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Top 10 Takeaways: Snowzilla, Weak Openers Leave Weekend Box Office Ice Cold

Top 10 Takeaways: Snowzilla, Weak Openers Leave Weekend Box Office Ice Cold

The major snow storm in the Northeast put a hurt on weekend box office, but it had some help from a trio of routine new releases and otherwise anemic results. The Top Ten came in at about $100 million, down 26% from last year ($136 million, nearly half of that from the second wide weekend of “American Sniper.”) With the upcoming weeks unlikely to maintain the strong February of last year (which saw two films open to over $50 million), it’s looking more and more that capitalizing on the momentum of the huge “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” surge will be tricky.

The full impact of the storm on today’s results remains to be seen, but falling on key populations and affecting the whole weekend, it likely caused a 10% shortfall. That would still leave the the overall take close to 20% behind the same weekend last year.

The weak openers resulted in older films nabbing the top three slots — “The Revenant,” in its third week of wide release; “Force Awakens,” rising to second place after a weekend lower; and last weekend’s top performer “Ride Along 2,” besting the fresh blood despite a bigger-than-expected drop.

The Top Ten

1. The Revenant (20th Century Fox) Week 5 – Last weekend #2
$16,000,000 (-50%) in 3,711 theaters (+152); PTA (per theater average): $4,312; Cumulative: $119,193,000
2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Buena Vista)  Week 6 – Last weekend #3
$14,257,000 (-46%) in 3,822 theaters (-312); PTA: $4,237; Cumulative: $879,289,000
3. Ride Along 2 (Universal)  Week 2 – Last weekend #1
$12,960,000 (-63%) in 3,912 theaters (+17); PTA: $4,660; Cumulative: $59,110,000
4. Dirty Grandpa (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 17; Est. budget: unknown, but likely under $25 million
$11,525,000 in 2,192 theaters; PTA: $3,958; Cumulative: $11,525,000
5. The Boy (STX)  NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Metacritic: 46; Est. budget: $10 million
$11,260,000 in 2,671 theaters; PTA: $4,216; Cumulative: $11,260,000
6. The Fifth Wave (Sony)  NEW – Cinemascore: B-;  Metacritic: 34; Est. budget: $38 million
$10,700,000 in 2,908 theaters; PTA: $3,680; Cumulative: $10,700,000
7. 13 Hours: The Secret Heroes of Benghazi (Paramount) Week 2 – Last weekend #4
$9,750,000 (-40%) in 2,917 theaters (+528); PTA: $3,342; Cumulative: $33,483,000
8. Daddy’s Home (Paramount) Week 5 – Last weekend #5
$5,270,000 (-45%) in 2,789 theaters (-533); PTA: $1,890; Cumulative: $138,780,000
9. Norm of the North (Lionsgate)  Week 2 – Last weekend #6
$4,100,000 (-40%) in 2,411 theaters (no change); PTA: $1,701; Cumulative: $14,296,000
10. The Big Short (Paramount)  Week 7 – Last weekend #8
$3,500,000 (-34%) in 1,351 theaters (-414); PTA: $2,591; Cumulative: $56,714,000

The Takeaways

Why Distributors (Mainly) Avoid January New Releases

The risk of a major winter storm wreaking havoc on theaters — an unusually large, perhaps record-breaking, number were shut down on a Saturday with this one — is one factor keeping distributors from risking too much this time of year. (Two tasty NFL contests Sunday provided extra competition.) Room is also left for Christmas films to find audiences after receiving extra attention — though it seems to decline with every year — via the Oscar nominations. All of this contributes to studio skittishness. That “American Sniper” grossed $240 million in the second half of the month last year proved that it’s possible to draw the public in at any time of year, but there are no guarantees, and the risks of the date remain. In this case, given the momentum from “The Force Awakens,” it’s a sign that one film doesn’t solve all problems.

The three new films, though lower budgeted — not at all a negative in finding an audience — all had little to offer in terms of originality, and each relied in large part on appeal to either a broad male and/or younger audience (both increasingly unreliable ticket buyers). They all feel like films with a shelf life of little more than a couple weeks, becoming available through VOD outlets after the prerequisite 90-day window for less money and little difference in viewing experience. “The Force Awakens” was an event in which everything clicked. And other recent successes have reached older and more heavily female audiences, as well as appealing, in some cases, to diverse domestic demographics not central to studio worldwide production plans — one contributor to the ongoing diversity issue front and center at the moment.

Still, there were several positive takeaways from the weekend.

Timing is Everything for “The Revenant” — and Helps “The Big Short”

Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Best Picture contender lost the usually reliable precursor Producers Guild Award Saturday night to rival “The Big Short,” but it received a boost from another milestone this weekend: In its third wide weekend, taking advantage of the lackluster new films and the big drop from “Ride Along 2,” “The Revenant” rose to #1, something no Best Picture winner has accomplished after the Oscar nominations since “Titanic” 18 years ago. Among the recipients in the last dozen years, only “The Departed” in its opening week and “Argo” in its third (with little competition during Halloween) have achieved this at any point in their runs.

That doesn’t remotely guarantee a win. But it somewhat mutes the benefit of the relatively strong showings of top competitors like “The Big Short” and “Spotlight.” And because it’s front and center, “The Revenant” now has the edge “The Martian” (at $227 million, already with home viewing options) and “Mad Max: Fury Road” ($153 million) might have had. Popular support at this time doesn’t always help a contender — “Avatar,” to cite a much bigger example — but in a year when members might be looking to vote for a broader audience favorite rather than the typical mid-level arthouse success, Fox’s pattern for “The Revenant” has been masterful. And lucky, with the surge to #1 at this point scarcely something they anticipated. It’s not hard to imagine that had “The Revenant” been released in October and “The Martian” in December that their Oscar fortunes might have been reversed.

Though more of a niche film than “The Revenant,” what Paramount has achieved in positioning “The Big Short” is equally impressive. It now is in its fifth weekend in the Top Ten, and at exactly the right time. The contest within a contest here is against “Spotlight,” also based on a contemporary true story, and which opened two months earlier. That film’s initial acclaim and decent grosses — now at $33 million, which in recent years is clearly good enough for a Best Picture winner — helped propel it to frontrunner status among the films opening before December. Films opening late have rarely won in recent years. “Million Dollar Baby” in 2004 was the last one, although its three immediate predecessors were also Christmas releases. (The Oscar ceremony date change, from late March to late February, had a big impact on strategies.) Notably, “The Revenant” and “The Big Short” share with the last four December winners a key factor — big studio backing.

Like “The Martian”/”The Revenant” pairing, it’s arguable that “The Big Short,” along with the huge boost from its PGA win, will be helped by being more recent, while showing significant public interest, too. Had it gone earlier, and “Spotlight” later, fortunes might not have been the same. With $25 million more in gross than Open Road’s film in five fewer weeks, Paramount and the public have given “Short” a big boost. That said, “Spotlight” still has its longer-term success and (at this point) bigger awards haul working in its favor.

“Dirty Grandpa,” “The Boy” and “The 5th Wave” in Context

Though their audience appeal wasn’t without some overlap, each of these three films tried to hone in on specific potential viewers and are best seen in the context of similar films, as well as their costs. All were hurt by the storm, but at best none would have done more than $13 million, never a high level to open a wide release film.

“Dirty Grandpa” and “The Boy” managed to overachieve slightly compared to minor predictions. Both avoided pre-release reviews (“The 5th Wave” took its chances), and the former seemed to open against a lot of early-viewing social media ridicule, particularly toward co-star Robert DeNiro and his recent career choices. It went up yesterday — never a certainty for this kind of opener, more impressive with theater closings — but less than the other two new films. Among raunchy R-rated comedies, this is hardly a compelling number. The quickly forgotten “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” did slightly more last February, while the very similar “Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa” managed a $32 million start in October 2013 on its way to more than $100 million. Lionsgate has kept the cost of this effort a secret other than vaguely “low budget,” so we can’t readily calculate its fortunes ahead. But it appears unlikely to hit $30 million.

STX’s third release, “The Boy,” would have been their best opener had the storm not reduced its take. It still fell just short of their sleeper success “The Gift” and far ahead of recent Julia Roberts-starring dud “The Secret in Their Eyes.” And with a $10 million budget and suggestions that their more targeted social media marketing reduces those expenses, they show once again that they belong in the big leagues. They didn’t have the boost that Focus did two weeks ago when their horror entry “The Forest” was the first in the genre in a while. But here’s a positive sign — the gross was up 54% yesterday despite the weather, even though horror films often drop on Saturday (“The Forest” was up 5%). So this might end up holding better than many similar titles.

“The 5th Wave” is the worst performer in the bunch, coming in third among the new openers — and with a $38 million cost, it has the most to lose. The wave of YA adaptations with female leads seems to have lost its appeal, at least without an actress riding a career upturn involved (Chloe Moretz showed some promise in the genre with “If I Stay,” which reached $50 million in 2014, but hasn’t had the luck that has boosted Jennifer Lawrence, Shailene Woodley and Rooney Mara, or this year’s two young Best Actress contenders, Brie Larson and Saorise Ronan.)

The Holdovers

It’s strange that in its sixth weekend and at nearly $880 million, “The Force Awakens” only qualifies for the lead item among holdovers. It returns to second place after a week at third, holding better than “Ride Along 2.” Its storm-accelerated drop of 46% is respectable, though not remotely on par with other box office titans at this stage of their release. But it is looking nip-and-tuck in its race to enter the pantheon of the ten biggest grossers ever (adjusted) — it needs to reach the $938 million (a very rough estimate) attributed to “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” to elbow its way in. It will be close.

Other than “The Big Short” (down 34%, more impressive with it shedding 414 screens), the best hold is “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” with a 39% drop. Before setting off rockets in celebration, it fell from a disappointing start, and along with adding some U.S. theaters, it also atypically actually went wide in Canada for the first time this week. With 528 additional theaters, its PTA actually is only half of the first weekend. Also, with most of its heft coming from Southern areas and others with a strong military presence, it was hurt less by the storm.

“Ride Along 2” fell 63%, compared to 49% for its predecessor. Unlike some comedy sequels, this one also opened to a lesser figure. This is still a success, but another sign of some market softness. Kids-oriented “Norm of the North” fell 40% (family films often hold better than average; this also opened to a weak number, so it had less to fall), while “Daddy’s Home” continued to find interest ahead of most other wide Christmas release with a 45% fall and new total of $139 million.

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