It was a pretty spectacular Easter weekend at the box office, easily the best one since the COVID pandemic stirred things up in 2020, although the overwhelming success of one animated movie is the big story this weekend, as that movie exceeded even the loftiest of expectations.
This Past Weekend
It’s not often I miss a prediction as badly as I did with The Super Mario Bros. Movie, but the collaboration between Nintendo, Illumination Entertainment, and distributor Universal to make an animated movie based on the popular video game and its characters ended up bringing people out en masse, indeed being a four-quadrant movie, although the largest audience was still men over 25, taking up 51 percent of its audience.
Even after early tracking suggested Super Mario Bros could make over $150 million in its five-day debut, it still did even better than that, opening with $31.7 million on Wednesday in 4,343 theaters, including IMAX, Dolby and 3D. That was followed by a Thursday take of $26.6 million – $58.3 million in two days – and then a huge Good Friday bump to an estimated $55 million (doubling its Thursday). With $113.3 million grossed in its first three days, Universal has estimated the movie made $146.4 million its opening three-day weekend.
That’s the biggest opening weekend for 2023, surpassing Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, as well as the biggest opening for Illumination and the second-biggest opening for any animated movie ever. In the course of five days, Mario has grossed $204.6 million, making it the biggest five-day opening ever as well, surpassing the $200.1 million opening for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in 2009.
Despite getting mixed reviews, the movie still received an “A” CinemaScore, which tells us a couple things: actual paying moviegoers aren’t as cynical as critics, and maybe they prefer fun and entertainment to “cinema”?
Super Mario Bros. did equally well overseas with international box office that added up to a $377 million worldwide opening, the largest global opening for an animated movie, ahead of Frozen 2‘s $358 million. Some of the biggest overseas territories were Mexico with $27.4 million, the UK and Ireland with $19.6 million, Germany with $14 million, and China with $12 million. That’s also Universal’s fourth-highest global opening after the seventh and eight “Fast & Furious” movies, the biggest being 2017’s The Fate of the Furious with its $543 million global opening, followed by Jurassic World in 2015 with $525 million. It should continue to bring in big worldwide business over the next month with the next major blockbuster being Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 in early May.
Before we get to the rest of the top 10, a little caveat that the next five movies had estimates that were so close that things can go either way once actuals are reported over the next couple days. UPDATE: The movies below have been changed to reflect the actual box office as reported on Monday.
According to estimates, Lionsgate‘s John Wick: Chapter 4, starring Keanu Reeves, has managed to eke out a second place win with $14.5 million, down 49 percent from last weekend and a $147 million domestic take so far. We’ll have to see if it’s able to surpass Chapter 3 with many other new movies opening over the next month.
Ben Affleck‘s drama, Air, also did considerably well, considering that it was a movie produced by Amazon Studios, who have not given a movie a nationwide release in many years, this one likely helped by its billions-dollar purchase of MGM a few years back. Starring Matt Damon, Viola Davis, Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker, and more, the movie opened well with $3.3 million on Wednesday, another $2.4 million on Thursday, and then an estimated $14.46 million for the three-day weekend. That adds up to a 5-day take of $20.2 million, which is better than most of the adult-targetted dramas over the past three years.
Critics were already behind the movie, giving it a 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with audiences there giving it an even higher 98 percent rating and a matching “A” CinemaScore that seems to point to the movie having a significant theatrical life. (And again, that opening weekend number is so close to D&D and Wick that we can see positions changing with actual numbers.)
Paramount Pictures‘ risky attempt at creating a new fantasy franchise, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, ended up in fourth place with $13.8 million – down 63 percent. So far, it’s only grossed $61.6 million in North America, which might not be enough to warrant greenlighting a sequel just yet.
Paramount’s hit horror sequel, Scream VI, passed the $100 million mark, adding another $3.4 million (down 36 percent) to take fifth place with $103.9 million, which also makes it the highest-grossing movie in that franchise (not accounting for inflation).
Angel Studios‘ first release as a distributor, the biblical epic His Only Son, wound up in sixth place with $2.8 million (down 49 percent) over the religious holiday weekend, bringing its total to $10.6 million.
It wound up just slightly ahead of MGM’s Creed III with just below $2.8 million, down 45 percent, with that having grossed more than $153.2 million domestically.
IFC Films decided to take a chance by releasing the indie comedy, Paint, starring Owen Wilson, into 819 theaters where it grossed just $570,512 or $696 per theater, which allowed it to just scrape an entry into the top 10.
In other indie news, NEON released the thriller, How to Blow Up a Pipeline, into 12 theaters on Friday, it grossing $115,453 or $9,621 per theater.
Kelly Reichardt‘s latest film, Showing Up, was released by A24 into four theaters in New York and Los Angeles, where it made $66,932 or $16,733 per theater with plans to expand it into more markets this coming Friday.
Oscilloscope released the Pakistani Oscar-shortlisted festival fave, Joyland, solely at the Film Forum in New York City where it grossed $20,638 with plans to expand to many other cities.
Easter weekend 2022 was also headlined by an anticipated family film based on a video game, as Sonic the Hedgehog 2 opened with $72.1 million in 4,234 theaters just two years after the original movie was hobbled by the pandemic. The previous movie opened with $58 million, but then tapped out at $146 million a month later when movie theaters were shuttered.
Sonic won the weekend readily and heartily over the second weekend of Sony’s Morbius, which dropped 74 percent to second place with just $10.2 million.
Also, Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II starred in Michael Bay‘s crime action-thriller, Ambulance, which opened in fourth place with $8.7 million in 3,412 theaters or 2,550 average per site, which was a very poor showing for Bay.
With Universal’s The Super Mario Bros Movie dominating so readily, it won’t have any issue remaining #1 for at least one or two weekends, maybe more. Even so, there are four new wide or semi-wide releases opening this Friday, hoping to bring in some business with theaters thriving once again.
In fact, Universal is going to try to take the top two spots by releasing the horror-comedy Renfield, masterminded by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, and starring Nicholas Hoult (The Favourite) as Dracula’s trusty man-servant of the title. Playing Dracula? None other than Nicolas Cage, who previously played a Dracula wannabe in Vampire’s Kiss in 1988.
This spin-off from Universal’s Monsters franchise – which continually fails to get off the ground as a shared universe despite moderate hits – is targeted more towards teen and slightly older moviegoers who either have seen or have no interest in Mario Bros. Universal has had a lot of success with that audience this year, between M3gan in early January, and then Cocaine Bear in March with Renfield offering even more gore than either of them.
Despite being the strongest new release this weekend with generally strong reviews (mostly out of its Overlook Film Festival debut), this one is likely to end up somewhere below $20 million in second place.
Opening in over 3,300 theaters is Sony‘s horror-thriller The Pope’s Exorcist, starring Russell Crowe as Father Gabriel Amorth, the titular Pope’s exorcist, and directed by Julius Avery (Overlord).
There was a time when a movie like this would do huge business at the box office, but the exorcism/possession film has gotten quite played due to too many iterations of the same general story. The last attempt was Lionsgate’s Prey for the Devil, which opened Halloween weekend last year, but only made $7.1 million opening weekend and $19.8 million total.
It’s hard to believe the once A-list Crowe can do much to help this one do much more than that. This past weekend, it grossed $12 million overseas, with Mexico being the biggest market with $2.5 million.
Due to that and other factors, The Pope’s Exorcist might struggle to even make $10 million this weekend, since Sony are essentially trying to hide it from critics, only showing it on Thursday afternoon, so clearly the studio is not expecting critics to like it.
Crunchyroll is releasing Makoto Shinkai‘s latest animated film, Suzume, into 2,000 theaters, including a few IMAX screens. It’s an animated fantasy-adventure from the filmmaker behind Your Name. and Weathering with You, the latter being Japan’s Oscar selection that year. Shinkai is a very well-liked and respected anime filmmaker even outside normal anime circles, so expect this one to do quite well, with as much as $14 to 15 million, which could be enough to take third place this weekend.
Opening more moderately than the above movies is the Bleecker Street comedy, Mafia Mamma, starring Toni Collette and Monica Bellucci and directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight), which is using a similar tactic as this weekend’s IFC release, Paint. Because of that, and not having a general theater count, this one probably won’t open with more than $3 million, possibly sneaking into the bottom part of the top 10.
There’s also the basketball drama called Sweetwater, being released by Briarcliff, a biopic about Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, the first African-American to sign an NBA contract. It’s directed by Martin Guigui, and I’m honestly not sure who out there even knows this movie exists compared to something like Affleck’s Air.
Filmmaker Ari Aster‘s anticipated third film, Beau is Afraid, starring Joaquin Phoenix, which is more of an oddball comedy than horror, opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday ahead of its wide release on April 21. Depending on how many theaters that ends up being, it could open with somewhere close to $1 million due to the high demand.
Either way, Super Mario Bros. will remain #1 with somewhere in the $65 to 70 million range, but maybe even higher.
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 more.