It’s tough to have sky high box office expectations when you’re hitting theaters immediately after a new Star Wars movie, but that proved to be just the right spot for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle in December 2017. The film hit theaters nationwide the weekend after Star Wars: The Last Jedi opened up and still managed to make about $36.2 million for the three-day weekend. A solid start right there, but that’s not even the wow-worthy factor of Welcome to the Jungle‘s box office run. This movie had legs, ultimately accumulating $404.5 million during a 23-week domestic run and a grand total of $962.1 million worldwide on a $90 million production budget. If that’s not a rousing success, I don’t know what is!
Now producers Hiram Garcia and Matt Tolmach are looking to strike gold again with the new installment, Jumanji: The Next Level. While in Cabo San Lucas for the film’s press event, I got the chance to sit down with the producing duo and get a little insight into what it was like experiencing Welcome to the Jungle‘s epic box office run, what they think were the keys to achieving that winning grand total, and how they’re applying those lesson to The Next Level. On top of that, Garcia and Tolmach also shared a few details on some highly anticipated comic book films they’ve got coming up, Black Adam starring Dwayne Johnson for Garcia and Venom 2 with director Andy Serkis for Tolmach. You can check out the full conversation below.
Jumanji: The Next Level hits theaters nationwide on December 13, 2019.
MATT TOLMACH: It got very real when the movie came out. You know, one of the fun things about this movie is you sit around when you’re making it, you talk about all the possibilities and the different ways you can go because the mythology lends itself to that, but we have a pretty strong policy among each other that we want the audience to be the ones to tell us that they want a sequel, and to not get ahead of that. So it was really like, right when the movie came out and we had a sense that it was working – not to the extent that it did – but it seemed to be resonating really well. And so we went into very intense “what do we do next” mode. There wasn’t a lot of time between that movie and where we are today, so we revved it up really quickly.
HIRAM GARCIA: And the great thing is, like Matt’s saying, we were very confident in the movie in terms of, we felt we made a good movie. But the truth was, we also knew that we were coming out against a monster called Star Wars. So we just wanted to hold our own.
TOLMACH: To peacefully coexist. [Laughs]
GARCIA: Yeah, just live in peace before we got blown out of the water, and the movie exceeded our expectations in such a way in terms of how it performed. So as you start to realize this, it’s like, ‘Wow, we’re doing good and people are really responding to the movie,’ which is the best feeling. Because you always feel good initially about the movie you made until people seem to not, so the fact that they were loving it was great, and then right away it’s like, ‘Hey, we should probably start thinking about …’
TOLMACH: The studio comes calling …
GARCIA: Calling right away! [Laughs]
TOLMACH: And by the way, you want that call. I mean, we all live for that. But then the daunting prospect of, so what does this mean? And honestly wanting to challenge ourselves to not just crank out a sequel but to do something that’s a story that needs to be told. That was always a thing for Jake is like, what is the next story that we have to tell? That’s what we have to figure out and when we have that, we will know that we can make the next movie.
GARICA: And we wouldn’t make the movie actually if we didn’t have that.
TOLMACH: That was the gauntlet.
GARICA: That was the big thing. We set that up for ourselves, and filmmakers and cast alike. We were so proud and it was so precious for us [with] what were able to do with Welcome to the Jungle that we all promised ourselves, unless that we have something worthy of being told in the story that needs to be told to continue evolving this universe, we wouldn’t do it. And so, that’s a lot of pressure. The studio’s like, ‘Did you figure it out yet? Did you figure it out?’ And we’re like, ‘We got it!’ They’re like, ‘Yes! You need to make the movie in like nine months.’ [Laughs]
I am absolutely obsessed with box office analysis so I would love to hear about this from a producing perspective – what was your experience like watching that first movie take off? When you guys carved out that specific release date, what were the behind the scenes discussions like? Where you expecting a really big opening weekend or did you anticipate the long legs?
TOLMACH: Well, you know, there was terror because as Hiram said, you know, there was this movie called Star Wars sitting there.
GARCIA: The pre-release Star Wars conversation, it’s like, ‘What are we hearing about Star Wars? Do we really like this date? Because this is gonna be a big movie, you know!’
TOLMACH: It’s Star Wars! You know what I mean?
GARCIA: Because you can talk yourself out of things in our business, it’s what we do. You always have an initial reaction, and then there’s so much at stake, you kind of talk yourself out of it, and we would always have these moments of coming up again, it’s like, ‘Guys, we’re going against Star Wars, right? We know that.’
TOLMACH: The studio, huge kudos to them, because this was their vision of when this movie would live successfully. It was, ‘We’re not going up against Star Wars.’ There’s a chunk of time there when people are together with their friends or their families or whatever it is, and they’re out of school for a minute or maybe out of work for a minute, and they can go to the movies, and there’s time to see more than one, and so ours is gonna be the movie for everybody. That was kind of the idea, that we’re gonna make this giant comedic adventure, action movie …
GARCIA: That the whole family can go to.
TOLMACH: There’s nobody in your family that says, ‘That’s not for me.’
GARCIA: Our goal was to cover everyone, and everyone could kind of go have fun, and everyone gets a little piece of something they’d like and have a great time. Because we knew Star Wars is what it is, and especially at that time we knew that the Star Wars tone was going to be a little bit darker, and we were a little bit more family and comedy and fun.
TOLMACH: And the calendar laid out really well. You know how some years you get seemingly more days line up that are off because of however it lines up? We had a really good roll out, really good period of time around the holiday for people to go to Star Wars and to go to Jumanji. And that’s how we look at it, that there’s something in our movie for everybody and then people will probably go to more than one movie.
GARCIA: And hopefully we’ll be that movie. [Laughs]
So when you’re carving out the release date for this new movie, do all of those factors just reinforce that you have to stay on the same date or was there any discussion about maybe going to the summer?
TOLMACH: There wasn’t.
GARCIA: For us it’s like, the fact that we were able to have success at Christmas and during the holiday season, it felt like – one of the joys of making films is if people start to like it, is you like to create a tradition for them, and now we felt really good in the holiday space and we’d love to be like, ‘Hey, let’s go back to the holiday space.’ It worked well and now knowing this, because again, there was a little bit of a discrepancy in the first one where, were we really going to be doing the holidays? Was this more of a Thanksgiving? Was this Christmas? And now with this one, we can lean into the holiday aspect in this movie. You feel it a little bit more.
TOLMACH: Yeah, we put a little more Christmas, you know, the spirit of it around the holiday.
GARCIA: But for us, we’ve always felt the tone of this is a holiday movie as opposed to a summer movie. Very different tonally. And it’s designed to kind of be that one thing that when the holidays come, you know, from 8 to 80 everyone can go and just grab the whole family and just go watch it and we’re all gonna find something to laugh about.
TOLMACH: Because it’s sort of about that. It’s about people needing each other and being there for each other. I mean, that’s really the theme of our movie is friendship and all of that. I also have a strong superstition that – it’s not even a superstition, but based on some experience from years past when I was an executive, what Hiram was saying is very true. People make, when they see a movie that they like, that succeeds for them, they make an association with the time of year. And it is jarring. Jumanji comes out at Christmas and succeeds, it becomes an event at that time of year and when you say, ‘Hey guys, now we’re gonna do it in May,’ it’s like putting on a pair of clothes that don’t fit the same anymore. You know what I mean? It lives nostalgically and in a great way with people in that time. And moving release dates is a very tricky game. So that was never a conversation.
Hiram, I also wanted to ask you about your lengthy working relationship with Dwayne Johnson and specifically how he’s grown over the years, maybe in ways that surprises you as a producer and a leader.
GARCIA: I’ve known Dwayne since I was 14, 15, and one of his greatest traits is … he’s never satisfied with his own performance. He’s always trying to get better. Look, he’s as big a star as there is in the world and you’ll never find anyone who takes direction better. You give him a note, boom. Got it. It’s like he’s just hungry for more ideas. How can I get better? How can I improve myself? What can I watch? What can I read? What can I learn that’s ultimately going to make me get better? And I think when you have a person who’s open like that, it never ceases to amaze me because he can be at the top of the world, top of Forbes, top of this, opening movies and he’s still like, ‘How can I get better? What can I do to somehow improve myself? Who can I put around me? Who can I elevate around me?’
We were just talking about it, he’s such a giving star in terms of, ‘Oh, I’m working with this guy? How can we make this line better? Give him a great line that he can say about me to make me look horrible.’ And when you come from that mentality, it’s so admirable because the work ethic and the heart match the end result. And I think a lot of times we’ve seen versions of the giant star that maybe isn’t as sweet or as hungry, [and] they kind of get content, and I gotta say, he’s not content in a very healthy way where he’s just like, ‘I just want to get better. I know there’s always another level for me to go, and I’m never going to stop until I keep getting better.’ And that’s a really impressive thing to see. He drives us all.
TOLMACH: You know, I work with these guys whenever I can, but I also make movies with other people and it spoils you. I mean, to be really honest with you, it spoils you. Because there is a work ethic and there’s also just a tone, a culture around the movie that Dwayne really creates. You know, it’s hard to make movies, but if you show up every day and you feel like everyone’s on the same team, and it’s a safe space to try things and experiment and be open and challenge each other and to shut each other down in a creative way or chase an idea, then great things can happen. And that’s, for me as a producer who loves these guys and works with them sometimes, it’s an incredibly inspiring thing to be around. And you wish it on other movies.
GARCIA: And we do all live by the very simple quote that we know he loves to say, where it’s like, at the end day, we’ve killed ourselves to get there, but it really is, it’s so nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. And that is something that we will forever keep with us because we’ve come from the bottom – no power, you know, slumming it, he’s wrestling in barns …
TOLMACH: Seven Bucks!
GARCIA: When you have that background, it just makes you every day – I mean, look at us right now. We’re here talking about a movie. I mean, how fortunate are we?
Of course I can’t stop myself from asking you guys about some of your upcoming projects, which could include another Jumanji. Have you done any work on another installment or are you taking the same approach that you did moving from Welcome to the Jungle to The Next Level?
TOLMACH: We are. We really believe in that. I mean, A, we finished this movie two days ago, so there’s also that. [Laughs] People are like, ‘Where are you on the third movie?’ ‘Where are we on the second movie?’
GARCIA: Literally just finished it before coming out here …
TOLMACH: … as we were getting on a plane to come down here. So that’s the truth. The second part is, what we said is really real; the thing you want to do as filmmakers is, A, make sure the audience is in step with you and saying, ‘Give us more, give us more.’ You want that at your back. You also want to hear from them, in a real way. We do a lot of – it’s called post-morteming on a movie. What worked? What did they love? What do they want more of? You really want to incorporate that in the next thing. Obviously we have ideas and we tease things in this movie that we’re sort of workshopping ourselves and we sit around and fantasize and dream all the time, but there’s a science to it, and that science will begin right after Christmas in earnest. And then we will have real conversations with each other and figure out what the next one has and what that could be.
GARCIA: Look, as storytellers, everything you’re watching on film, there’s actually, for us, there’s a ton of mythology behind it. So like, it’s a little beat for you guys, but for us there’s so much stuff behind it that’s threaded there. So for us, you know, it always starts with the fan response; what did we hear from them? We just can’t help as creatives and storytellers like, ‘Oh, we have this whole mythology in our head of what this world is building into, and if we’re so lucky, we’re gonna be able to tell it.’ And we flirted with it, but we’re also superstitious, and you never want to get ahead of yourself because that’s when the bad juju comes. So if the fans deem it worthy, and if they want it and we get the great feedback, then we start to kind of unleash these great ideas that hopefully start to expand the world.
Next up, let’s go with Black Adam. Do you view it as an antihero story? Is that how you’d explain it to the folks you’re pitching it to?
GARCIA: Yes, yes, 100%.
And is there any chance it could be R-rated?
GARCIA: Look, we haven’t discussed rating, but I’ll tell you this, because we’re still shaping the story, and look, with our director Jaume Collet-Serra who’s a master of genre, he’s phenomenal. We’ve been thinking about this movie for years, and there’s moments where I’m talking to Jaume and he goes, ‘And I’m thinking about this.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh my god! That is so cool!’ I mean, fantastic. So I will say, there’s been iterations of Black Adam as a villain and as an antihero. We really liked the antihero aspect. I think that’s really compelling. I like the complexity. I think just a good guy or just a bad guy, it’s too clean. There’s something about the gray area of an antihero who he’s got a little bit of good, he’s got a little bit of bad. And here’s a guy who has no problem, that it’s like, basically call it one to ten. Someone pushes him at a one, he goes to ten right away. And that’s a fantastic thing in the DC universe when you’re dealing with a character of that power. So antihero for sure, and rating is to be determined. We’re discussing a lot of things.
Now Venom 2, I’m a big fan of Andy Serkis on screen and behind the lens as well. Switching up directors,does that maybe call for a slightly different style or tone, anything like that to suit his skillset?
TOLMACH: Well, I mean, every director brings their own subjective vision to what they’re doing. And Andy is a genius. He’s a genius filmmaker. He’s also such a brilliant actor, and understands character in a very unique way from inside. And I think he and Tom [Hardy] and Woody [Harrelson] have kind of a brilliant mind meld over that. So he’s obviously going to bring his own brand of genius to something that worked really well and that people really responded to. And so it’s gonna be brilliant to watch sort of his version of that story. Very, very excited. I think it’s kind of an inspired choice.
One more! Are you teeing up Black Adam to maybe be a villain figure in the next Shazam movie?
GARCIA: Look, I think there’s so many fantastic storylines that we’re looking at. Obviously there’s nothing to discuss regarding that, but I will say that the possibilities are limitless, and we are very much looking at the universe in terms of how Black Adam[’s] ripples will affect the entire universe in terms of what we’re reading and the characters we’re introducing, and obviously us producing Shazam, those characters exist in the same world. So, I can say that.