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Top Ten Takeaways: ‘Doctor Strange,’ ‘Trolls,’ ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Lead Box Office Rebound

Marvel, DreamWorks Animation and Lionsgate indie Mel Gibson lead the charge for a record weekend at the November box office.

Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange

“Doctor Strange”

Two box office reliables, Marvel Productions and DreamWorks Animation, led the way to a standout early November weekend boasting the best totals since “Suicide Squad” debuted three months ago. “Doctor Strange” and “Trolls” were both expected to do well. But both exceeded predictions and along with Mel Gibson’s return to directing, “Hacksaw Ridge,” contributed to the most encouraging results overall since this spring.

Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake in Trolls


The Top Ten

1. Doctor Strange (Disney) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 72; Est. budget: $165 million

$84,989,000 in 3,882 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $21,893; Cumulative: $84,989,000

2. Trolls (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 56; Est. budget: $125 million

$45,600,000 in 4,060 theaters; PTA: $11,232; Cumulative: $45,600,000

3. Hacksaw Ridge (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 71; Est. budget: $40 million

$14,750,000 in 2,886 theaters; PTA: $5,111; Cumulative: $14,750,000

4. Boo! A Madea Halloween (Lionsgate) Week 3 – Last weekend #1

$7,800,000 (-55%) in 2,334 theaters (-65); PTA: $3,491; Cumulative: $64,990,000

5. Inferno (Sony)  Week 2 – Last weekend #2

$6,250,000 (-58%) in 3,576 theaters (no change); PTA: $1,748; Cumulative: $26,058,000

6. The Accountant (Warner Bros.) Week 4 – Last weekend #4

$5,950,000 (-%) in 2,688 theaters (-714); PTA: $2,214; Cumulative: $70,858,000

7. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Paramount) Week 3- Last weekend #

$5,580,000 (-42%) in 3,079 theaters (-701); PTA: $1,812; Cumulative: $49,240,000

8. Ouija: Origin of Evil (Universal) Week 3 – Last weekend #5

$3,983,000 (-44%) in 2,380 theaters (-788); PTA: $1,674; Cumulative: $31,372,000

9. The Girl on the Train (Universal) Week 5 – Last weekend #6

$2,775,000 (-37%) in 1,572 theaters (-1,186); PTA: $1,765; Cumulative: $70,732,000

10. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (20th Century Fox)   Week 6 – Last weekend #7

$2,100,000 (-48%) in 1,710 theaters (-1,087); PTA: $1,228; Cumulative: $83,334,000

Hacksaw Ridge

Directed by Mel Gibson

The Takeaways

Across the Board Success

Looking at the combined totals, one figure stands out: $179 million for the Top Ten. Even adjusting for ticket price increases, that’s the best ever for the first two weekends of November. The third weekend often ushers in expected blockbusters for Thanksgiving, but not the month, which has hosted the two most recent Bond releases, “Interstellar” two years ago and several important animated releases, but has never reached these heights.

Once again, a crowded release schedule forced the studios to expand the calendar, and once again, as seen in the earlier months in 2016 and as recently as “Sully” which debuted just after Labor Day, previously worrisome dates are showing the capacity to perform.

It’s a great start for November, which has at least two upcoming films: “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (Warner Bros.) and “Moana” (Disney) projected for equal or better results among several other high-end releases. It provides the most positive overall results in more than half of year. The first four months brought real momentum in domestic returns with multiple better than expected results. But that stalled over the summer and early fall.

One weekend doesn’t represent a turnaround. But three new releases exceeding expectations and looking to sustain decent runs — with A Cinemascores — allays some fears that the international direction that production is taking might not find similar interest in domestic audiences.

Here’s another example of the strength. Business was up 20 per cent from last year, when “Spectre” and “The Peanuts Movie” opened. Yes, this year had three rather than two wide releases, which helped. But “Doctor Strange” and “Trolls” combined did $19 million more than those two films alone, without adding “Hacksaw Ridge” and its nearly $15 million to the total. That’s impressive.

And more. Though “Doctor Strange” didn’t surpass “Thor: The Dark World” when it opened in November 2013 (that did about $86 million), in that case it stood alone as the only opener. And “Trolls” did slightly better than last year’s “The Peanuts Movie.”

The results push year-to-date totals over four per cent ahead of last year’s unadjusted record totals. All of a sudden, combined with a potential major jump for the rest of the month, equaling last year’s total despite the absence of anything equal to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” seems a real possibility.

Why ‘Doctor Strange” Thrives

Any Marvel film, particularly those released in partnership with Disney, is guaranteed a strong opening. But this impressive $84 million start, similar to “Deadpool,” exceeded its expected “Spectre” level of $70 million.

Several factors contributed to strong showing. Most crucially, the fear that the title character was of less interest than bigger Marvel ones turned out to be an asset. Once again, giving audiences the chance to find something original in a popular, familiar context worked.

Another help was the unusually long gap between Marvel releases. It is the first since May, nearly half a year ago. That month saw two  Marvel sequels — the massively successful “Captain America: Civil War” (which opened to $179 million), and a few weeks later the more routine “X-Men: Apocalypse” ($66 million for the three days before Memorial Day). Fox’s “Deadpool” in February of course was the big surprise with its $132 million start in February, with its different more comedic tone and R-rating giving it strong impetus and appeal.

Also, “Doctor Strange” corralled an older audience, particularly as families and younger viewers had “Trolls” as an alternative. 39% of its viewers were over 35, two thirds 25 and over. Two factors helped: the reviews, which were on par with “Sully” as best this fall for a major studio release, and its high-end sophisticated cast. Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams and others would draw in high-end viewers for most films. Put them together in a decently reviewed fun-sounding film like this and it pays off.

And that’s happening worldwide as well. The international take through the second weekend is already $240 million. With so many Marvel titanic productions ahead, many even more expensive than the $165 million this cost before marketing, that comes under the heading of good enough. And it could get better if its word of mouth is strong enough to counter strong competition ahead.



“Trolls” Has a Decent Start

The latest DreamWorks Animation release came in closer to $40 million, exceeding estimates. “The Peanuts Movie” exactly one year ago yielded $44 million. It turns out “Trolls” boasts broad appeal despite a decades gap from the peak of popularity of the beloved fuzzy headed dolls.

But “Trolls” had something else in its favor. Though “Storks” has been in recent release, it’s been four months since the last major animated hits “Finding Dory” and “The Secret Life of Pets.” Last year, “Hotel Transylvania 2” was still recent, with its $162 million to date total more than the $90 million “Storks.”

The timing was crucial for Fox and DreamWorks. With Disney’s mighty “Moana” looming as a potential top-grosser in three weeks, hitting the ground now was critical. Earlier might have worked decently as well, but this date is late enough that despite “Moana” cutting into it over Thanksgiving, this should play through those lucrative days and into December.

With a hefty $125 million cost, this is vital. Early opening foreign dates have amassed $104 million so far. This opened a bit below DreamWork’s top (unadjusted) original animated feature “Home.” That went on to nearly $400 million worldwide, so once again it appears an expensive bet will pay off.

Mel Gibson Comes Back with “Hacksaw Ridge”

If Mel Gibson’s first directed film in a decade isn’t quite at the level of his earlier hits or other recent military-related films, it still looks to have similarly outdistanced predictions which had this opening a little lower.

With “Braveheart” (an era away in terms of box office history), the massive “The Passion of the Christ” and lesser but still decent “Apocalypto” (the latter two both subtitled) bigger, “Hacksaw” might appear to be a step down. But considering a decade of appearances in B-films and the controversy surrounding him. this is a reasonable comeback for an independently-produced $40 million film.

What separates it from other recent war-themed smashes like “American Sniper” are two factors. Most military films in recent decades that have broken through have been about more contemporary wars: Iraq and Afghanistan for “American Sniper,” “Lone Survivor” and “The Hurt Locker,” the Somali raid for “Black Hawk Down,” Vietnam for “The Deer Hunter” and “Apocalypse Now.” The shared memories and interest in dramatizing recent events doesn’t exist for “Hacksaw” with its Okinawa Pacific World War II campaign setting.

Nearly 20 years ago, “Saving Private Ryan” did far better than Clint Eastwood’s more recent “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima.” And “Saving Private Ryan” came with Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks both at the top of their game and marquee value. This has a returning Gibson and a capable but not top-draw cast led by Andrew Garfield and Vince Vaughn.

Particularly with holiday weeks ahead, a 4X multiple is possible. A $60 million domestic gross requires strong international results (not under Lionsgate’s wing). It had a few initial dates (numbers not yet reported) with most of the world yet to open.

But it appears at least initially to be a positive comeback for Gibson. And coming on top of the surprisingly successful “Boo! A Madea Halloween” a nice turnaround for the busy but recently modest results for Lionsgate.

Boo! A Madea Halloween

“Boo! A Madea Halloween”



Last weekend’s two best films took the biggest drops. “Boo!” dropped 55 per cent, really not bad considering its holiday tie-in last week. 57 per cent down for “Inferno” from its lousy start is no surprise, but still ugly. It won’t make $40 million domestic.

Despite major new releases, “The Accountant” kept its drop to a minor 30 per cent, keeping it on track to end up with a decent domestic total of possibly $90 million on a mid-level budget. The somewhat more expensive “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” dropped 42 per cent and won’t cross $65 million.

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