February 25, 2024

‘Twas the weekend before Christmas and all through the theaters, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” was the box office leader.

The latest and final entry in the current iteration of the DC Comics universe got off to a less-than-splashy start with $13.7 million on opening day across 3,706 locations — getting a boost from showtimes in premium large format auditoriums like Imax. It’s a downtick from the original “Aquaman,” which posted a $27.7 million opening day around the holidays in 2018.

The writing’s been on the wall for a while with the Warner Bros. release, with the studio seemingly having moved on as James Gunn prepares his reboot of DC Comics properties with “Superman: Legacy.” Even star Jason Momoa has stated that “it’s not looking too good” for his potential future as the King of Atlantis — hardly the encouraging rhetoric usually seen in a promotional junket. Reviews have been pretty negative for the sequel, showing a sharp dive from the mostly friendly response the first “Aquaman” received.

Add onto that the long-swirling reports of a largely troubled production (including from Variety), growing murmurs of superhero fatigue and a ho-hum response from early moviegoers, as indicated by the B grade from research firm Cinema Score — there’s little expectation for “The Lost Kingdom” to post up the nearly five-times multiplier that the original “Aquaman” snowballed, finishing with $335 million in North America and more than $1 billion globally. Its sequel should still be a theatrical leader through the holidays, but it’ll be lucky to finish at even half of its predecessor’s figures.

Momoa goes back under the sea for the sequel, this time teaming up with Patrick Wilson — who played the villainous Orm in the first entry. Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Matteen II) is also back and he’s “different now” and “stronger than before,” per the film’s trailer. James Wan returns to direct.

Warner Bros. is also in competition with itself, as “Wonka” continues to draw audiences in its second weekend. The Timothée Chalamet-serenading musical added another $6.5 million in its second Friday, down 54% from its $14 million opening day last week. It’s a healthy holdover for the Paul King film, which looks to be a go-to for families through the holiday season.

A cavalcade of other new releases are rolling into theaters, hoping to drum up some business throughout the coming weeks. Looking to fly into third place is Universal’s “Migration,” an animated adventure about a southbound family of ducks. The Illumination Entertainment production took off with $5.8 million on its opening day from 3,761 theaters.

That’s hardly earth-shattering, falling behind the opening day totals of November’s animated releases “Wish” ($8.1 million) and “Trolls Band Together” ($9.3 million). But it’s also worth accounting for “Migration” being Ilumination’s first stab at original material since launching “Sing” in 2016, with various sequels and the Mario Bros. having buoyed the banner since. The animation house is also one of the most economical names in the game, turning “Migration” around at a production budget of less than $75 million. The animated film will move to keep family audiences entertained through the holidays. A glowing “A” Cinema Score grade shows promise.

“Migration” follows a pair of duck parents (Kumail Nanjiani and Elizabeth Banks) as they escort their children to Jamaica and meet colorful characters on the way. Benjamin Renner directs an original screenplay by “White Lotus” mastermind Mike White.

The Iron Claw” is eyeing fourth or fifth place, with rivals estimating the A24 drama at $2.4 million for Friday. It’s an alright result for the indie production, which looks to draw in wrestling fans with its focus on the Von Erich family. Zac Efron leads an ensemble that includes Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, Holt McCallany, Maura Tierney and Lily James. Sean Durkin directs. “Iron Claw” has drawn praise from critics and box office returns certainly wouldn’t hurt its awards aspirations. Audiences like the film too, coming it at an “A-” Cinema Score.

Moksha Movies and Pathyangira Cinemas’ “Salaar Part 1 – Ceasefire” has a shot at the top five. Opening in 750 locations, the Telugu-language gang war epic took in $3.7 million on Friday per rivals.

Sony’s “Anyone but You” is also in the mix after earning $3.4 million across Friday and preview screenings. Romantic comedies have a reputation for floundering in theaters these days, but perhaps the Sydney Sweeney-Glen Powell two-hander can build on this. Reviews have been mediocre, but the Cinema Score is a notch higher at a “B+.” The film carries a $25 million production budget. Genre regular Will Gluck directs.

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