Last year’s surprise hit is going to be next year’s expected hit.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle cowriters Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner have been hired to start work on a potential Jumanji 3, according to Deadline. The entire original cast — Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan — is expected to return, with Sony targeting a Christmas 2019 release date. That would put the sequel directly in the path of Star Wars Episode IX. Two months ago, that might have seemed a suicide mission. Today, seeing how 2manji held its own against The Last Jedi to the tune of nearly $900 million worldwide, it seems like a canny business move.
The phenomenal success was particularly surprising since there seemed to be nothing particularly unique or exciting about Welcome to the Jungle. It’s a body-swap sequel to a mediocre ’90s adventure movie and directed by a filmmaker whose two most recent outings, Bad Teacher and Sex Tape, were notoriously unfunny bombs. Even the presence of charisma machine Dwayne Johnson didn’t inspire much confidence, given the existence of Baywatch, a real movie that was supposedly released this summer. And on top of that all it was going up against not just a Star Wars movie, but a sequel to the biggest non-James Cameron film of all time.
But at the end of the day, Jumanji reigned supreme. After two weekends lagging behind a frontloaded Last Jedi, the comedy leaped to the top of the charts and remained there until The Maze Runner: The Death Cure dethroned it. And then Jumanji did something few movies have done: It came back from that minor defeat and returned to the top spot this past weekend. The movie is now inarguably the success story of the year, and Sony can smell the prospect of future profits on the horizon.
The only issue with that strategy is that it’s almost certain to misunderstand what made 2manji a hit. It feels wrong to describe a movie as thoroughly mediocre as Welcome to the Jungle as “lightning in a bottle,” but that’s what happened here. A charming marketing campaign and a well-liked cast are what opened the door for its success. The darker, more difficult nature of The Last Jedi allowed a more family-friendly romp to steal audiences. And the truly dire state of animation in 2017 left parents desperate for an appropriate distraction over the holiday season.
The Jumanji brand name is not what lured audiences into Jumanji. Even assuming anyone remembers the original with any fondness, the sequel has essentially nothing to do with the Robin Williams vehicle. And even ignoring all of that, a blockbuster Jumanji 2 is going to boast a substantially higher budget. One of Welcome to the Jungle’s greatest business assets was its manageable $90 million budget, which allowed it to begin racking up profits almost immediately.
Even as Sony pulls the lever on another entry in their budding franchise, Fox and Radar Pictures have made an even sillier decision. In signing a production deal with “Jumanji” author Chris Van Allsburg, executives are guessing that what drew audiences to Jumanji 2 was… their love for the picture book the original film was based on? It’s a baffling choice on every level, one that cynically assumes that American filmgoers will rush to a big-budget adaptation of “Two Bad Ants” simply because the trailer screams “FROM THE MIND THAT BROUGHT YOU [Insert Name You Recognize]!” By that logic, Jon Favreau’s Zathura should have been a box office colossus, instead of a bomb that barely recouped its budget.
Sony shouldn’t be rushing a Jumanj3 into production. Fox shouldn’t be plundering the bibliography of a picture book author. It’s the ultimate example of Hollywood hubris to jump to the conclusion that a movie was a success because of familiar IP. People see movies for dozens upon dozens of factors, and of course, name brands are occasionally one of them. But if a name was all that it took, Jurassic Park III would have been as big a hit as Jurassic World. A movie like Jumanji 2 shouldn’t teach Sony and Fox the lessons that they’re learning. It should teach them that a smart release window, a charming cast, and a clever concept will go a long way further than a movie with an incomprehensible name in the title.