Since the eligibility window for Oscar movies closes at the end of the calendar year — and lots of folks go on vacation around this time — January is typically a dumping ground for bad movies. The box office becomes a barren wasteland, and competition is thin. So it’s not surprising that a December blockbuster crosses into the next year and still reigns supreme in the middle of January. You know what is surprising? Said blockbuster being Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
The movie has been out for five weekends and just won the weekend box office for the third week in a row, pulling in $20 million. Jumanji’s performing better than Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and it came out a week before it. It is the seventh-highest-grossing movie of 2017, above superhero movies like Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League. It is Sony’s highest-grossing movie that has nothing to do with Spider-Man. What on earth is going on?
Here’s the thing: To my genuine surprise, and despite what purist Claire McNear thinks, Jumanji is awesome. It’s not giving you anything you haven’t seen before in a tentpole blockbuster, but the principal cast — Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan — has superb chemistry, the humor is surprisingly fresh, it has a frenetic pace, and the entire thing leaves you with a warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from the movie’s very earnest heart. (There’s even a part at the end that made me shed a literal tear of joy, and it involved Nick Jonas’s character. This movie is wild.) That Jumanji’s numbers started picking up pace around the holidays makes sense — it’s accessible and family-friendly, if you can stomach a couple of penis jokes. When my theater gave Jumanji a brief standing ovation, I wasn’t even that perplexed. Hell, I clapped. This is my Paddington 2.
What I’m saying is, the Jumanji sequel dominating the box office is a surprise only if you haven’t seen Jumanji. Once you see this movie, it makes total sense.
Of course, it helps that Jumanji’s competition has not been, uh, the most impressive. That’s to be expected; only one January opening has ever topped $42 million domestically, and that was 2015’s American Sniper. Jumanji’s stiffest for this weekend was 12 Strong — better known as the Horse Soldier movie with not enough horses — which came in second with about $16.5 million on its opening weekend. 12 Strong did receive an “A” grade from Cinemascore, so people generally liked what they saw, but, clearly, needed more horses and fewer soldiers to appeal to a wider base.
Just behind 12 Strong was another debut: STX Films’ Den of Thieves. The blatant Heat rip-off pulled in $15.3 million and, according to Box Office Mojo, outperformed its expectations. Meanwhile, Steven Spielberg’s The Post came in fourth with $12.1 million, putting its domestic total just over $45 million. (Jumanji made more than double that in its second week.) Jumanji, which before its release seemed to have an equal chance of becoming a Baywatchesque bomb as becoming a hit, has proved to be a huge beneficiary of strategic scheduling (and a surprising lack of staying power by The Last Jedi). It became the go-to family blockbuster and cleaned up around Christmas, and now it’s lingering throughout a month of lackluster releases.
With next weekend’s box office being headlined by Maze Runner: The Death Cure — the swan song of Hollywood’s YA movie trend — it’s no guarantee that Jumanji will be toppled. Looking even further ahead, it’s not unreasonable to think that Jumanji could stay competitive at the box office until Black Panther is released February 16. But again, if you’ve seen Jumanji, this isn’t a shocker. Maybe you’ll be seeing it again. I know I will be.