'Knives Out' Box Office Success Leads to Sequel

Daniel Craig is expected to reprise his detective role in Rian Johnson's follow-up.

Knives Out
Lionsgate

Mysteries are becoming all the rage. Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express grossed more than $350 million worldwide a few years ago, spawning a franchise starring Branagh himself as Agatha Christie detective Hercule Poirot. A sequel, Death on the Nile, will release in October of this year. Netflix’s Murder Mystery, starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, was revealed to be the streaming service’s most-watched movie of 2019, and that too is getting a follow up as a result. Now Knives Out is killing it at the box office and writer/director Rian Johnson is developing another installment focused on Daniel Craig‘s Southern sleuth.

The filmmaker told The Hollywood Reporter the news on Saturday night. Further details include confirmation that the second movie would involve a new case investigated by Detective Benoit Blanc. If this is disappointing to fans of Knives Out who love its whole ensemble and also consider breakout Ana de Armas the true star of the movie, a sequel featuring all these characters would make little sense. If Johnson wants to honor the Brabourne-Goodwin series of Christie’s Poirot adaptations, he could cast actors from Knives Out in new roles, as was done with Jane Birkin and Maggie Smith in Evil Under the Sun after the 1978 version of Death on the Nile.

Johnson also told THR that he’s hoping to get the sequel made within the next year, which would be a very good move on Lionsgate’s part. The studio has a runaway hit with Knives Out, which has now grossed $130 million domestically — that’s about $30 million more than Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express —  and almost $250 million worldwide. Not bad considering early forecasts for the movie capped its domestic total at just $70 million. Knives Out overperformed in its debut over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend by more than 30 percent. And that was while most moviegoers were flocking to the latest Disney sequel, Frozen II.

Knives Out was one of the highest-grossing original movies of 2019 (at the last moment, it passed over Ford v Ferrari to rank third on the chart I shared last week) — both domestically and globally. Of the top US originals (Us, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Ford v Ferrari, Good Boys, Yesterday), Johnson’s film is one of the most profitable with a reported budget of $40 million (Us, Good Boys, and Yesterday costs fell in the $20-26 million range while Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood and Ford v Ferrari were in the $90-100 million range). Knives Out is also the only one truly befitting a sequel, especially since it’d basically be another original work with a minimal connecting thread.

This would be Johnson’s second sequel, though the first to one of his own movies. He previously helmed Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which was also a very profitable effort, grossing $1.3 billion worldwide on a reported $317 million production budget. And before that, his original sci-fi movie Looper grossed about $177 million globally with a reported cost of only $30 million. His debut feature, Brick, is said to have had a budget of under a half a million dollars, and that too profited by selling to Focus Features for a reported $2 million. It grossed about double that worldwide. Johnson’s only movie not to see such success was the underrated The Brothers Bloom, which grossed $5.5 million worldwide but cost almost four times as much to make.

The Brothers Bloom is also Johnson’s lowest-rated movie critically, according to its Rotten Tomatoes percentage. None of his movies have received a negative Tomatometer score, however. His other four were marked as Certified Fresh on the website, with Knives Out having the best score at 97%. The mystery-comedy also has the best audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and the best IMDb rating of all his movies (two of his Breaking Bad episodes and his sole Terriers episode rate higher). He’s a masterful writer and director and audiences especially love Knives Out. A lot of people are going to be happy to see a sequel if it’s as entertaining.

This is great timing for Craig, too, since he’s finishing out his starring role in the James Bond franchise this year with No Time to Die. And considering his exceptional but rarely seen comedic chops, a Benoit series is the best place to go next. Meanwhile, the reputation Johnson has with actors should have stars lining up to be part of his next ensemble. Maybe he can fit in his buddy Joseph Gordon-Levitt this time. How about one of his Star Wars players, like Adam Driver or Benicio del Toro? He could definitely give some justice of sorts for Rose by casting Kelly Marie Tran. I’d also love to see him work again with Lupita Nyong’o, star of 2019’s biggest original, Us. And what about The Brothers Bloom star Rachel Weisz, who is also Craig’s wife?

While Knives Out was shut out in its three categories at the Golden Globes last night, the movie will have a chance at more attention next Sunday with its three Critics’ Choice Awards nominations as well as potential guild wins in the future. Hopefully, Johnson will at least receive a screenwriting Oscar nod, which would be his first, when the Academy makes its announcement in a week. Regardless of further awards recognition, though, Knives Out should continue to have legs at the box office and then perform well on video (maybe on Hulu if it can sneak into Lionsgate’s 2020-2021 deal there?) in order to keep building up favor and anticipation for Knives Out 2. Maybe it can then be fast-tracked for a Thanksgiving 2021 release.

Christopher began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called 'Read,' back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials.