A few days after the Oscar nominations—where the big news was the lack of diversity among the nominees—’Ride Along 2,’ directed by Tim Story and starring Ice Cube and Kevin Hart, landed in first place. That’s not unusual; the Oscar-snubbed “Straight Outta Compton” did even better last August. Lacking that film’s wider appeal, the “Ride Along” sequel —with an audience about one third African American and one third Hispanic— bested an Oscar frontrunner with a major star and even greater media attention, showing once again that moviegoers and Academy members form two different universes.
Both “Ride Along 2” and “The Revenant” topped “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” on its fifth weekend, an unexpectedly quick decline, though logical with its front-loaded blockbuster business. The film is clearly not going to best the last decade’s top performer “Titanic” in tickets sold, despite its major success.
The two other openers lagged, with Michael Bay’s modestly-budgeted war actioner “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” a career-low opener. The date might have been a mistake, but this shows that unlike “American Sniper” and other recent battle-themed successes that more than a core action audience is needed. (Some stars, like Mark Wahlberg or Bradley Cooper, might have helped.) The third new film, “Norm of the North” (released but not produced by Lionsgate) lagged far behind most animated releases, despite the kid-friendly holiday.
The Top Ten
1. Ride Along 2 (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore;B+; Metacritic: 33; Est. budget: $40 million
$34,040,000 in 3,175 theaters; PTA: $10,721; Cumulative: $34,040,000
2. The Revenant (20th Century Fox) Week 4; Last weekend #2
$29,500,000 (-26%) in 3,559 theaters (+184); PTA (per theater average): $8,289; Cumulative: $87,675,000
3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Buena Vista) Week 5; Last weekend #1
$25,120,000 (-41%) in 3,822 theaters (-312); PTA: $6,572; Cumulative: $851,053,000
4. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 48; Est. budget: $50 million
$16,000,000 in 2,389 theaters; PTA: $; Cumulative: $
5. Daddy’s Home (Paramount) Week 4; Last weekend #3
$ (-%) in 3,322 theaters (-161); PTA: $6,697; Cumulative: $16,000,000
6. Norm of the North (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Criticwire: C-; Metacritic: 24; Est. budget: $18 million
$6,675,000 in 2,411 theaters; PTA: $2,769; Cumulative: $6,675,000
7. The Forest (Focus) Week 2; Last weekend #4
$5,792,000 (-54%) in 2,509 theaters (+58); PTA: $2,308; Cumulative: $21,126,000
8. The Big Short (Paramount) Week 6; Last weekend #7
$5,200,000 (-16%) in 1,765 theaters (-764); PTA: $2,946; Cumulative: $50,521,000
9. Sisters (Universal) Week 5; Last weekend #5
$4,420,000 (-%) in 2,313 theaters (-551); PTA: $2,313; Cumulative: $81,852,000
10. The Hateful Eight (Weinstein) Week 4; Last weekend #6
$3,447,000 (-%) in 2,385 theaters (-553); PTA: $1,445; Cumulative: $47,595,000
Signs of 2016 Box Office Revitalization?
After four weeks of big increases in Top Ten totals, mostly due to the phenomenal grosses for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” business more typical of recent trends returned this holiday weekend. The Top Ten totaled about $139 million for the three days, down $40 million (21%) from 2015. It was tough to beat last year’s “American Sniper,” which in its first wide break grossed more than the three best films this week combined.
Multiple signs suggest, as last weekend hinted, that the extraordinary performance of “Force” did not herald a turnaround moment that showed new life in theatrical play. Though this week shows some positive momentum, there are signs that last year’s basic domestic box office stagnancy may continue.
“The Revenant” and “The Big Short” Get Oscar Boosts
This post-Oscar nomination season is led by distributors who usually concentrate on wide releases of general audience films rather than those that appeal to more specialized audiences. Those companies (not including the hybrid Weinstein) scored 66 nods, compared to 41 last year. including six of the seven top titles. Four of those seven were initial wide release titles, a showing unlike most years.
Two of these were December releases, not premiered until after the usual playbook of debuting at September festivals, then slowly releasing through the fall and building up to significant holiday grosses to build awards momentum. Both “The Revenant” (20th Century Fox) and “The Big Short” (Paramount) —which, along with “Spotlight,” are considered the lead contenders for Best Picture—have been helped by studio muscle, marketing depth, and financial support to open late and still get needed attention. And both performed as needed this weekend to help their Oscar cause.
Since 2003 (when the smash “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” won), only two Best Picture Oscar winners—”The Departed” in its first weekend, and “Argo” in its third (Halloween, a weak period) have managed as much as one week at #1. Several others have topped the $100 million mark, but only with multi-week steady performances. “The Revenant,” despite missing out at #1, actually outgrossed any single weekend of all the winners in the last 12 years for the second straight time. It did fall 26% despite gaining some theaters, but still a better hold than all but one other Top Ten. This is certainly strong enough to add to its credentials and keep it in the Top Ten the rest of the race.
The signs of how nominations can help are even clearer with “The Big Short.” As a wide release film, it has been solid if not spectacular (compared to other mainstream films and how wide it has played). But despite losing 764 theaters (more than any other in the Top Ten), it fell only 16%, with a per theater average 20% ahead of last weekend. It has passed $50 million (almost $20 million more than rival “Spotlight”) and more importantly is doing major business right in the middle of the race. And its performance this weekend means that it will be able to sustain far more of its theaters than lower-grossing and older rivals, most of which will steadily lose theaters in the weeks ahead.
“Ride Along 2” Does What It Should Have
Though Universal lagged behind all studios other than Sony in nominations despite a record 2015 (which included several well-reviewed films like “Straight Outta Compton” and “Steve Jobs”), it starts 2016 with the first new number one weekend release. The “Ride Along 2” take is about 15% below its predecessor, also opened on MLK Day weekend in 2014. It’s ahead of most top films in recent years, as well as besting several other recent comedy sequels in relative performance. It climbed 12% from its combined Thursday night to Friday gross, a positive sign, though not quite as much as the first one. Some advance expectations touted this as higher, but this is a credible performance.
“13 Hours” Disappoints
Since the wide release of “Black Hawk Down” in 2002, mid-January has become the go-to date for military-themed films to expand and thrive. In recent years, “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Lone Survivor,” and especially “American Sniper” have succeeded, making it understandable that Paramount chose this weekend.
The $16 million total pales compared to these. “Zero Dark Thirty” was the smallest of the last three—not boosted for a longer weekend—and managed over $24 million. “Lone Survivor” opened to nearly $38 million, with “Sniper” topping them both.
And it comes from the normally reliable Michael Bay. This is his 12th film since his debut with “Bad Boys” in 1995, the lowest opening in adjusted grosses among them, and only the second (along with the similarly performing “The Island”) not to open at #1.
What made these earlier films successful—along with much older war-related films like “The Deer Hunter” and “Apocalypse Now”— is the broadening of the audience beyond core men with a military interest (this did a big percentage of its business in the South). This poor performance reveals the ongoing difficultly of luring male moviegoers into theaters for non-event films. It terms of timing, despite the precedent for the date, Paramount also suffered from competition from NFL playoffs and the overlapping audience appeal of “The Revenant.” As well, the politicizing of the subject (something that Paramount mostly resisted) likely turned off many adults (who have plenty of other choices at the moment). This could be a case where a different date might have helped. But its weak showing is not a good sign for the industry.
“The Force Awakens” Comes Down to Earth
Hot off of the widespread anointing of the “Star Wars” reboot as “the biggest grosser ever” (at least domestically), unlike other films with lower dollar totals, “Force Awakens” managed to fall from the #1 spot after only four weekends. That’s far behind the original “Star Wars” and its multi-month run at the top, “Titanic” at 15 weekends, “Avatar” seven, and about the same as two of the “Lord of the Rings” entries and “The Dark Knight,” all playing at busy summer or holiday periods. That Disney has been able amass their $851 million total in so short a time remains a staggering achievement, and it is barely a dent in its success to say with even more certainty that this ends up at best ninth among all-time domestic grossers with an adjusted gross, and the biggest hit since “Titanic.” Still, its fall to number three in its fifth week seems a bit odd, and less than what was projected a month ago.
The anticipated stronger-than-usual Sunday will, as with all holiday weekends, keep the holdover drops below normal. Last week’s horror entry “The Forest” dropped 54% and has about one more week left in it. The two hit Christmas comedies—”Daddy’s Home” and “Sisters”—kept their drops to under 40%, with the latter more impressive as it continues to lose a significant number of theaters, The most worrisome result, though, is “The Hateful Eight.” It fell to tenth, off 46%, and lost 553 of its theaters, most of which are only in the third week. With no major Oscar boost (it landed three nominations, including Best Supporting Actress contender Jennifer Jason Leigh, and could win Best Original Score for Ennio Morricone), this is going to fall short of $60 million. That will place it in seventh among Tarantino’s eight solo directorial credits, with only his debut “Reservoir Dogs” lower in adjusted figures.