It’s been 54 years since “Mary Poppins” first floated into moviegoers hearts, but nostalgia seems to be a little stronger than a spoonful of sugar and should translate into big bucks for Disney. Early tracking shows the latest live-action update of a Disney classic could generate roughly $65 million through Christmas Day, with $40 million during its first five days of release. “Mary Poppins Returns” is getting a head start on one of the business weekends for moviegoing by opening on Wednesday, Dec. 19. “Aquaman,” another blockbuster hopeful gracing screens that Friday, is heading toward an equally lofty $65 million launch over the holiday frame, according to studio insiders. “Bumblebee,” “Second Act,” and “Welcome to Marwen” are also joining the Christmas race that weekend with mixed results.
The Magic Kingdom had massive success re-imagining animated classics, with recent hits like “Beauty and the Beast” earning $1.2 billion globally and “Jungle Book” amassing $966 million worldwide. Here’s some context: “Beauty and the Beast” launched with a massive $174 million, while “Jungle Book” brought in an impressive $103 million during its first week of release. The first “Mary Poppins” debuted during Lyndon Johnson’s administration, won an Oscar for Julie Andrews, and was one of the highest-grossing films at the box office that year.
Though Disney didn’t get through 2018 completely unscathed, “Mary Poppins Returns” will likely cap off a banner year for the studio as the Mouse House prepares to absorb 20th Century Fox. Disney is responsible for three of the top five biggest earners this year at the domestic box office (“Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and “Incredibles 2”), and “Mary Poppins Returns” could easily join that company if past re-tellings of Disney originals are any indication.
Emily Blunt assumes the role of the magical nanny that Andrew originated in the 1964 classic. This chapter introduces some new characters, including a lamplighter named Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and Poppins’ wacky cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep). “Mary Poppins Returns” is set over two decades after the events of the first film and sees the prim and proper nanny back to help the next generation of Banks children (Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer) after the family experiences a tragedy. Dick Van Dyke, who famously portrayed Poppins’ closest friend Bert in the original film, has a cameo in the sequel.
Rob Marshall, who previously teamed with Blunt and Disney on “Into the Woods,” directed the sequel. You won’t hear legendary tunes like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Spoonful of Sugar,” and “Step In Time,” because “Mary Poppins Returns” features all new original songs with music and lyrics by award-winning composer Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman.
“Aquaman” was directed by James Wan and features Jason Momoa as the eponymous King of the Seven Seas. Warner Bros. hopes the latest entry in DC’s Extended Universe can stir up similar enthusiasm as its smash hit “Wonder Woman,” and will receive a warmer critical embrace than “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League.” Early reviews are calling the movie “fun,” which is a rave in comparison to “Suicide Squad,” but we are grading on a healthy curve here. The cast also includes Nicole Kidman, Amber Heard, and Willem Dafoe. It’s the first feature film centered on Aquaman, the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis. Though most studios would celebrate a $65 million launch, it’s on the lower side compared to Warner Bros.’ recent slate superhero movies, including “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” ($166 million), “Justice League” ($93 million), and “Wonder Woman” ($103 million). Word-of-mouth will be critical.
Paramount’s “Transformers” origin story “Bumblebee” should earn $40 million over the five days and $20 million during its opening weekend. If projections hold, that would be the smallest start yet for a “Transformers” film. The most recent entry in the sci-fi franchise, “Transformers: The Last Knight,” debuted with $44 million in summer of 2017 and went on to make $605 million worldwide, ranking as the lowest grossing (and most poorly reviewed) installment yet. It’s the first “Transformers” movie that Michael Bay isn’t directing (meaning that magic hour shots will be kept to a minimum and narrative coherence should be much improved). Bay is still on board as a producer. Hailee Steinfeld is starring in “Bumblebee,” which the studio is hoping can revive a franchise that seems to be running on fumes.
Jennifer Lopez’s romantic comedy “Second Act” and Robert Zemeckis’ drama “Welcome to Marwen” with Steve Carell and Leslie Mann are both eyeing bows in the mid-teens over the first five days of release. Christmas cheer may abound, but at the multiplexes it will be downright Darwinian. Survival of the fittest and all that.