflix – Dec. 22)

Filmmaker J.A. Bayona (“Jurassic World: Dominion”) tackles a Spanish-language drama based on the story of the rugby team that crashed into a glacier in the Andes, leaving the passengers struggling to survive. I guess that makes it FOUR sports dramas that (mostly) end in tragedy right before Christmas Day.

That’s it for December and for 2023, but you can keep apprised of all the movies over the course of the month by reading the weekend preview each Wednesday.

SIGN UP for Gold Derby’s free newsletter with latest predictions

Best of GoldDerby

Sign up for Gold Derby's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Click here to read the full article.