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Top Ten Box Office Takeaways: ‘Don’t Breathe’ Doubles Expectations as Horror Rises Again

The low-budget horror entry gave a sizable boost to the inconsistent summer box office.

“Don’t Breathe”

Summer’s almost gone. This season’s ups and downs charted a confusing course on the state of the movie business. This weekend at least was mostly positive, as Sony’s “Don’t Breathe” (Sony) came on surprisingly strong. It’s the latest of several superior horror films to catch on with the public, with an almost unheard of 7% jump Saturday from its initial strong Friday (plus previews) numbers.

Lionsgate filled in with their latest Jason Statham action release “Mechanic: Resurrection.” Independently financed by Millennium with a reduced exposure for Lionsgate, it is at the low end of their films together. Still it added $7.5 million to a Top Ten total that looks like a record for the last weekend before the Labor Day holiday (unadjusted).

The Top Ten

1. Don’t Breathe (Sony) NEW Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 71; Est. budget: $10 million

$26,115,000 in 3,051 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $8,559; Cumulative: $26,115,000

2. Suicide Squad (Warner Bros.) Week 4 – Last weekend #1

$12,110,000 (-42%) in 3,582 theaters (-342); PTA: $3,381; Cumulative: $282,883,000

3. Kubo and the Two Strings (Focus) Week 2– Last weekend #3

$7,909,000 (-37%) in 3,279 theaters (+19); PTA: $2,412; Cumulative: $24,920,000

4. Sausage Party (Sony) Week 3 – Last weekend #2

$7,665,000 (-50%) in 3,135 theaters (+32); PTA: $2,445; Cumulative: $80,009,000

5. Mechanic: Resurrection (Lionsgate): NEW Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 43; Est. budget: $40 million

$7,500,000 in 2,258 theaters; PTA: $3,322; Cumulative: $7,500,000

6. Pete’s Dragon (Disney) Week 3 – Last weekend #5

$7,282,000 (-36%) in 3,244 theaters (-458); PTA: $2,245; Cumulative: $54,715,000

7. War Dogs (Warner Bros.) Week 2 – Last weekend #3

$7,255,000 (-51%) in 3,258 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,227; Cumulative: $27,758,000

8. Bad Moms (STX) Week 5 – Last weekend #8

$5,760,000 (-27%) in 2,565 theaters (-246); PTA: $2,246; Cumulative: $95,543,000

9. Jason Bourne (Universal) Week 5 – Last weekend #7

$5,230,000 (-35%) in 2,445 theaters (-442); PTA: $2,139; Cumulative: $149,357,000

10. Ben-Hur (Paramount) Week 2 – Last weekend #6

$4,530,000 (-%) in 3,084 theaters (no change); PTA: $1,469; Cumulative: $19,553,000

The Takeaways

The Reason Horror Is Up? Quality Is Better

$26 million for a horror opening used to be a default number before the genre’s steep decline. Too many unoriginal (often one time too many in a franchise) entries turned off the shrinking younger male audience. “Don’t Breathe” marks the second best horror opening for the year, and the third this summer over $20 million (along with “The Conjuring 2″at $40 million and “Lights Out”at $22 million.)

One thing all three hits have in common: quite good reviews. Without claiming that younger audiences are as directly influenced by critics as older ones, let’s take the leap of faith that there is some overlap in positive reaction to content on all sides. In Metacritic scores of top critics, “Don’t Breathe” scored a 71. That’s the same as Meryl Streep’s latest “Florence Foster Jenkins” and the generally admired “Pete’s Dragon,” better than “Star Trek Beyond,” and not that far behind year’s biggest hit “Finding Dory.”

“The Conjuring 2” came in at 65, still by Metacritic’s scale considered generally favorable consensus, while “Lights Out” was 58, just below the cutoff point. Most horror films tend to land somewhere between the mid 30s and mid 50s, with rare exceptions.

Historically most horror films have had multiples far below most other genres, closer to 2X than the 3 hoped for after an opening weekend. A shift seen this year, including earlier hit “10 Cloverfield Lane” and “Lights Out” (both 3Xs) and 2.5 for the much bigger opening “Conjuring 2” (which pushed it past $100 million) shows that the public is responding to the efforts involved in creating somewhat different thrills.

And the best thing for studios? Lower costs. “Conjuring 2” at the high end of budgets for the genre at $40 million, but no one is complaining when its worldwide take is over $300 million; “Breathe” came in around $10 million, “Cloverfield” $15 million, “Lights Out” even less.

This trend was sparked by M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Visit” last September which grossed $65 million domestic on a $5 million cost. With producers like Sam Raimi (“Breathe”), J.J Abrams (“Cloverfield”), James Wan (both “Conjuring 2” which he directed as well and “Lights Out”) joining Jason Blum, there are many smart people bringing horror films back to where they were in grosses, while at the same time increasing its stature.

Mechanic Resurrection

“Mechanic: Resurrection”

Horror Was Not the Only Strong Factor This Weekend

It wasn’t just “Don’t Breathe.” Though it was at best ordinary, “Mechanic: Resurrection” (Lionsgate) added $7.5 million. But the main help came from another calendar-related boost. The sheer number of August noteworthy releases, even if not all of them are as strong as hoped, means that the grosses are higher than normal for this time of year.

The weekend’s $92 million Top Ten gross is an increase of 46% over the same one in 2015. That keeps this year about 5% ahead as summer’s end nears. It still is going to be hard to top a strong 2015 fall and incredible year-end boost from the “Star Wars” reboot, but the built-in $400 million increase keeps hope alive that 2015’s record (unadjusted at least) $11.1 million figure could be equaled.

The far bigger than expected total for “Don’t Breathe” (Sony) – at $26 million around double or more pre-opening estimates – provided the main heft. But take away that number, and #2-10 would still just edge all ten top grosses last year.

It’s one more indication that one of the summer’s issues – too many films – is helping with distributors more likely to fill lesser weeks, as late August is considered, with better films.

Toby Kebbell in Ben-Hur

“Ben-Hur”

Holdovers:

Not that any turnaround was anticipated, but”Ben-Hur” (Paramount) led the drops by an awful 60%, even with starting from a low number. The last flop of several $100-million budgeted duds this summer will end up grossing the least, under $30 million.

At the other extreme is “Bad Moms” (STX), only off 27% in its fifth weekend. Its $20 million initial cost could see an ultimate domestic gross nearing $120 million. And unusually for a female-driven comedy, this looks headed to some additional profit from overseas. It’s already at $30 million and looks to double that with more territories ahead.

The other second-week films had quite different results. Laika Animation’s “Kubo and the Two Strings” (Focus) dropped 37%, at the higher end for animation and their previous films, but still good enough to give it hope to stick around for a few weeks. “War Dogs” (Warner Bros.) dropped 51%, making Todd Phillips’ mid-range budget effort less likely to end up in profit.

Say what you will about “Suicide Squad” (Warner Bros.) but its 42% drop keeps it in second place on its fourth week. Earlier D.C. Comics effort “Batman v Superman” had fallen to fourth at the same point and grossed $3 million less. “Suicide” won’t quite get to the $330 million “BvS” hit (it’s at $283 million now) but it also cost $75 million less. The parties have managed to more than salvage what looked like a rough entry into theaters.

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