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Thanks, ‘Arrival’! Why the Box Office This Weekend Could Mean a Record 2016: Top 10 Takeaways

"Arrival" is a 'surprise' hit, and last weekend's blockbusters are holding strong. Even without "Star Wars," we could end this year on an up note.

Arrival Amy Adams

“Arrival”

Paramount

With two strong holdovers in “Doctor Strange” and “Trolls,” two strong openers with “Arrival” and “Almost Christmas,” and a boost from the Veteran’s Day holiday, grosses shot up again over last year. Still, success wasn’t across the board. EuropaCorp failed again as a standalone distributor in the U.S. market with “Shut In,” a thriller starring Naomi Watts that couldn’t even hit $4 million.

 

The Top 10

1. Doctor Strange (Disney) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$43,032,000 (-49%) in 3,882 theaters (unchanged); PTA (per theater average): $11,085; Cumulative: $153,014,000

2. Trolls (20th Century Fox)  Week 2; Last weekend #2

$35,050,000 (-25%) in 4,066 theaters (+6); PTA: $8,620; Cumulative: $94,014,000

3. Arrival (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 81; Est. budget: $40 million

$24,000,000 in 2,317 theaters; PTA: $10,358; Cumulative: $24,000,000

4. Almost Christmas (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 53; Est. budget: $17 million

$15,564,000 in 2,376 theaters; PTA: $6,551; Cumulative: $15,564,000

5. Hacksaw Ridge (Lionsgate) Week 2; Last weekend #3

$10,775,000 (-29%) in 2,961 theaters (no change); PTA: $3,627; Cumulative: $32,264,000

6. The Accountant (Warner Bros.)  Week 5; Last weekend #6

$4,570,000 (-22%) in 2,342 theaters (-346); PTA: $1,951; Cumulative: $77,726,000

7. Shut In (EuropaCorp) NEW – Cinemascore: C; Metacritic: 24; Est. budget: $10 million

$3,700,000 in 2,886 theaters; PTA: $1,798; Cumulative: $3,700,000

8. Boo! A Madea Halloween (Lionsgate)  Week 3; Last weekend #4

$3,550,000 (-54%) in 2,104 theaters (-130); PTA: $1,687; Cumulative: $70,408,000

9. Jack Reacher: Never Let Go (Paramount)  Week 4; Last weekend #7

$3,325,000 (-39%) in 3,079 theaters (-701); PTA: $1,287; Cumulative: $54,587,000

10. Inferno (Sony)  Week 3; Last weekend #5

$3,250,000 (-47%) in 2,656 theaters (-920); PTA: $1,224; Cumulative: $31,582,000

 

The Takeaways

With two strong holds and the arrival of  “Arrival,” it’s the most encouraging fall weekend yet. 

First “Boo! A Madea Halloween” and “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” scored over $20 million three weekends ago. Last week, “Doctor Strange” and “Trolls” (along with a credible “Hacksaw Ridge”) showed a $30 million improvement over the previous year.

While this weekend’s Top 10 gross is down from last weekend, that was inevitable; the new releases didn’t have the caliber of Marvel and DreamWorks Animation. Even so, the improvement over last year is strong – $53 million and 56 percent better.

Year to date, overall box office for 2016 is now $400 million above 2015. At $9.6 billion, suddenly it’s possible to imagine that the annual total might surpass the record set last year of $11.1 billion. Last year had the massive “Star Wars” reboot to bring it home, but the new J.K, Rowling story “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and Disney’s animated “Moana” could be massive over the next two weekends. And without that huge competition, the array of releases to come might hold its own.

Don’t call “Arrival” a surprise.

The pre-opening consensus pegged this at around $15 million-$16 million, with a high end of $18 million. We suggested it would end up at the high end; with $24 million, that’s about 50 percent ahead of the top guesses.

Several things came into play. Veteran’s Day was a semi-holiday Friday, and movies as escapism came into play at this particular moment. It was standout movie in a period where attention has been increasing for adult-oriented films amid a general audience uptick. It received as good a set of reviews as any wide-release film this year,

It also played on a trope at work all year: A familiar genre with fresh elements that convince ticket buyers it’s not the same-old-same-old. And sci-fi/space-themed movies have been successful for that last four fall seasons.

$24 million is not in the same league as “Gravity” ($56 million), “Interstellar,” or “The Martian” ($47 million each), but it came at a fraction of the cost. Its predecessors cost $100 million or more; “Arrival” was closer to $40 million, with Paramount taking domestic and a few other territory rights for $20 million plus marketing. The lower budget matched the scale of the movie, a more dramatic, intimate story with Amy Adams as a communications expert brought in to connect with just-landed aliens. It also has a distinctive director in Denis Villeneuve, who with “Prisoners” and “Sicario” has already made himself a vital force, even if not quite at the level of the three big names connected with the past fall hits.

Part of the lowballing stemmed from the lack of precedent for Adams anchoring a wide release. She has been in hits like “American Hustle,” “The Muppets,” “Julie & Julia,” but never as the primary draw. But that missed the point. She is known and brings credibility, particularly when it’s outside her perceived comfort zone. She is hardly at the level of Sandra Bullock, who propelled “Gravity,” but it’s a similar situation.

And who knows. Perhaps the idea of dealing with alien creatures rather than fellow humans had unexpected appeal this week.

One can quibble with the small Saturday downtick compared to strong improvements for the other three films, but the Friday figure had the benefit of the holiday (including its night-before previews) to boost that day’s result. For Paramount, it is a moment to savor. It also gives hope to those who want studios to take chances.

 

“Almost Christmas” plays it safe and succeeds (for its cost).

“Almost Christmas” came in about as expected, at $15.6 million. This comedy about a fractured, mostly African-American family has the benefit of an initial cost of $17 million (which, along with marketing costs, will need to be recouped domestically) and some holiday playtime to settle in. That explains the release date.

What kept its number from the $20 million + total often seen from producer Will Packer’s films (“Ride Along,” “The Wedding Ringer”) was the lack of top-draw names in the ensemble cast (which includes Gabrielle Union and Danny Glover) as well as stale subject matter. Family holiday comedies come out at close to an annual rate, and there were two within the African-American community (“A Madea Christmas” and “Best Man’s Holiday”) in recent years.

Also having an impact was the core audience had its taste for comedy sated in recent weeks by “Boo! A Madea Halloween.” That film’s stronger-than-expected performance might have decreased the intensity of interest this time around.

 

“Doctor Strange” and “Trolls” needed help to hold strong.

A 49 percent drop for “Doctor Strange” after its $85 million debut is terrific. “Trolls” kept its drop to 25 percent. Both indicate favorable response and potential even better than initially hoped.

Once again, Veteran’s Day was a big boost. So was originality. Despite several other competitive films in the market, “Doctor Strange” held on as a strong #1 and looks to rank as another major Marvel success.

“Trolls,” in early November’s top studio animated-release slot, had a Friday nearly equal to opening day. That was enough to give it a much smaller drop than similar releases (“Big Hero 6” and “The Peanuts Movie” in the last two years). DreamWorks needs this momentum to keep it in play. But with $94 million already in and strong international appeal, ($128 million so far), it looks like they will survive the weeks ahead.

 

“Hacksaw Ridge” and “The Accountant” quietly held on.

Mel Gibson’s World War II story “Hacksaw Ridge” had a stellar hold with only a 22 percent drop. It speaks to strong response, typical of Gibson’s past directorial efforts. But again, timing came into play. Lionsgate got this out last weekend, building steam going into the holiday that honors its central characters. It worked.

Also continuing its terrific run is “The Accountant,” down just 22 percent and now approaching $78 million with a chance it could approach a four-time multiple din its run. It has been a quiet success, and one that reaffirms Ben Affleck’s stardom.

 

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