New movies open on Christmas as “Aquaman” sequel tops holiday weekend box office

A look at your new movie options this holiday season

A look at your new movie options this holiday season


“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom ” led a crowd of new releases at the box office on the weekend before Christmas Monday. The DC and Warner Bros. superhero sequel starring Jason Momoa earned an estimated $28.1 million in its first three days of release in 3,706 locations in North America, according to studio estimates Sunday. By Monday it is projected to have around $40 million in domestic ticket sales.

Despite many new offerings — including the family friendly animated film “Migration,” the R-rated romantic comedy “Anyone But You,” the wrestling family tragedy “The Iron Claw” and a ghostly tearjerker in “All of Us Strangers ” — this will go down as a quieter pre-holiday tally at the box office. 

It is never great for Hollywood or theaters when Christmas Eve falls on a prime weekend day, but the last time Christmas was on a Monday, in 2017, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” dominated the four-day charts with $71.5 million from its second weekend.

On Christmas Day, which often brings big crowds back to the theaters, they’ll be joined by several highly anticipated new films. 

Those include the big budget musical adaptation of “The Color Purple,” starring Fantasia Barrino Taylor, Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks, Colman Domingo and Corey Hawkins. Oprah Winfrey, who played Sofia in the 1985 film adaptation of the novel by Alice Walker, is serving as a producer.

Fantasia Barrino Taylor explains why she took on the role of Celie in “The Color Purple”


In an interview with CBS News’ “Sunday Morning,” Henson described the message of the film: “As long as you got a beat in your heart, there’s time to make your wildest dreams come true.”

“It just reminds me of how powerful we are as women when we stick together. And that just doesn’t mean that we’re comin’ after you, men!” Henson laughed. “If we stick together, you’re taken care of. Relax! You know, men get nervous. The women and girls are stickin’ together! You will benefit, trust me.”

Taraji P. Henson on “The Color Purple”


Also arriving on Christmas is Michael Mann’s racing film “Ferrari,” starring Adam Driver, Penelope Cruz and Shailene Woodley; and George Clooney‘s adaptation of the rowing drama “The Boys in the Boat,” based on the best-selling book by Daniel James Brown that recounted the underdog journey of the American oarsmen at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

All should get a boost between Christmas and New Years, a traditionally lucrative time for movie theaters.

But none will compare some of the biggest holiday earners, like “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Avatar” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” It was not lost on social media that this was the weekend that Patty Jenkins’ Star Wars movie “Rogue Squadron” was supposed to come out.

“Seven openers in the course of four days is unusual,” said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for Comscore.

“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” is estimated to have cost around $200 million to produce, not including marketing and promotion costs. Including international estimates at $80 million through Monday, “Aquaman” is heading toward a $120 million global debut.

Actor Jason Momoa holds a trident at an event for his new film,
Actor Jason Momoa holds a trident at an event to celebrate his new film, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” in London, Dec. 12, 2023,

Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for Warner Bros.

The first film opened to $67.8 million in 2018 and went on to make almost $1.2 billion globally. Dergarabedian noted that the first film also earned more than 70% of its box office internationally.

The “Aquaman” opening ends a tricky, transitional year for DC superhero films, full of box office disappointments including “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” “The Flash” and “Blue Beetle,” as the studio phases out this slate to welcome in James Gunn’s vision for the future. “Aquaman 2” was the final “holdover” of the previous administration.

Its studio, Warner Bros. also has the No. 2 movie of the weekend, “Wonka ” and one of the major Christmas openings, “The Color Purple,” a buffet of big movies that was sorely needed by theaters — especially without no new movie from the Walt Disney Company or Paramount. By Monday, Warner Bros. will likely have three spots in the top five.

“Warners has something for everybody” said Jeff Goldstein, the studio’s head of domestic distribution. “With lots of holiday time to see all three.”

“Wonka,” in its second weekend, earned an estimated $17.7 million over the weekend and $26.1 million including Monday, bringing its total domestic earnings to $83.6 million.

Third place went to Illumination and Universal’s “Migration,” a PG-rated animated adventure about a family of mallards traveling south. Voice actors include Kumail Najiani, Elizabeth Banks and Awkwafina. It earned an estimated $12.3 million from 3,761 locations in North America through Sunday, which will likely increase to $17.1 million by the end of Monday. Its global total through Sunday is sitting at an estimated $34.3 million, and it could soar with kids out of school.

Birds in an image from animated film
An image from the animated film “Migration,” about a family of birds flying south for the winter.

Illumination Entertainment & Universal Pictures via AP

“‘Migration’ flew into theaters with really, really exciting audience reactions pointing to what we think won’t just be a fantastic run throughout the holidays but also into the next year,” said Jim Orr, Universal’s head of domestic distribution.

Aside from Disney’s re-releases of some of its Pixar titles early in the year, there will be no new direct competition until “Kung Fu Panda 4” comes out on March 8.

Weekend box office earnings dropped off significantly further down the list, with the romantic comedy “Anyone But You” in fourth place with an estimated $6.2 million from its first three days, expected to reach $9 million including Monday. Directed by Will Gluck, the movie, loosely inspired by “Much Ado About Nothing,” divided critics sharply. Audiences gave it a B+ CinemaScore.

In fifth place was the Telugu-language action film “Salaar: Part 1 – Ceasefire,” which made $5.5 million from only 802 theaters. The top 10 included another Indian film, the Hindi-language “Dunki,” and two Japanese films, “Godzilla Minus One” and “The Boy and the Heron.”

A24’s “The Iron Claw,” about the tragedy-stricken Von Erich wrestling family, opened on 2,774 screens riding a wave of good reviews praising Zac Efron’s lead performance. 

“No matter where the box office ends up on the 31st, whether it hits $9 billion or is just close, this is just a boom time to be a moviegoer,” Dergarabedian said. “The top 10 reads like a greatest hits of every type of cinema.”

Below is a list of estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures including Christmas Day will be released Tuesday.

1. “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” $28.1 million.
2. “Wonka,” $17.7 million.
3. “Migration,” $12.3 million.
4. “Anyone But You,” $6.2 million.
5. “Salaar: Part 1 – Ceasefire,” $5.5 million.
6. “The Iron Claw,” $5.1 million.
7. “The Hunger Games: The Ballard of Songbirds & Snakes,” $3.2 million
8. “The Boy and the Heron,” $3.2 million.
9. “Godzilla Minus One,” $2.7 million.
10. “Dunki,” $2.7 million.

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