Theater Owners Concerned About Aquaman 2’s Christmas Box Office Performance

The anticipation surrounding the holiday season is met with apprehension among theater owners, who harbor concerns about the box office potential of “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.” As the latest installment in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), the sequel starring Jason Momoa as the underwater hero and king faces heightened scrutiny and industry skepticism.

According to reports from Variety, numerous cinema chain owners are openly expressing their reservations about how well the Aquaman sequel will fare at the box office during the festive season. Cory Jacobson, owner of Phoenix Theaters, expressed concern, particularly in light of the negative reviews leading up to “The Lost Kingdom’s” debut. The thin collection of potential blockbusters scheduled for the remainder of 2023 further fuels these anxieties. Jacobson notes, “You can’t look at the release schedule between now and the end of the year and find one movie that stands out like Avatar as the big film.” Jeff Logan, owner of Logan Luxury Theaters, echoes this sentiment, stating, “We just wish there were more movies in the mix.”

The holiday slate for 2023 does include some eagerly awaited adaptations, such as Timothée Chalamet’s “Wonka” on Dec. 15 and “The Color Purple” on Dec. 22, featuring Fantasia Barrino, Halle Bailey, and Taraji P. Henson. Additionally, original projects like A24’s sports drama, “The Iron Claw,” and Universal/Illumination’s animated adventure film, “Migration,” are set to debut on Dec. 22. Dwayne Johnson’s Christmas movie, “Red One,” is also on the horizon, though its release date remains undisclosed.

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Despite these offerings, the relative lack of inspiring competition and the DCEU’s struggles in 2023 have heightened concerns among theater owners. Exhibitor Relations analyst Jeff Bock acknowledges the anxiety, stating, “The holiday season is on the shoulders of Aquaman, and that’s not a good shoulder to put anything on.” Bock emphasizes the challenge of Aquaman 2 cutting through the negative perception surrounding DC films, compounded by growing audience fatigue with sequels. He notes, “We’re seeing the collapse of these major franchises. This year has proven that audiences do want original things. Hollywood can’t just put a Roman numeral on things.”

The potential underperformance of “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” would bring an otherwise strong 2023 to a subdued end, following successful releases like “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” and especially “Barbenheimer,” contributing to Hollywood’s most significant summer revenue since 2019. However, DCEU films have struggled in 2023, with “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” “The Flash,” and “Blue Beetle” barely recouping their respective budgets.

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The challenges for “The Lost Kingdom” extend beyond industry trends. Multiple test screenings of the sequel reportedly resulted in walkouts, and controversies surrounding Amber Heard, who plays Mera, have added to the film’s tumultuous production. Behind-the-scenes drama involving Jason Momoa and Amber Heard has been reported, although director James Wan has downplayed these issues.

As the last entry in the DCEU before the anticipated transformation under DC Studios co-CEOs James Gunn and Peter Safran, the success of “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” is pivotal. The sequel, set to open in theaters on Dec. 22, may potentially mark Jason Momoa’s farewell as Aquaman, with strong rumors linking him to the role of Lobo in the DCU. The film’s performance amid these challenges will undoubtedly shape conversations about the future trajectory of the DC cinematic universe.

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