'Jumanji: The Next Level' Finally knocks 'Frozen II' from the Top Spot
December 16, 2019
It's one week before the final chapter of the most popular and scrutinized narrative of our time opens, and this past weekend saw several attempts to grab the collective audience's attention before Star Wars, and then Christmas, take over. Some were successful, some were not.
Two years ago, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was able to translate nostalgia for the original 1995 film into huge numbers a week after Star Wars: The Last Jedi was released. This year, the follow-up, Jumanji: The Next Level, arrived a week before the new Star Wars film, The Rise of Skywalker, and it appears to have been a judicious decision as the film took in a hefty $60 million in its opening frame, finally dislodging Frozen II from the top spot after the Disney animated sequel dominated for three straight weeks.
The new Jumanji sequel isn't exactly the most narrative-forward film, with somewhat more emphasis placed on big name actor chemistry and special effects-laden set pieces, but it speaks to how audiences stressed by the build up to Christmas may covet a less demanding narrative.
Clint Eastwood's latest film as director, Richard Jewell, opened in fourth place over the weekend behind Frozen II and Knives Out in the number 2 and 3 spots, respectively. It’s surprisingly low take of $5 million was no doubt a major disappointment for all involved, especially Eastwood, as it's his lowest opening weekend gross in decades.
One factor may be Clint's absence in front of the camera. Although the film featured leading turns from Oscar®-winner Sam Rockwell, Jon Hamm and Olivia Wilde, none of them are Clint Eastwood, despite their own, large degree of star power.
It's difficult to ignore the controversy surrounding the film in looking at its starkly low numbers. Richard Jewell tells the story of the titular security guard (played by Paul Walter Hauser) whose life was turned upside down when he was named as a suspect in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing, after initially being hailed as a hero for discovering the bomb.
The film has been criticized for depicting the unsubstantiated claim that journalist Kathy Scruggs (played by Wilde) had sex with an FBI agent (Hamm) in exchange for his tip that Jewell was being looked at as a suspect.
The film has also proved politically divisive for portraying an innocent man stitched up by both the media and the FBI— a thematic thread that can't help but link it to Eastwood's famously right-wing politics. In other words, Jumanji 3, this was not. Again, it suggests perhaps that audiences are craving lighter narratives around the holiday period.
Coming in behind Richard Jewell at number five on the charts is horror film Black Christmas, which took in a worryingly low $4.4 million in its opening frame. The film is the second remake of the influential 1974 slasher film, following a poorly-regarded 2006 version.
The new Black Christmas has been both celebrated and criticized for offering a neo-feminist take on the original, which again points to the perils of attempting to engage modern political concerns in popular entertainment. It's also possible that audiences still haven't forgotten the stench of the first remake, or it's a simple case of Christmas-themed horror narratives not being attractive to a large holiday audience.
Either way, all these films will be pushed aside later this week when The Rise of Skywalker opens wide to close out both the decade and the nine-film Skywalker saga.
Written by: Dominic CorryDominic Corry is a Los Angeles-based film critic, writer, journalist and broadcaster. Raised in New Zealand, he is also the West Coast editor of Letterboxd, the social network for movie lovers. For more of his film writing, see his website www.TheGoodInMovies.com