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Why Jumanji: The Next Level Blew Everyone Away At The Box Office

The Jumanji franchise has indeed leveled up.

Arriving at the end of a tough year for tentpole pictures not produced by Marvel Studios, Sony's Jumanji: The Next Level cleaned house over the weekend to the tune of $212 million dollars at the global box office. The flick even managed to unseat Disney's red-hot animated sequel Frozen 2 — in its fourth weekend in theaters — from the top spot.

That The Next Level was able to accomplish these feats was a bit surprising on the surface, but the filmmakers were liking the flick's chances in the days leading up to its release. "We've been living in a Hollywood world for the last several years where people want familiar brands that have name recognition, and yet there have been some problems with that program this year... Everybody's conscious of that," director Jake Kasdan recently told CNET. "But from my point of view, all I can worry about is making the best Jumanji that we can come up with."

What Kasdan and company came up with was a fun, action-packed popcorn movie which put just enough of a unique spin on the premise of 2017's Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle to make it seem fresh and vital. A number of other factors came into play to make The Next Level a smashing success, as well — not the least of which was the fact that Welcome to the Jungle, a belated sequel to the little-remembered 1996 Robin Williams starrer Jumanji, was better than it had any right to be.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle delivered big time

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle essentially took a second-tier property and gave it the top-tier treatment, a strategy which doesn't always work out so well. The 1995 original did a respectable $262 million dollars at the worldwide box office, but the first attempt at a sequel — 2005's Zathura: A Space Adventure, which took the conceit of a magic board game that sucks players into its world into space — fell directly on its face, earning a paltry $64 million dollars worldwide. 

Welcome to the Jungle, however, had two strokes of pure brilliance going for it. The first: the plot device of said magical board game morphing into a video game, all the better to appeal to the the four hapless teenagers who stumble across it while serving detention at their high school. The second: casting A-list actors as the game's avatars, including Dwayne Johnson as the wonderfully-named Dr. Smolder Bravestone, Jack Black as Professor Sheldon Oberon, Kevin Hart as Franklin "Mouse" Finbar, and Karen Gillan as the kickass Ruby Roundhouse.

Throw in a fantastic script co-written by Erik Sommers and Chris McKenna (who also contributed two of Mighty Marvel's most breezy and fun offerings, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Ant-Man and the Wasp) and the sure directorial hand of Kasdan (the son of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back scribe Lawrence Kasdan), and you had a picture that emerged from seemingly nowhere as one of the most clever, eye-popping, flat-out fun movies of its year. The flick earned rave reviews, and stunned industry observers by grossing nearly a billion dollars worldwide — and with most of the same creative team returning for the sequel, the success of The Next Level didn't catch quite so many of those observers off guard this time.

Early reactions promised Jumanji: The Next Level would be just as fun

Fans who were wary that Jumanji: The Next Level would spoil the unexpected gift of Welcome to the Jungle were encouraged when the first reactions to the sequel began to appear online. Critics who caught early screenings were near-unanimous in their praise for the flick, and while this isn't always a reliable indicator of a movie's critical fortunes (we're looking directly at you, Gemini Man), those first reactions proved to be on the money.

The movie was hailed as heartfelt, entertaining, and hilarious, with show-stopping turns by Hart and Johnson; many critics proclaimed it the rare sequel that's actually better than its predecessor, no small feat to pull off in today's Hollywood. The formal reviews that have been published since the flick's release have mostly been in line with those initial reactions, but audiences likely didn't need much convincing to get their butts in the seats for Jumanji: The Next Level — not with that stellar cast, which also included a few inspired additions.

Awesome additions to the cast made Jumanji: The Next Level a must-see

The entire core cast returning for Jumanji: The Next Level was awesome enough, but the flick also put an amazing spin on the "teenagers in video game avatars' bodies" conceit by replacing a couple of said teens with senior citizens who aren't too terribly familiar with the ways of gaming. That narrative wrinkle on its own could have been mined for plenty of laughs — but casting Danny Glover and Danny DeVito as the hapless old folks who get sucked into the game alongside their young counterparts was an absolute masterstroke. 

Not only were the pair reliably hilarious in their "real world" scenes, but their casting gave Hart and Johnson license to really flex their comedic chops in channeling Glover and DeVito, respectively. Throw in the suddenly ubiquitous and uber-talented Awkwafina as the awesomely-named and mysterious new avatar Ming Fleetfoot, and you've got a cast that any producer in their right mind would kill for — and which pretty much every moviegoer was dying to see.

Jumanji: The Next Level didn't have much competition

Now, as you may be aware, there's a little film by the name of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opening on December 20, which is unbelievably stiff competition for Jumanji: The Next Level to be facing in its second week of release. We submit that slotting the flick into the December 13 frame was a very clever move on the part of studio Sony, however, for a couple of reasons.

First, The Next Level had its opening weekend practically all to itself, premiering amidst a dearth of competition. Only Blumhouse's horror remake Black Christmas posed any threat whatsoever, and its anemic marketing campaign and middling reviews ensured that the film would fail to take even a tiny chunk of The Next Level's box office.The only other wide release of note, director Clint Eastwood's biopic Richard Jewell, flopped so hard that it could actually be heard if you listened close enough.

Second, the looming release of Rise of Skywalker probably won't hurt The Next Level's box office legs as much as one might think — at least, not if history is any indication. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle also opened in December — five days after Star Wars: The Last Jedi hit screens. Welcome to the Jungle's eye-watering global take proved that there's room for more than one blockbuster franchise in the late December frame, and we're willing to bet that The Next Level will continue to hold its own in the coming weeks. Here's hoping that it performs well enough for Sony to give us the gift of another Jumanji flick a couple of Christmases from now, because this is quickly becoming one of our favorite franchises.