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Top 10 Box Office Takeaways: ‘The Martian’ Soars, ‘The Walk’ Doesn’t

Top 10 Box Office Takeaways: 'The Martian' Soars, 'The Walk' Doesn't

The wheels are turning in studio executive offices as different films calls for outside-the-box strategies, while some more conventional movies need maximum appeal at a time when audiences seem to be demanding original — or at least smartly done — versions of the familiar. And it seems — with some major exceptions — to be working.

The result is another weekend on the up, and again, positive results have come from films appealing to different audiences. Only one — “The Martian” — seems to have mass appeal.

The Top Ten (+1)

1. The Martian (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 81; Est. budget: $108 million
$55,000,000 in 3,831 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $14,357; Cumulative: $55,000,000
2. Hotel Transylvania 2 (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend #1
$33,000,000 (-32%) in 3,754 theaters (no change); PTA: $8,791; Cumulative: $90,542,000
3. Sicario (Lionsgate)  Week 3; Last weekend #10
$12,075,000 (+603%) in 2,620 theaters (+2,561); PTA: $4,609; Cumulative: $15,076,000
4. The Intern (Warner Bros.)  Week 2; Last weekend #2
$11,620,000 (-34%) in 3,320 theaters (+15); PTA: $3,500; Cumulative: $36,524,000
5. Maze Runner: Scorch Trials (20th Century Fox)  Week 3; Last weekend #3
$7,650,000 (-46%) in 3,319 theaters (-473); PTA: $2,305; Cumulative: $63,241,000
6. Black Mass (Warner Bros.)  Week 3; Last weekend #5
$5,905,000 (-46%) in 2,768 theaters (-470); PTA: $2,133; Cumulative: $52,521,000
7. Everest (Universal)  Week 3; Last weekend #4
$5,510,000 (-58%) in 3,009 theaters; PTA: $1,720; Cumulative: $33,181,000
8. The Visit (Universal)  Week 4; Last weekend #6
$3,950,000 (-41%) in 2,296 theaters (-671); PTA: $1,720; Cumulative: $56,921,000
9. War Room (Sony)  Week 6; Last weekend #8
$2,800,000 (-34%) in 1,746 theaters (-174); PTA: $1,604; Cumulative: $60,545,000
10. The Perfect Guy (Sony)  Week 4; Last weekend #7
$2,400,000 (-50%) in 1,364 theaters (-525); PTA: $; Cumulative: $52,615,000
11. The Walk (Sony) NEW –  Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 70; Est. budget: $35 million
$1,550,000 in 448 theaters; PTA: $3,460; Cumulative: $1,972,000

The Takeaways

“The Martian” and “Hotel Transylvania” Boost the Totals

Though Friday’s gross fell behind the same Friday last year, Top Ten totals ended up topping those results by a small margin. Credit for this goes to the top two performers — “The Martian” had a healthy 23% bump Saturday (compared to “Gone Girl” last year, which increased 15%) — but also to the presence of a “big kids” film primed to pop on its second weekend matinees. “Hotel Transylvania 2” indeed jumped 110%, and provided most of the strength to push the numbers up a tick. Year-to-date remains 6% ahead of last year. The weekend also soared above 2013, when an equally strong “Gravity” dominated, but the rest of the list fell short of this year’s returns.

“The Martian” might pull out a numerical lead over “Gravity” as an unadjusted October best. But it really is a virtual tie. Slightly higher 2015 ticket prices would make the earlier films $55.7 million take slightly higher today, but a phenomenal 80% of that film’s initial weekend haul came from IMAX and/or 3D-elevated tickets, as opposed to 45% of “The Martian” take coming from 3D (IMAX screens are owned by “The Walk” and scattered “Everest” holdovers this weekend). So the film actually had more ticket buyers this weekend.

The rest of this month has, like last year, some decent-sounding films, but none likely to debut at this level. So “The Martian” has room for a nice multiple. And more importantly for those looking for a decent 2015 uptick — as the whole industry is — November showcases the latest Bond, the “Hunger Games” finale, a Disney animated feature and potential breakout “Rocky” update “Creed.” So with September and now early October sustaining the year-to-date increase, it looks like the final numbers will be healthy.

 The Pull of “Gravity” on Early October

“The Martian” scored an impressive opening weekend, continuing the trend of a top director/high-end studio film (sometimes awards hopeful) launching at the start of October. This started in 2010 with “The Social Network,” then followed in succeeding years with “The Ides of March,” “Gravity” and “Gone Girl” (“Argo” went a week later). “Gravity” shared “The Martian”‘s high-end sci-fi appeal. Next year, with Rosh Hashanah falling on the first weekend, will push similar entries back at least a week (Ron Howard and Tom Hanks’ “Inferno” is set for Oct. 9).

“Gravity” and its huge success (and awards haul) loomed large over many release plans. Ridley Scott, like so many of his fellow, still-vital older director peers (Spielberg, Eastwood, Scorsese among them) has become a mostly last quarter entrant. But it was “Gravity,” along with “Captain Phillips” in 2013 and strongly reinforced by “Gone Girl” last year, that has made the date more attractive.

Fortunately for “The Martian,” it didn’t just play older. Combined with a decent A Cinemascore (a bit higher than “Gravity”), it has shown initial appeal among wider audiences, though there’s still room for growth among younger and less upscale audiences. “The Martian” was 28% under 25, while “Gravity” was only 18% initially, and “The Martian” had to compete with “Transylvania” for younger viewers.

Showing similar legs to “Gravity” could give “The Martian” a similar awards boost, though its reviews, while strong, are a tick or more below other recent Best Picture winners. Remember, there could be sentiment for a Ridley Scott career win.

The opening weekend take is just above what his adjusted Oscar Best Picture winner “Gladiator” opened to in 2000. Nice territory to be in. (That film actually had the most tepid reviews of any Best Picture winner going back decades.) Keep in mind that over the last decade, two more general audience films — “Argo” and “The Departed” — debuted at about the same time on their way to victories, and “Gravity” just missed (if winning seven Oscars including Director can be called missing).

“The Walk” and How Distribution Decisions Are a High-Wire Act for Post-Festival Debuts

Once again, some key decisions of release patterns from normally wide-release studios, in conjunction with their film festival debuts, are significantly affecting performance. We’ll update the ones we’ve been discussing over the last few weeks below, but first, let’s break down this weekend’s crop of new festival releases.

“The Martian” world premiered (as a Gala) at Toronto, then added a last-minute New York Film Festival showing, but otherwise stuck to completely logical wide release plans, which are succeeding. Fox chose to not play at Venice or Telluride (unlike “Argo” at the latter or “Gravity” for both). They played it perfectly.

Lionsgate repeated their rare platform debut for “Freehold,” similar to the much better performing “Sicario.” They also have planned to go much wider two weeks out, but its disappointing performance may offer them a chance to regroup and possibly limit their exposure.

Which brings us to Robert Zemeckis’ “The Walk.” Sony’s spin this morning stated that the film met their expectations. If their expectations were a per-theater-average of under $3,500 — which, with elevated ticket prices in the very high end of theaters nationally, means fewer than 300 people were at a given showing — you have to wonder what they were thinking.

In adjusted figures, Robert Zemeckis had only three films not reach $100 million. So even with his divisive experiments in animation in recent years, he knows how to grab audiences with new techniques, combined with a strong storytelling sense. Debuting “The Walk” just after an opening night New York Film Festival premiere increased the attention it might have gotten anyway. Limiting the film to IMAX screens initially — as “Everest” did, faring far better at $7.2 million in 545 IMAX theaters — emphasized the film’s special, vertigo-inducing elements.

It’s not likely that potential audiences weren’t aware of that. Also, the chatter about the film, including the mostly favorable reviews, has emphasized the strong climax of the film and how it effectively conveys a high-wire walking act. But this also emphasized that perhaps the rest of the film doesn’t reach such heights.

Perhaps Sony, seeing the technical skill that helped make “Gravity” a phenomenon, thought that such aspirations would stand out in a more limited opening run, and that it would lead to great word-of-mouth and enhance the rest of the dates, including upcoming non-IMAX 3D ones.

But there clearly has been resistance, and worse yet, competition from “The Martian” and reports of its dramatic power and technical effects have left “The Walk” in the dust.

It’s a $35 million production (very inexpensive for the people involved and what is achieved onscreen), and it is possible the rest of the world — perhaps less aware of the story, and different release patterns — will respond differently and keep this from being Zemeckis’ first flop. But “Everest,” whose marketing beat “The Walk” to the punch with images of people facing great heights, will end up under $50 million domestically, with much better foreign performance.

By the same multiple, “The Walk” might end up struggling to reach even $15 million. That seems low, but even double that would be a disappointment for this film. Why did Sony go limited first, instead of opening wide and doing $10 million for the weekend? It just may be the film doesn’t have an audience.

Up ahead there is one similar situation: the Weinsteins plan to open “The Hateful Eight” in 70mm over Christmas, with regular dates to follow. Will the performance of “The Walk” give them pause?

Holdovers

Among the films with earlier risky strategies, the jury is still out on “Sicario.” It had a decent third place/$12 million weekend, but the combined three weekend total of $15 million is down 25% from the opening of director Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” two years ago. That ended up at $60 million (at a 50% higher production budget). “Sicario” is just now opening foreign, and needs to be strong there with, at this point, an under-$50 million home turf total looking likely. Still, no clear sign that Lionsgate didn’t do the right thing.

“Black Mass” dropped 46% and has reached $52 million. We figure it has a shot of tripling its opening weekend to get to $66 million. That’s less than hoped for, but there’s no reason to question how Warner Bros. handled this.

“Everest” got hurt by “The Walk,” costing it IMAX screens and a drop of 58%. It’s at $33 million, and might stretch to reach $50 million. It’s possible that the unusual pattern of an early prime release date did little good.

Back in the world of normal release patterns, several holdovers are doing quite well. “Hotel Transylvania 2” dropped only 31%, which is better than its slightly smaller opening weekend predecessor in 2012.

“The Intern” only dropped 34%, showing that Nancy Meyers still knows her audience. “War Room,” at $60 million, has outgrossed “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (just to put things into perspective) and this weekend shed on 34%. Even “The Visit” is solid — unusual for a horror film, its fourth weekend was only 40% down, despite losing a lot of theaters.

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