As 2018 draws to an end, which film will win at the box office this Christmas: Mary Poppins Returns, Aquaman, or Bumblebee? This holiday season, the box office faces the kind of three-way fight for domination that one would usually expect from the summer. With no Star Wars film this December, and nothing from Marvel to suck up all the oxygen in the room, there’s real potential for a cinematic surprise this season. Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, and Walt Disney Studios are facing off to see who can be crowned the winner of the box office this Christmas, and each of them has a viable candidate that can pull it off.

Warner Bros. has had a lot of trouble with the DCEU and many had predicted that Aquaman would be a box office disappointment due to a perceived lack of interest in the character. Yet its critic reviews and general word of mouth from audiences have been quite strong, and so far, Aquaman is soaring internationally, especially in China where it’s grossing hundreds of millions of dollars. Meanwhile, Disney has Mary Poppins Returns, the sequel to the 1964 Mary Poppins film that remains one of their most beloved properties. With Emily Blunt and Lin Manuel-Miranda taking over for Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, the new film follows the intrepid nanny’s return to London to look after the offspring of the original Banks children. Mary Poppins was the only film during Walt Disney’s lifetime that landed him a Best Picture Oscar nomination, something they’re hoping to recreate this season, and hunger for a big Christmas musical did wonders for The Greatest Showman last year.

Related: Why Mortal Engines Bombed At The Box Office

Then there’s Bumblebee, Paramount’s first attempt at spinning off from their Transformers franchise. This time, there’s no Michael Bay and the story takes place in the 1980s, with Hailee Steinfeld in the leading role. A first for the franchise, Bumblebee is garnering stellar reviews, with high praise for its vibrant approach to the material and decidedly anti-Bay aesthetic. But competition is tough this Christmas for box office supremacy. It’s no surprise that 20th Century Fox and Robert Rodriguez decided to sit this one out and moved the release date for Alita: Battle Angel to February 2019. Predicting the box office is easier said than done, especially in a year where there were so many surprises. However, there are still some outcomes that feel more likely than others, and with that in mind, here are our predictions for which films will dominate the box office during the holiday season, both domestically and internationally.

Aquaman is Already Massively Ahead Worldwide

It feels somewhat unfair to judge these three films on a level playing field given that one of them has already opened internationally and is making a lot of money. Aquaman has already made back its estimated $160 – 200 million budget thanks to a record breaking opening in China. Alongside its domestic release, Aquaman has yet to open in big markets such as France, Japan and Germany, all of which will happen in the coming weeks. Aquaman looks set to do well domestically as it opens in over 4100 theaters (around 300 more than Mary Poppins Returns, and 600 or so more than Bumblebee, which gives it an obvious advantage).

Related: What Aquaman's Success (Or Failure) Means For The DCEU

It also seems a safe bet that Aquaman will be the top Christmas release at the domestic box office. The first week means everything to a film on this scale, and it's arriving in North America with the benefit of international hype and strong reviews, which overrule early skepticism. It's an event movie and one that plays best with big crowds, which audiences will want to take advantage of.

Mary Poppins Returns Will Win Overall Domestically At The Box Office

Disney is exceedingly good at making money, but the lion’s share of their record breaking grosses have come from acquired studios, such as Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios. That’s not to say that they haven’t pulled in big numbers with their own movies, but over the past couple of years, that has mainly taken the form of live-action remakes of established classics. Mary Poppins Returns isn’t technically a remake – it's a direct sequel to the 1964 film – but it functions in many of the same ways as 2017’s Beauty and the Beast; it's a highly familiar reinvention of an iconic property that appeals to audiences’ nostalgia and strengthens the brand. That may be a cynical stance, but it’s working for Disney.

Going up against Aquaman could be tough for the first week, but in the long-term, Mary Poppins Returns seems like the strongest bet for a win at the domestic box office. As proven by the success of last year’s The Greatest Showman and this year’s A Star is Born, there's certainly an audience for classic musical stories. Mary Poppins Returns also feels more fitting for a family experience, which is where the major Christmas box office money lies. Aquaman will probably take the top spot in week one, but once those numbers drop off as they typically do for blockbusters, Mary Poppins Returns will benefit the most. Mary Poppins Returns can play the long game at the domestic box office in a way most traditional blockbusters can’t, and that may keep it ahead of Aquaman in the long-term. Consider how Venom made $212.8 million domestic compared to A Star is Born's $199.1 million domestic, despite being released on the same day.

Page 2 of 2: How Bumblebee Will Fare & Aquaman Will Win In The End

How Will Bumblebee Fare?

The dark horse of this box office trio is Bumblebee. Paramount have made a lot of money from the Transformers franchise, thanks to Michael Bay’s critically reviled but commercially successful films. The franchise is the 13th highest grossing movie series of all time, ahead of the DCEU and Paramount's other cash cow, Mission: Impossible. Transformers has been a record breaker in China, and the last two films were made more with Chinese audiences in mind than anyone else, hence all the China-specific product placement.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is currently the 13th highest grossing film in China. But that success was somewhat diminished with 2017’s Transformers: The Last Knight, which made close to $450 million less than its predecessor. That was in large part due to the drop in gross in China. However, Bumblebee has a few more aces up its sleeve that could see the Transformers franchise return to its commercial glory days. For one, Bumblebee is receiving the kind of positive reviews the franchise could only have dreamed about. Transformers remains a hot property but Bay fatigue hit heavily for many and director Travis Knight offers a refreshing return to the franchise’s ‘80s roots.

Related: Bumblebee Movie: Every Update You Need To Know

Leading up to its release, Bumblebee has been projected to earn approximately $20 - $25 million in its opening weekend, which is lower than both Aquaman and Mary Poppins Return, which is disappointing considering how well received the movie has been. However, strong word of mouth during the holidays could lead Bumblebee to become somewhat of a sleeper hit thanks to its family-friendly nature. Bumblebee is something of a dark horse in the race for Christmas box office domination. By comparison, Aquaman versus Mary Poppins Returns feels more like a two-horse race.

Aquaman Will End Up With The Highest Box Office Total

It's clear that the real strength of Aquaman lies overseas. Once again, a comparison to Venom seems apt; as strongly as that film did domestically, and under similar hype, a staggering 75% of its overall gross came from international markets. There will be countries where Mary Poppins Returns performs strongly or even better than Aquaman, such as the UK, but overall, the ball is in Aquaman’s pool. (Mary Poppins Returns' nostalgic appeal also doesn't carry over to the key market of China.) Its head start clearly helps, but in terms of longevity as the competition mounts up, it still has the ability to mount an impressive long-term box office strategy.

But, ultimately, we think Aquaman will be number one overall movie across all markets once the numbers are added up. Even if it doesn’t play as well as Mary Poppins Returns in the domestic box office and Bumblebee gets a more even share across the board, those grosses from China are too big to ignore and could help tip it into the top 10 highest grossing movies of 2018 if the numbers hold on strong. Combine a dedicated fan base with strong reviews, a vibrant and unique concept, and appeal across all demographics, Aquaman is the one with the most cards in play.

Related: Does Aquaman Have A Post-Credits Scene (& How Many)?

The next question is how much money will Aquaman make overall. If Aquaman makes over $500 million, then Warner Bros. will probably be satisfied given the lack of hype it had for so long and the sheer number of headlines predicting it would flop. Justice League made over $657 million and was seen as a disappointment. If Aquaman can outdo that, then it will give the DCEU some comfort for the future. It's not out of the question for Aquaman to surpass the $595 million gross of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, which currently sits at number 10 on the list of the highest grossing movies of 2018, although it’s unlikely it can match the $1.34 billion of Black Panther.

Mary Poppins Returns isn't the usual sort of film that makes the top ten in the current blockbuster age, but neither is Bohemian Rhapsody and that's currently the eighth highest grossing movie of 2018. Musicals with a big hook and familiar name play well, and Mary Poppins Returns has both nostalgia and Disney in its corner. If Mary Poppins Returns cracks the top 10 of 2018, then Disney will have domination over 50% of the list. 20th Century Fox currently occupies two of those spaces, thus meaning Disney's Fox acquisition will give the studio even greater power over the domestic and international box offices.

By comparison, Paramount and Bumblebee cannot help but feel like an underdog, albeit a multi-million dollar one. Bumblebee also has a reported budget of around $100 million, which is significantly smaller than its Transformers siblings, which means the margin for profit is better than, say, The Last Knight (estimated budget: $217 - $260 million). Whatever the case, and regardless of which film comes out on top, audiences can rest assured knowing that, this holiday season, they’ll have an enviable array of cinematic choices.

More: The 10 Movies Opening Christmas Weekend 2018

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