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Graham: ‘Jumanji,’ ‘Greatest Showman’ softly steal show

The two December releases are still hanging around at the box office, outpacing expectations

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“Star Wars” got the headlines. But the sustained hits of the holiday movie season were “Jumanji” and “The Greatest Showman.”

To be fair, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was 2017’s highest-grossing film by an intergalactic mile. To date, it has earned a whopping $617 million at the domestic box office, more than $100 million more than the second-place earner, “Beauty and the Beast.”

Dwayne Johnson, left, and Kevin Hart star as players locked in a video game in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.”

After snatching up all the money in sight, “The Last Jedi” faded. Last weekend, in its ninth week in theaters, the film was No. 16 at the box office, sandwiched between the WWII Best Picture nominee “Darkest Hour” and the British children’s tale “Paddington 2” and taking in just $1.3 million.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and “The Greatest Showman,” meanwhile, were Nos. 4 and 5, taking in $10 million and $6.4 million, respectively.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And the success of “Jumanji” and “The Greatest Showman” prove the value of playing to the masses and giving them what they want, and how the real story is not always told at the top.

No one expected “Jumanji” to turn into the hit has become. A semi-sequel to the 1995 Robin Williams-starrer, the family adventure film stars the Rock, Kevin Hart and Jack Black as characters trapped inside a video game version of the jungle board game. It opened a week after “Star Wars” and earned $55 million over the long Christmas weekend, good enough for a No. 2 bow. And then like the Rock’s popularity, it just kept going: it nearly tied with “Star Wars” in its second weekend, and then topped the box office for four non-consecutive weekends, one more than “The Last Jedi.”

“Jumanji” has earned a whopping $369 million at the domestic box office, making it 2017’s fifth biggest hit. (The year’s fourth biggest movie, the “Guardians of the Galaxy” sequel, earned $389 million and is still in its sights.)

“The Greatest Showman,” meanwhile, has grown into the sleeper hit of the winter movie season. Initially thought of as an Oscar candidate, the musical starring Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum was instead positioned as a crowd-pleasing good time away from the awards season luster. It opened the same weekend as “Jumanji” and scored a modest $8 million its opening weekend, taking the weekend’s No. 4 position.

Then it took off: In its second weekend, it nearly doubled its opening gross, and has since posted only modest declines from week to week. Where most films tend to lose about half their audience every weekend, “The Greatest Showman” has yet to lose more than 20 percent of its business from one frame to the next. It has earned almost $150 million to date and is set to top “La La Land” to become the fourth highest grossing live-action musical of the modern box-office era.

Both middle-of-the-road, family-oriented films, “Jumanji” and “The Greatest Showman” were built for crowds, not for critics. Though “Jumanji” did better than expected with reviewers, earning a 76 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes (yours truly was among the dissenters), “The Greatest Showman” had a tougher go, posting only a 55 percent approval rating on the critical aggregator.

That mattered little to audiences, who graded “Jumanji” and “The Greatest Showman” with scores of A- and A, respectively, according to audience exit-polling outfit Cinemascore.

“The Greatest Showman” also scored with special “sing-along” screenings, where lyrics to the film’s songs were scrawled out at the bottom of the screen.

Hollywood is propped up by major event releases like this weekend’s “Black Panther,” which is set to smash records and has been the subject of mountains of media attention for weeks. But films like “Jumanji” and “The Greatest Showman,” which tend to slide under the radar and go on to become word-of-mouth blockbusters, are just as important to the Hollywood machine, and their success helps shape the types of films that get made going forward.

It’s notoriously difficult to predict what will catch on at the box office, and it’s a science few have been able to master. But if you’re a Hollywood exec right now trying to predict the next big hit, a movie musical starring the Rock seems like a pretty safe bet.


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