2023 is well underway with its first new wide release, while many of 2022’s biggest hits continue to do quite well, giving early hope that January 2023 won’t replicate last year.
This Past Weekend
Of course, James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water continued to do well in its fourth weekend at #1 with an impressive $45 million, down just 33 percent from last weekend. Any doubts or worries that it wouldn’t achieve the success of the 2009 movie are proving to be unfounded, as it has already grossed $516.7 million, which is more than the $430.8 million grossed by the original at this point in its run. It has also passed 2019’s Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker to become the 16th highest-grossing domestic release of all time – not bad for a month’s work.
The Way of the Water also crossed $1.7 billion worldwide, helped by the $188 million grossed in China. $189 million of that global gross came from IMAX screenings, proving that large format were the screens of choice.
The big wide release of the weekend was the Universal Pictures, Blumhouse and Atomic Monster horror film, M3GAN, starring Alison Williams and co-written/produced by James Wan. The first accomplishment achieved by the movie was being embraced by the critics, receiving an impressive 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (Above the Line’s J. Don Birnam gave the movie a “B” rating in his review, as well, which lines up with its “B” CinemaScore from audiences.) That hasn’t been so uncommon in the past year with other highly-rated horror films like Barbarian and Pearl, but it helped push the movie to a strong $2.8 million in Thursday previews. Its nationwide release into 3,509 theaters brought in $11.7 million on Friday, allowing it to win the day over “Avatar,” though that number did include the $2.8 million from Thursday. Universal has estimated the movie to have made $30.2 million for the weekend, or $8,606 per theater. That’s the best showing for a PG-13 horror movie in quite some time, probably since John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place: Part II in 2021.
M3GAN grossed an additional $10 million overseas to bring its global total to $45 million, and based on Blumhouse’s normal production budgets, this one could already be profitable.
DreamWorks Animation’s animated sequel, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, also continues to do well despite a premature release on demand. This weekend, it took third place with $13.1 million, down just 22% from the holiday weekend, and it has grossed $87.7 million domestically, so it’s picked up a little steam since its weaker opening. Overseas, Puss in Boots has grossed
One of the weekend’s biggest surprises was Sony expanding Tom Hanks’s A Man Called Otto into 637 ahead of its nationwide release this Friday after a relatively weak platform release into New York and L.A. last weekend. Instead of making a nominal entry into the top ten, it jumped into fourth place with $4.2 million and $6,953 per theater, which bodes well for its nationwide release.
Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever remained in the top five with $3.4 million, down 34% from last weekend, adding to its domestic take of $445.44 million. That’s also in the top 25 highest-grossing movies of all time, meaning that 2022 accounted for three movies among those ranks.
Sony’s Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody dropped to sixth place with $2.4 million, continuing to scrape its way to $20 million domestic with very little interest from audiences.
Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, starring Brendan Fraser, added a few hundred more theaters, remaining in seventh place with $1.5 million in 835 theaters with a running total of $8.6 million. (If you haven’t read Jeremy Wein’s interview with playwright/screenwriter Samuel D. Hunter, you can read that here.)
Still skirting a wider release, U.A. Releasing only expanded Sarah Polley’s Women Talking into 29 theaters this weekend, where it added $142,769 in its third weekend or $4,923 per theater. It has grossed $340,000, so far. (Expect the theater counts for both those last two movies to increase based on any awards nominations or Golden Globe wins this coming week.)
IFC Films expanded the Austrian Oscar selection, Corsage, starring Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread), into 317 locations this weekend, where it grossed $250,000, bringing its domestic total to $341,000. That isn’t bad for the Oscar-shortlisted period drama, which is may or may not get nominated for an Oscar.
This part of the column might already be sounding like a scratched record, since Sony’s Spider-Man: No Way Home would continue to win many weekends last January. That was the case with the first weekend of 2022 as No Way Home brought in $32.7 million in its fourth weekend, down 42% from its previous weekend, with $668.4 million grossed thus far. That already put the movie into the top 8 all-time highest-grossing movies.
The animated sequel, Sing 2, remained in second place with $11.6 million (also down 42%) with $108.7 million grossed domestically.
The one new movie of the weekend was the ensemble action-thriller, The 355, starring Jessica Chastain, Penélope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o, Fan Bingbing, and Diane Kruger as lady spies, which opened in third place with a terrible $4.6 million in 3,145 theaters.
Matthew Vaughn’s action prequel, The King’s Man, took fourth place with $3.2 million and $25 million total, while the faith-based sports drama, American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story
In the past, Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday weekend has been a solid time to release a movie, with many huge hits coming out of the extended four-day weekend, including Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper in 2015, 2020’s Bad Boys for Life, and Ride Along in 2014. That said, it’s hard to determine the strongest offering this weekend, since it’s such a mixed bag.
In theory, Tom Hanks’ A Man Called Otto did so well this weekend by breaking into the top five, its expansion by Sony into 3,500 theaters gives some hope for the Marc Forster-directed adaptation/remake of the Oscar-nominated Swedish film, A Man Called Ove, to be the studio’s first hit of 2023.
Despite not doing so great in its platform weekend last weekend, Hanks definitely has a stronger pull among mainstream audiences, so Sony probably hopes this will fare better than other movies like The Fabelmans, that platformed but then failed to find a mainstream audience once it went wider. (It’s good to note that movie also never tried to expand into 3,000-plus theaters either.) Even so, this is Hanks’ first theatrical release since Elvis last summer, and it’s more of a character drama that could appeal to his older audience of fans. Therefore, it should be good for $10 to 12 million over the four-day holiday weekend.
Otherwise, the weekend’s strongest offering might New Line’s new version of House Party, updating the super popular 1990 comedy, starring rappers Kid ‘n’ Play. This one is directed by music video director “Calmatic,” and it stars Tosin Cole (Doctor Who), Jacob Latimore (The Maze Runnner), and Karen Obilom (Doom Patrol).
It’s been quite some time since we’ve had any sort of “urban comedy” with filmmakers like Tyler Perry shifting their wares to streaming. There have been quite a few strong urban comedy franchises in the past, such as the Friday and Barbershop franchise, both launched by rapper Ice Cube. House Party is a different beast in that is likely to target younger audiences who may not even be familiar with the 1990 movie, though it also has a name brand value that should help it get walk-up business.’
Because of that, it probably won’t do as poorly as the 2018 Superfly, which topped out at $20.5 million, or the 2019 Shaft, which only did slightly better, despite having Samuel L. Jackson returning. Because this is the type of comedy that tends to attract Black audiences over MLK Jr. weekend, “House Party” could open with between $11 and 13 million or more over the four-day weekend, putting it into direct competition with Hanks for third place.
Under normal circumstances, Lionsgate’s high-concept action-thriller Plane, which pairs Gerard Butler and Mike Colter (“Luke Cage”), would be a decent-sized hit among older guys. Directed by Jean-François Richet (Assault on Precinct 13), this one involves Butler as the pilot of a commercial flight that’s forced to crash-land in a war zone, forcing him to team with Colter’s convict being escorted to prison in order to survive. It’s a good trailer, but the movie really hasn’t been getting much promotion, and it’s hard to imagine reviews will be good, so it will be shocking if it makes more than $10 million over the four-day holiday weekend.
Another release getting a wide release with very little known about it is Nathan Frankowski’s faith-based thriller, The Devil Conspiracy, being distributed by Samuel Goldwyn with 3RDay Productions. It’s a religious epic that harks back to movies like The Da Vinci Code (starring Hanks, ironically enough), but with no name stars and little promotion towards mainstream audiences, it’s doubtful it will pull in more than $2 million over the extended weekend. Still, that should be enough for it to get into the top ten.
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 other places.