October at the box office brings its own set of… maybe issues is the wrong word, but there are certain things we can expect to see this month, including a number of prestige releases from the festival circuit, as well as further genre releases preceding the coming of Halloween at month’s end.
This Past Weekend
It was Indigenous Peoples’ Day Weekend with most schools and government offices closed on Monday, which should have made it the perfect weekend for a studio release a family film like Sony Pictures’ Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile. As the first PG-rated movie in over two months, the live action CG hybrid film with songs by the team behind The Greatest Showman and La La Land should have scored big and been an easy #1 this weekend.
Instead, first place went to Paramount Pictures’ Smile, which had a negligible second weekend drop of 22% – unheard of for a horror film – to win its second weekend with $17.6 million, racking up close to $50 million after just ten days. The brainchild of Parker Finn, expanded from an earlier short film, the movie received decent reviews and equal audience support, but word-of-mouth saved Smile from the usual fate of horror movies that open big then quickly fade away.
Sporting a cast that includes Constance Wu, Javier Bardem, Winslow Fegley, and the singing voice of pop star Shawn Mendes as the film’s title crocodile, Lyle had to settle for second place with an estimated $11.5 million in 4,350 theaters or $2,643 per location. Comparing that to Sony’s 2021 family release, Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway, which opened with $10.1 million in the summer but at the height of the pandemic, that is not a good look for one of Sony’s final four films of the year, especially since many (including yours truly) felt it could open over $20 million. Especially considering that it had absolutely zero competition for family audiences.
Fortunately for Lyle, it has a pretty open swath through the next month and a half with no further family releases until Disney’s Strange World over Thanksgiving, allowing it to build on word-of-mouth. (Reviews were satisfactory, but no CinemaScore was reported for the movie.)
Things weren’t looking even that peachy for David O. Russell, whose return to theaters with the star-studded disaster, Amsterdam, was met with general disinterest despite 20th Century Studios releasing it into 3,000 theaters. Reuniting Russell with Christian Bale and Robert De Niro, and with stars like Margot Robbie, Anya Taylor-Joy, John David Washington, Rami Malik, Michael Shannon, etc. etc. etc. Amsterdam was plagued with almost universally negative reviews, including the one from Above the Line’s own J. Don Birnam. For an adult-targeted movie like Amsterdam, there’s just no getting past a 34% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and older audiences avoided Russell’s latest movie like… the pandemic. The movie ended up in third place with an estimated $6.5 million or $2,163 per-theater, while also receiving a middling “B” CinemaScore, showing that those who did bother to go see it, just thought it was “okay.” We’ll have to see if general curiosity and mostly genre releases over the next few weeks will make Amsterdam a second choice, or if it will just be dumped from theaters by November.
Viola Davis’ The Woman King keeps doing well, building on its positive word-of-mouth and fantastic “A+” CinemaScore. This weekend, it took fourth place with $5.3 million, down just 22%, similar to Smile, and it has amassed $54.1 million as the highest-grossing movie released since Labor Day. (Smile will surpass that amount in the next couple days.)
Olivia Wilde’s thriller Don’t Worry Darling seems to be recovering from its massive drop last weekend, although it dropped to fifth place with $3.5 million (down 49%) to bring its domestic total to $38.4 million. For a $20 million budgeted movie, that’s going to be seen as a victory, especially since it’s been doing well overseas with $69.2 million made globally.
There’s no way around the fact that Billy Eichner’s post-release rants after his rom-com Bros opened poorly last weekend did nothing to help with its second weekend. It dive-bombed from fifth place all the way down to eighth with $2.1 million, a drop of 56% off its opening weekend. It’s definitely a sad state of affairs for a movie that was generally enjoyed, even by straight people like our own Neil Turitz.
Sixth and seventh place were filled in by James Cameron’s Avatar re-release with $2.6 million and Zach Cregger’s horror film, Barbarian, which beat Bros in its own fifth weekend in theaters, just adding insult to injury. Barbarian has grossed $36.5 million, a huge success for the relatively low-budgeted film.
Damien Leone’s own indie horror film, Terrifier, was dumped to DVD and blu-ray in 2018 without a domestic theatrical release, and yet, its sequel, Terrifier 2, got a rather high-profile release on Thursday into 886 theaters, by Cinedigm Entertainment Group, teaming with horror site, Bloody-Disgusting. After making $403,000 on Thursday, it added another $825,000 over the weekend to get into the top ten – helped greatly by word-of-mouth about its gruesome and gory kills – for a four-day total of $1.2 million. It’s continuing to play for single shows on Monday, but word is that exhibitors want to extend its run with horror playing so well over the past month.
The box office has not been recovering after the slower month of September with the top ten making roughly $53 million, which is less than a single movie made this weekend last year. (See below.)
Filmmaker Todd Field (Little Children, In the Bedroom) had Russell beat when it came to time between projects with his third movie, TÁR, being released into four theaters by Focus Features, almost exactly 16 years since Little Children. Starring Cate Blanchett in an Oscar buzzy role, the drama opened with $160,000 or $40,000 per venue, a decent start for a movie that Focus plans to slowly expand until its nationwide release on Oct. 28.
NEON released Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund’s absurdist political comedy, Triangle of Sadness, into ten theaters on Friday, where it made $210,000 over the weekend or $21,000 per venue. It’s a respectable opening for the director of the Oscar-nominated The Square, which opened with a third of that amount in 2017 in four theaters and went on to gross $1.5 million in North America. Like that film, Triangle won the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May, and NEON is going to be giving it a big push for Oscar nominations in the coming months.
Last year’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day weekend saw the release of the 25th James Bond movie, No Time to Die, after multiple delays due to the COVID pandemic. It opened at #1 with $55.2 million in 4,407 theaters – $62.2 million with the holiday Monday. That was less than the previous three Daniel Craig Bond movies, showing that the box office wasn’t completely back to normal yet. Worldwide, the movie grossed $760 million, making it the fourth-biggest movie of the year, just ahead of F9: The Fast Saga, another venerable franchise.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage dropped to second place, down 65% from its opening weekend with $31.7 million and $141.4 million after two weekends, and it would be one of Sony’s biggest hits last year until releasing Spider-Man: No Way Home a few months later.
The Addams Family 2 took third place with $10.1 million, down 42% with $31.2 million, as family films were slower to return to normal with young kids still not being vaccinated.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings had already become the first movie of 2021 to cross $200 million, and it added another $4.3 million to take fourth place.
The only other significant release was NEON’s release of the Icelandic horror-fantasy Lamb into 583 theaters where it grossed a million dollars, or about $1,715 per-theater. Not great.
After a number of delays due to COVID, David Gordon Green’s “Halloween” trilogy comes to a close with Halloween Ends, which Universal will release into almost 3,800 theaters on Friday while also giving it a concurrent release on streamer, Peacock. That was the same plan for last year’s “Halloween Kills,” which was itself delayed a year due to COVID.
The big advantage Halloween Ends has over the previous movie is that it’s supposedly the grand finale that started all the way back in 1978 with John Carpenter’s original horror masterpiece, Halloween. Wisely, Green brought back Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode for his 2018 “requel,” joined by Judy Greer as Laurie’s estranged daughter and Andi Matichak as her granddaughter. The 2018 movie opened with $76.2 million, almost as much as both of Rob Zombie’s movies made in total, domestically.
Green’s 2021 sequel, Halloween Kills, was released this same weekend, and was also released day-and-date on Peacock, but it only opened with $49.4 million, a significant drop. Interestingly, the sequel’s CinemaScore dropped from “B+” for Green’s first Halloween to a “B-” for Halloween Kills. Even more telling was how the Rotten Tomatoes score for Kills went from 79% Fresh for 2018’s Halloween to 39% Rotten for Kills. (The RT Audience Score didn’t drop as much, though.)
When a sequel doesn’t do as well as its predecessor and also isn’t received as well, that isn’t a very good sign for its “threequel” to do well, even with the lofty expectations for the grand finale. Furthermore, reviews for Halloween Ends are being held until Thursday afternoon, which is rarely a good sign of quality, although with a genre franchise that has a built-in audience, like this one, reviews don’t necessarily matter. Some of these things might even out, allowing Ends to open around the same place as Kills, but don’t expect much in terms of legs with Dwayne Johnson’s superhero epic Black Adam being released in its second weekend.
Other notable new releases this weekend include Chinonye Chukwu’s Till, starring Danielle Deadwyler as the mother of the murdered Emmett Till (Jalyn Hall), a performance that is likely to put her firmly in the Oscar race. A24 is also releasing Claire Denis’ political thriller, Stars at Noon, starring Margaret Qualley, Joe Alwyn, and Ben Safdie, on Friday, with negligible festival buzz.
Todd Field’s TÁR will expand into about 30 theaters in select cities on Friday, continuing Focus Features’ slow roll-out of the film.
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.