Welcome to Above the Line‘s inaugural Box Office Breakdown column, a weekly look at what’s happening at the theatrical box office.
For those who don’t know me, you can read my bio below, but I’ve been writing about box office for over two decades now, and I’d like to think I have a pretty good handle on the ups and downs, even when there are often some surprises… like a global pandemic, for instance. No one saw that coming or how it would affect the film industry, both in terms of making movies or releasing them.
Although there have been signs of things returning to some sort of “normal,” it’s still exceedingly hard to use historical data to predict how new movies might fare, and there are still so many other factors in play on whether a movie will succeed or not. That’s what makes the box office something that’s as exciting to write about as it is important. After all, this is the movie BUSINESS, and whether movies are getting released into theaters or even on streaming, there are still millions of dollars being spent not only to produce them but just as importantly, to market and promote them to general audiences.
THIS PAST WEEKEND
Paramount Pictures’ high-concept horror flick, Smile, written and directed by Parker Finn, became the first movie released in September 2022 to open over the $20 million mark after a few other movies tried and failed. Finn’s debut feature (based on his own short film “Laura Hasn’t Slept”) came into the weekend with $2 million in Thursday previews and built on its decent reviews with 75 percent at Rotten Tomatoes, following its Fantastic Fest premiere, to take in $22 million in 3,645 theaters.
Averaging roughly $6,000 per theater, Smile managed to keep its above-the-line production cost down with a relatively lesser-known cast, including Sosie Bacon (daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick) Kyle Gallner, Caitlin Stasey, Kal Penn, Jessie T. Usher, and Rob Morgan. Smile received a “B-” CinemaScore from audiences polled, which is on par with other horror releases from the month, and it grossed another $14.5 million overseas this weekend in 58 markets, including the UK ($2 million), France ($1.4 million), Mexico ($1.1 million), and Germany ($1 million.)
Last week’s Don’t Worry Darling, Olivia Wilde‘s sophomore directorial effort, starring Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, and Chris Pine, took a massive 62% plunge in its drop to take second place with $7.3 million. It has grossed $32.8 million in North America and another $21.9 million overseas for a global total of $54.7 million. Budgeted at $20 million, it will probably end up being profitable for Warner Bros./New Line Cinema, but it really only has one more week to do business domestically before the franchises come a-callin’.
The Warner Bros. thriller barely held up against Sony Pictures‘ The Woman King, starring Viola Davis and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, which took third place with an estimated $7 million (down 36%) and a domestic gross of $46.7 million, which is better than any other movie that has opened since Labor Day.
Universal Pictures took a huge chance on Billy Eichner and director/co-writer Nicholas Stoller by greenlighting their gay rom-com, Bros, produced by Judd Apatow and co-starring Hallmark Channel regular Luke Macfarlane. It was one of the bigger box office tragedies of the month, opening in fourth place with an estimated $4.8 million in 3,350 theaters (a weak $1,433 per venue) after taking in $500,000 in Thursday previews.
That estimate is less than Jo Koy‘s Filipino comedy, Easter Sunday, back in early August as well as Jennifer Lopez‘s rom-com, Marry Me, which Universal threw onto streamer Peacock day-and-date in February — something the studio wanted to avoid with Bros. Even so, reviews were solid, as was the movie’s audience score, both in the 90 percentile at Rotten Tomatoes — quite a rarity when both those numbers coincide. Bros also scored an “A” at CinemaScore, which is just behind fellow TIFF premiere, The Woman King, which rated an “A+” among audiences polled. (You can read my interview with Stoller over at Below the Line.)
James Cameron‘s Avatar re-release dropped to fifth place with $4.7 million, down 55 percent from last weekend, with $18.6 million added to its $759 million 2009-10 box office take, which once held the record as the all-time domestic grosser. The Disney/20th Century release has grossed another $12.3 million overseas this weekend — a million of that from Spain — to bring the overseas gross of the re-release to $39.5 million and $58.1 globally. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $2.8 billion made in previous releases but gives hope for the re-release of Cameron’s sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, when it’s released in December.
One of the bigger surprises of the weekend was the Bollywood epic, Ponniyin Selvan: Part I, released by India’s Sarigama Cinemas into just 500 North American theaters this past Thursday. It made $4 million in its inaugural weekend for a sixth place opening, its $8,000 per-theater average being the best in the top ten.
Zach Cregger‘s horror film, Barbarian, released by 20th Century, dropped to seventh place with $2.8 million, having grossed $33.1 million domestically so far, based on a production budget under $5 million.
That was followed by Brad Pitt‘s Bullet Train, which crossed the $100 million mark with another $1.4 million this weekend; Warners’ DC League of Super-Pets, bringing in $1.3 million on its last weekend without family competition; and Tom Cruise‘s Top Gun: Maverick, holding onto the top ten with a tenth place showing of $1.2 million. Maverick is currently the fifth-highest domestic grosser of all time (just behind Avatar) with $712.6 million.
Roadside Attractions released Infinitely Polar Bear filmmakers Maya Forbes‘ and Wally Wolodarsky‘s adaptation of Ann Leary‘s novel, The Good House, starring Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline, into 1,062 theaters on Friday. It opened well outside the top ten with $834,000 or $785 per theater.
Last October, theatrical was still recovering from the pandemic. Still, the month kicked off with Sony’s antihero sequel, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, starring Tom Hardy and Woody Harrelson, this one directed by Andy Serkis. It opened with $90 million in its first three days, nearly matching the four-day opening of Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings over Labor Day a month earlier. That would be the second-best opening for the month of October after the $96.2 million made by Todd Phillips’ Joker the same weekend in 2019, another sign things were coming back.
U.A. Releasing’s animated sequel, The Addams Family 2, brought in $17.3 million, quite a bit less than the $30 million opening of its predecessor two years earlier, but the sequel was also released day-and-date on demand.
David Chase’s The Sopranos prequel, The Many Saints of Newark, opened in fourth place with a disappointing $4.6 million, this one also getting a streaming release on HBO Max concurrently with its theatrical release.
After winning the Palme d’Or a few months earlier, Julia Ducournau’s Titane was released by NEON into 562 theaters, where it earned a slightly disappointing $533,000.
THIS COMING WEEKEND
This coming weekend, Sony’s family musical-comedy, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, based on the 1965 book by Bernard Waber, will take on David O. Russell’s ensemble crime-comedy, Amsterdam, being released by the 20th Century division of Disney.
Lyle sports a cast that includes Constance Wu, Javier Bardem, Winslow Fegley, Scoot McNairy, and Brett Gelman (Fleabag), as well as the singing voice of pop star Shawn Mendes as Lyle. Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon (Blades of Glory), it has the benefit of being one of the few new family movies in many months (since Warners’ DC League of Super-Pets), so it should be able to win the weekend with $22 million or more in 4,000 theaters. It should benefit greatly from songs written by the Oscar-winning team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land, The Greatest Showman).
Russell’s ensemble is even more impressive, led by Christian Bale, John David Washington, and Margot Robbie, along with Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Rock, Mike Myers, Robert De Niro, Michael Shannon, and many more. It’s a period comedy set in the ‘30s involving the murder of a general with Bale’s forensic specialist teaming with his lawyer/best friend (Washington) to solve his murder. Disney placed the movie on this weekend after a few other things moved, and they’re giving it a hearty release into 2,500+ theaters, so it should be able to do better than the recent See How They Run (released by subsidiary Searchlight Pictures) with $10-11 million this coming weekend. (We won’t know how well or poorly reviews will be for either movie until at least Wednesday or Thursday, due to embargoes.)
A couple of prestige festival films are also getting a limited release this weekend, including Todd Field’s TÁR, starring Cate Blanchett, being released by Focus Features, while NEON releases Ruben Östlund’s absurdist social comedy, Triangle of Sadness, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year. (Look for Above the Line’s interview with Östlund later this week.)
Edward Douglas has been writing about the box office for 21 years at places like ComingSoon.net, The Tracking Board, and many others, but mostly under the banner of “The Weekend Warrior.” He’s also a film critic with bylines at Film Journal, The New York Daily News, Den of Geek, and many others.
You can read other features by Edward Douglas over at Below the Line, as well.