It really can’t be avoided anymore. We have to talk about the unbelievable box office story that is Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. This past weekend, Jumanji was once again the highest grossing movie at the box office. Seven weeks after its debut, Jumanji is still able to top the weekend at the box office. Yes there have been a few of those weeks where Jumanji came in at number two in the weekly rundown (it did open the weekend after Star Wars after all) but all in all, Jumanji’s box office dominance is something that nobody was expecting. The movie has grossed over $350 million domestically making it The Rock’s highest domestic grossing movie of his career (yes, even more than any of his movies in the Fast and the Furious franchise) and has brought in over $850 million worldwide making it Sony’s fifth highest grossing movie ever with no end in sight (Only Spider-Man and James Bond movies have grossed more worldwide and Jumanji’s number continues to climb). To continue to put in perspective just how bonkers huge of a hit this movie is, Jumanji is a movie that was released in December that was the number one movie at the box office in a weekend February. This is something that hasn’t happened for twenty years, and the last movie to do that was Titanic.
It would be one thing to just say that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a better movie than anyone expected it to be and that’s why it’s made so much movie. And it’s true that Jumanji, isn’t a bad movie. As with any movie your mileage may vary on how good or bad you thought it was, but for the most part people who went to see the movie didn’t regret it. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has a 76% on Rotten Tomatoes and an A- CinemaScore. So it’s being well received critically. But there are plenty of movies that are well reviewed that either flop or do just fine at the box office, but don’t blow expectations out of the water anywhere close to this level. Critical response for the movie isn’t so much “It’s great!” but instead is more along the lines of “Surprisingly, it’s not bad at all!” If you look at the quality of the movie alone, it should have done well. The movie should have had a nice run at the box office, made the studio their money back, plus a little extra, and it should have closed out its theater run at a box office total that everyone could feel proud of. Instead, this movie Is sitting comfortably in the top ten grossing movies of the year, and continues to climb the list.
So we have to take a look at what’s unique to this situation, and it comes down to something that was briefly mentioned already: Star Wars. For the past two years, the Star Wars franchise has owned December. No other movie stood a chance in that month. And every studio when marking down their calendars, gave the Star Wars movies plenty of room to breathe. When The Force Awakens came out in 2015 it made almost a billion dollars in America alone. (It made over two billion worldwide.) To put that in perspective The Force Awakens made over three hundred million more than the movie that was the second highest grossing movie that year. And the year after that, Star Wars once again was at the top of the box office with Rogue One. Now, Rogue One didn’t have the same level of impact that The Force Awakens did, but it still was easily the highest grossing movie of the year, dominating the month of December.
This year, we saw the release of The Last Jedi, which was the true continuation of the storyline started in The Force Awakens so, once again, everyone expected Star Wars to be the juggernaut of December that it had been for the past two years. And it was. By all measurable accounts, The Last Jedi was a major, major box office success (in 2017, a Star Wars movie had the highest box office for the third year in a row) but The Last Jedi didn’t have the same cultural impact that The Force Awakens did. Now, this is not meant to be critical of The Last Jedi or to take a shot at any creative choices made in the movie. In case it needs to be said, The Last Jedi was a fantastic film that was easily one of the best made movies of the past year, but it simply came out at a different time than The Force Awakens.
When The Force Awakens came out it was not only the first Star Wars movie to hit theaters in ten years, but it was a sequel to Return of the Jedi a movie that people had been waiting for since 1983. The anticipation for The Force Awakens was like no other movie in history. The Last Jedi, on the other hand was the third Star Wars movie in three years. Star Wars movies were being released at a pace faster than ever before. So it’s safe to say that the two movies were released in two different environments. Still, because it was Star Wars every movie studio gave The Last Jedi plenty of room to make sure that their movie wasn’t lost in the tidal wave that was Star Wars anticipation.
And this brings us back to Jumanji. For some reason, Sony decided to release Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle the week after Star Wars. It was a move that seemed odd at the time but clearly it ended up paying off. The Last Jedi wasn’t The Force Awakens. At over two and a half hours, it’s the longest Star Wars movie to date, and it didn’t have the buildup and anticipation that came with The Force Awakens. While The Last Jedi is still undoubtedly a success (It’s the highest grossing movie of 2018 and one of the top ten highest grossing movies of all time.) It didn’t have the same repeat viewers that The Force Awakens had. Which means that when people went to the movie in December to see something other than Star Wars they turned to Jumanji.
It’s worth mentioning that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle wasn’t the only other movie to exist in theaters besides Star Wars but these two movies are geared towards the same audience. They’re both PG-13 action movies, and so Jumanji was able to capitalize on the fact that The Last Jedi simply didn’t come with the same hype level that The Force Awakens had. With the competition that has been scared away by The Last Jedi, Jumanji has been virtually unchallenged at the box office causing it to find success in people watching it again and again. Sony took a huge gamble by putting the movie out the week after Star Wars and they hit the jackpot. Now a movie that would have been considered a success if it simply made it’s money back, has suddenly become their next bonafide blockbuster franchise.
Obviously this isn’t the only reason that Jumanji has become such a success. There’s rarely one single reason that you can point to to explain why something unexpected like this happened at the box office. But looking at the relationship between The Last Jedi and Jumanji, is a good example for how movie theaters will try to work their schedule around other movies in order to try and maximize the box office potential for each of their movies. And it shows how sometimes, making a risky move at the box office can pay off big time for an underdog studio.