Last year we said that all boats would rise in the holiday box office shadow of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which generated a $248M opening and wound up as the highest-grossing domestic release of all-time at $923M.

But that wasn’t necessarily the case for eight other wide releases that opened or expanded between Force Awakens’ opening day of December 18 and New Year’s weekend.

Looking back, comedies fared quite well. The only title to make it past $100M was the Mark Wahlberg-Will Ferrell PG-13 family title Daddy’s Home ($150M), while Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s Sisters and Paramount’s The Big Short (largely propelled by awards season) pumped out 6-plus respective multiples off their openings with respective final stateside cumes of $87M and $70.3M.

However, casualties abounded. David O. Russell’s dramedy Joy, a Jennifer Lawrence film no less, stopped at $56.4M. Quentin Tarantino’s three-hour-plus 70MM The Hateful Eight was no Django Unchained, with $54.1M for the chamber Western. Will Smith’s football drama Concussion fell down with $34.5M. And there was zero interest in seeing a Point Break reboot with fresh faces ($28.5M). The ever-powerful holiday multiple of 6x-8x always is spoken about by distribution executives, but in regards to last year, it just didn’t happen.

Felicity Jones - Rogue One.jpeg
ILM/Lucasfilm

So with Disney’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story being the clear must-see title with an expected opening north of $140M at 4,100-plus sites (we reported on our curtain raiser on Friday), should rival studios just light candles and say prayers this holiday season?

Despite potentially debuting to 44% less than Force Awakens’ opening, that’s still a lot of business for Rogue One, and it’s poised to be the second-highest opening December has ever seen. Already, it has been certified with a 82% fresh score from 116 reviews (compare that to Force Awakens’ 92% fresh). In addition, we haven’t heard any rumors like last year about Disney putting severe demands on exhibitors (i.e. play the film in your largest auditorium for four weeks). The reality of the situation is that when a film is extremely successful, exhibitors will give into the demand, add showtimes, move digital prints around. No one is going to stifle business where a buck can be made. During a weekend’s run in the multiplex, the cold-hard truth is that it’s all Darwinian.

“How well these films play depend on how good they are,” insists one sage major studio distribution chief observing how Force Awakens’ competition last year just wasn’t strong enough. Many wide releases paled among critics and audiences alike, or only won one of those categories over, i.e. Joy (60% fresh rating, B+ CinemaScore), Concussion (61% fresh, A CinemaScore), The Hateful Eight ( 75%, B CinemaScore), Point Break (an embarrassing 9% rotten, B CinemaScore.)

Among wide entries between this Friday and the end of the year, there’s arguably one fewer than last year’s eight over the same period. A definite plus is that it’s a more mass-appealing crop.

sing
Universal Pictures

Among those expected to succeed: Opening on December 21 is Illumination Entertainment/Universal’s animal jukebox musical toon Singwhich over six days could clear close to $70M. Since Sing‘s premiere at Toronto, Universal has pulled out the stops with online clips, advance screenings, live performances and previews on Black Friday at AMC theaters. To give you an idea of how subliminally “everywhere” Sing is, today on CNN, a New York City taxi stopped behind an on-air news anchor with a Sing ad on top of the roof. Can’t beat that advertising value.

Passengers Trailer
Sony Pictures

Sony’s sci-fi romance thriller Passengers starring Lawrence and Chris Pratt is expected to be a great match between stars and genre, continuing the box office streak of thinking-man sci-fi pics — read Gravity, Interstellar and The Martian — with a five-day holiday stretch take of $50M-plus.

Even 20th Century Fox’s video game adaptation Assassin’s Creed, which has been through a number of reshoots, should see a launch in the mid- to upper-$20M range. And this is before we get to Lionsgate/Summit’s La La Land, which is gradually expanding into more national markets between this weekend and next.

As far as those comedy sleepers that should reap the benefit of the holiday multiple, there’s the R-rated Bryan Cranston-James Franco family yarn Why Him? which I hear is definitely not a retread of Meet the Parents, rather funnier (Megan Mullally, I hear, is a scene-stealer). 20th Century Fox has been screening it for some time, and it’s looking at an estimated four-day of $16M-plus after a December 23 start.  

collateral-beauty

Those starting slower out of the gate in the face of Disney’s box office Death Star include this weekend’s Warner Bros./New Line/Village Roadshow’s all-star weepy drama ensemble Collateral Beauty, which is geared at women. It has logged a current 11% rotten score and is looking at $10M-$12.5M at 3,000-locations this weekend with hopes of building up steam over Christmas. With Rogue One all the rage on Thursday night with a potential $20M start, there won’t be any previews for Collateral Beauty.

manchester-by-the-sea
Amazon/Roadside

Roadside Attractions is taking Amazon Studios’ awards darling Manchester by the Sea from 366 locations to 1,000-plus, and it’s expected to do around $6M in its fifth sesh. Last weekend, the Casey Affleck-Michelle Williams drama made $3.1M, a significant amount of money for the number of auditoriums it played considering that Focus Features’ Nocturnal Animals made the same amount, but at 1,262. That brilliant Tom Ford thriller, which will boast more awards noms in the weeks to come, unfortunately is out of breath at the box office. Meanwhile, Paramount/DreamWorks/Reliance’s Office Christmas Party is expected to slide 55% in its second weekend to $7.6M. Nonetheless, the Melrose lot remains hopeful that the under-24 crowd who loved the movie on CinemaScore will discover it in a large turnout once winter break starts. Through yesterday, the T.J. Miller-Jennifer Aniston-Jason Bateman-Kate McKinnon comedy has made $18.3M.

Denzel Washington, Viola Davis - Fences.jpeg
Paramount Pictures

Paramount’s feature adaptation of August Wilson’s Fences directed by Denzel Washington opens in two theaters in New York and Los Angeles on Friday and should clock between $50K-$75K a theater. The movie has two Golden Globe nominations, one for Washington as lead actor drama, and another for Viola Davis in best supporting. The movie will make a wide expansion on Christmas and over two days (Sunday/Monday) should gross $9M.

And there’s an abundance of movies making their Oscar-qualifying runs or bowing limited, as follows:

December 21

Julieta (Sony Pictures Classics) -New York, LA

Patriots Day (CBS/Lionsgate) – New York, LA, Boston

Adam Driver, Andrew Garfield - Silence.jpeg
Kerry Brown

December 23: 

I, Daniel Blake (IFC)

A Monster Calls (Focus Features) – limited

Silence (Par) – Two theaters, New York and Los Angeles 

Christmas Day

live-by-night
Warner Bros Pictures

20th Century Women (A24) – limited

Hidden Figures (20th Century Fox)limited

Live by Night (WB) – limited

Toni Erdmann (Sony Pictures Classics) – NY, LA