Mary Poppins Returns is Christmas winner at UK box office

Disney reboot ends year on a high, Bumblebee gives boost to Transformers franchise and indie doc Free Solo climbs ever higher

The winner: Mary Poppins Returns

With £7.44m from an ultra-wide distribution to 740 cinemas, Mary Poppins Returns was the clear winner of the UK box office on the final weekend of 2018. Takings for the nostalgic sequel declined by a slim 10% from its debut, and have reached a robust £23.2m after 10 days of play. With kids still on holiday, the nanny-themed musical should continue to play strongly every day until schools open again.

The only negative for cinema operators and the film’s distributor, Disney, is any comparison with the big release from a year ago, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The blockbuster space adventure had grossed £50.7m after two weekends of play, on its way to an £82.7m total. Mary Poppins Returns should enjoy a slower decline, but £50m looks a more realistic target.

The runner-up: Bumblebee

Paramount enjoyed a strong run at UK cinemas with its Transformers franchise beginning in 2007, but ran into trouble in 2017 when the fifth entry in the series, Transformers: The Last Knight, grossed less than half of any of the previous films, limping home with a £9.54m UK total.

Clearly a refresh was needed, hence Bumblebee, the first Transformers film not directed by Michael Bay, and the first with a female human protagonist. At first glance, the numbers look encouraging, with a £5.10m debut. However, Bumblebee grossed a slimmer £2.47m for the weekend period, and benefited overall from extensive previews. For comparison, The Last Knight began with £3.89m, and £4.64m including previews.

The takeaway is that even if Bumblebee ends up grossing a similar amount to The Last Knight, that’s still better than a sixth Transformers movie would have done, given the trajectory of the franchise. And a reported production budget for Bumblebee of $135m is a significant discount on the $200m-plus cost of Bay’s Transformers films.

The disappointment: Holmes and Watson

A year ago, the top comedy in the UK market was Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which opened the weekend before Christmas with £8.15m including previews, on its way to a £38.5m total. In 2018, the year has ended with a much weaker comedy: Holmes and Watson, starring Will Ferrell and John C Reilly.

Comparisons with the family-friendly Jumanji reboot are perhaps a little unfair, but UK cinema operators will nevertheless be disappointed with Holmes and Watson’s debut numbers: £864,000 for the weekend period, and £1.42m including takings on December 26 and 27.

Hollywood news site Deadline reports that Sony tried to sell off Holmes and Watson to Netflix after poor test scores, but the streaming giant didn’t bite.

The indie hit: Free Solo

Most films showed strong traction at the weekend, with only modest declines, or even increases, at UK cinemas: Aquaman was up 2%, and animations Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Ralph Breaks the Internet posted rises of 2% and 20%, respectively. Bohemian Rhapsody did even better than that, rising 58%, but it was eclipsed by the documentary Free Solo, up a healthy 87%.

Free Solo, which depicts an attempt by climber Alex Honnold to scale the sheer rock face of El Capitan in California’s Yosemite national park without the help of ropes or safety gear, grossed £164,000 from 83 cinemas for its third weekend of play, delivering a 17-day total of £830,000. The film is clearly headed for £1m-plus, which is a breakthrough for its modestly resourced UK distributor, Dogwoof.

The market

Thanks to the strong holds that existing titles have in the market, plus the arrival of Bumblebee, grosses are 25% up overall on the previous session. However, without a Star Wars film to boost numbers, takings are 13% down on the last weekend of 2017.

Cinema operators enter 2019 with some trepidation. The flood of titles arriving in January for awards season seems to lack the big commercial hits equivalent to Darkest Hour last year and La La Land the year before. And this period was also boosted a year ago by an incredibly long and sustained run from The Greatest Showman.

Instead, hopes are pinned currently on Yorgos Lanthimos’s quirky period comedy The Favourite, which opened on New Year’s Day, and should deliver robust numbers for the Oscar and Bafta hopeful. Robert Zemeckis’s Welcome to Marwen, starring Steve Carell, also opened on 1 January and will be reported next time.

Top 10 films, 28-30 December

1. Mary Poppins Returns, £7,441,687 from 740 sites. Total: £23,243,909 (two weeks)

2. Bumblebee, £5,103,382 from 587 sites (new)

3. Aquaman, £2,445,108 from 559 sites. Total: £14,353,312 (three weeks)

4. Holmes and Watson, £1,418,030 from 481 sites (new)

5. Ralph Breaks the Internet, £1,269,357 from 613 sites. Total: £13,266,916 (five weeks)

6. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, £1,015,505 from 554 sites. Total: £5,878,855 (three weeks)

7. The Grinch, £753,537 from 554 sites. Total: £26,624,487 (eight weeks)

8. Bohemian Rhapsody, £656,641 from 319 sites. Total: £47,178,811 (10 weeks)

9. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, £551,938 from 341 sites. Total: £32,661,577 (seven weeks)

10. Creed II, £411,795 from 305 sites. Total: £9,090,207 (three weeks)

Other openers

Simmba, £267,952 from 85 sites

Yolki 7, £4,493 from 10 sites

  • Thanks to Comscore. All figures relate to takings in UK and Ireland cinemas.


Charles Gant

The GuardianTramp

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