Blame the hardcore East Coast winter. Or that “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” lacks the heft of “The Force Awakens,” or even “The Revenant.” Whatever the reasons, the first full weekend of 2017 saw grosses fall 19 percent from a year ago — and with that, the top spot at the box office may belong to the expansion of “ .”
While initial studio estimates put “Rogue” a small amount ahead, that could change with final figures. And even if it doesn’t, it definitely sold more tickets in more-crowded theaters: “Hidden Figures” has no 3D/IMAX ticket price enhancement, and it’s playing at 1,600 fewer theaters than “Rogue One.”
And while this weekend lacked the strong performers of 2016, it did benefit from the strength of multiple awards contenders that have successfully widened from their initial platform runs. In the thanks-but-no-thanks category: The mediocre domestic debut of “Underworld: Blood Wars,” Screen Gems’ fifth entry in the franchise.
The Top 10
1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Disney) Week 4 – Last weekend #1
$21,972,000 (-56%) in 4,157 theaters (no change); PTA (per theater average): $5,286; Cumulative: $477,273,000
2. Hidden Figures (20th Century Fox) Week 3 – Last weekend #17
$21,800,000 (+2,400%) in 2,471 theaters (+2,446); PTA: $8,822; Cumulative: $24,754,000
3. Sing (Universal) Week 3 – Last weekend #2
$19,574,000 (-54%) in 3,995 theaters (-74); PTA: $4,949; Cumulative: $213,373,000
4. Underworld: Blood Wars (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 21; est. budget: $35 million
$13,100,000 in 3,070 theaters; PTA: $4,267; Cumulative: $13,100,000
5. La La Land (Lionsgate) Week 5 – Last weekend #7
$10,000,000 (+5%) in 1,515 theaters (+765); PTA: $6,601; Cumulative: $51,567,000
6. Passengers (Sony) Week 3 – Last weekend #3
$8,800,000 (-46%) in 3,400 theaters (-78); PTA: $2,588; Cumulative: $51,657,000
7. Why Him? (20th Century Fox) Week 3 – Last weekend #5
$6,500,000 (-35%) in 2,904 theaters (-104); PTA: $2,238; Cumulative: $48,560,000
8. Moana (Disney) Week 7 – Last weekend #4
$6,413,000 (-42%) in 2,549 theaters (-226); PTA: $2,516; Cumulative: $225,394,000
9. Fences (Paramount) Week 4 – Last weekend #6
$4,700,000 (-53%) in 2,368 theaters (+67); PTA: $1,985; Cumulative: $40,663,000
10. Assassin’s Creed (20th Century Fox) Week 3 – Last weekend #8
$3,800,000 (-56%) in 2,642 theaters (-354); PTA: $1,438; Cumulative: $49,506,000
As last year’s releases dominate, 2017 isn’t quite ready for primetime. Every film in the Top 10 — indeed, every film in the Top 50 — is of 2016 vintage. That includes new domestic release “Underworld: Blood Wars,” which debuted in much of the world last month, and recent Chinese holiday release, the Jackie Chan-starring “Railroad Tigers” (which grossed about $100,000 in North America in its initial dates). Meanwhile, the Christmas wide releases, including “Rogue One” and “Sing,” showed the significant-but-not-unusual drops that often accompany a return to non-holiday weekends.
What redeemed the weekend are four awards contenders: “Hidden Figures,” “La La Land,” “Fences,” and, just under the Top 10, “Manchester By the Sea.” All should get boosts by Golden Globes attention, with the the Screen Actors Guild and the Academy nominations to follow shortly.
Still, numbers are down to start the year. The first quarter of 2016 provided three $300 million+ grossers, so the drop does add a warning about the year ahead.
The one fresh domestic release, “Underworld: Blood Wars,” disappointed with $13 million. That marks the first time the franchise has opened under $20 million, and places it only slightly ahead of genre entry “The Forest” the same weekend last year. The good news? The film has already taken in $45 million overseas, with several key European countries still to open.
All hail the success story that is “Hidden Figures.” This film was not a slam dunk for 20th Century Fox. Initially slated for January 2017 release over Martin Luther King Day weekend, the studio took a big risk in opening Christmas Day in 25 theaters in several markets. It’s largely targeted to black audiences, unusual for a platform release. However, initial grosses were strong and consistent through the holidays. It received good reviews, but not top-tier.
That initiated the word of mouth needed to spread, and positioned the film to dominate as the big “new” release this week. (It also allowed Fox to release two other wide films during the holidays, “Why Him?” and “Assassin’s Creed.”)
Not that its base of black audiences can’t support more than one film at a time (a concern that might have contributed to giving “Fences” a nearly two-week lead in wide play), but part of the strategy likely included making sure the previews for “Hidden” played with Denzel Washington’s film.
The result is a strong start to its expansion, including a rare A+ Cinemascore (the same as “American Sniper” when it went wide two years ago post-platform dates) and a possible #1 showing for the weekend.
Fox’s data shows the film skewed heavily female and older, but significantly more white than black. That, combined with its strongly favorable response, means that potential awards attention ahead (which could include a potential SAG ensemble win and an Oscar Best Picture nomination) would be a bonus, but not required for ongoing success. Still, the release date, right in the final stages of Oscar-nomination balloting, could increase its awards chances.
“La La Land” continues to sing. “Hidden Figures” did steal some of the thunder of Lionsgate’s breakout success. Following a more conventional specialized release pattern of steady theater-count increases (they’ll go full court press when Oscar nominations come), it doubled to over 1,500 theaters this week. The result was a slight increase in gross.
The $10 million total pushes it to over $50 million, and it still a healthy lead over the similar-playing 2012 release “Silver Linings Playbook” at the same point of its run. Indeed, the gross isn’t far behind “Silver” when it expanded to over 1,000 more theaters later in January, after its Globe wins and Oscar nominations.
As a musical with more of a niche appeal, “La La Land” would do well to equal the $132 million “Silver” achieved (the latter without the Best Picture win, which is possible for Lionsgate). Since so many of the best theaters are already playing it, his weekend could be the top weekend gross of its run. But all it needs to equal “Silver” is a steady, continued run of multiple Top 10 weeks.
The other big news for “La La Land” is it’s made nearly $20 million so far in South Korea, the biggest of its foreign openings early on. That’s nothing less than sensational.
Clever platform strategies save a film; short-sighted ones create sinkers. With a handful of new theaters, “Fences” still took a 53 percent drop this weekend. That shows some impact from “Hidden Figures,” but it also suggests that Paramount was smart to rushing this out for holiday playtime. It now has reached $41 million, credible for a serious contemporary play adaptation. It’s already ahead of “August: Osage County,” and that’s before it sees a boost from nominations and wins. This $24 million production (before marketing costs, but with little chance of major foreign revenues) could double its budget. Paramount has played this perfectly.
Roadside Attraction’s strategy for “Manchester By the Sea” has a very slow rollout, and that seems to be the right play for Amazon’s high-end drama. Just short of Top 10 ranking with a $2.5 million gross, and a better hold than many films, it has reached a very impressive $34 million — and in the weeks ahead, there will be multiple chances for further attention and perhaps wider expansion.
Another slow release, The Weinstein Company’s “Lion,” continues to please audiences but has yet to make the Top 10 or reach 1,000 runs. (Our coverage can be found in Arthouse Audit.) However, “A Monster Calls” is suffering a crueler fate. Though it received critical notice at or above many of these films, it’s fallen through the cracks. Its genre appeal might have gained it more attention in a stand-alone period, but it was overwhelmed with its holiday-timed limited release — one that was intended to qualify for the awards and nominations that now seem to be out of its reach. It only grossed $2 million in 1,523 theaters, and will struggle to keep those.
Next week will see national expansions of three platform studio releases: “Patriots Day” (Lionsgate, likely to score well), “Silence” (Paramount, riskier), and “Live By Night” (Warner Bros., with Ben Affleck’s appeal possibly giving hope to improving on its disastrous limited runs).
Two major successes saw major drops with with “Rogue One” (-56 percent) and “Sing” (-54 percent). Even so, “Rogue One” will become the top domestic grosser among 2016 releases, and “Sing” looks to top Disney’s “Moana” among late-year animated films.
Any $1 billion worldwide grosser, as “Rogue” looks to become, is a smash. And unlike most modern-day blockbusters, domestic grosses dominate. (They’re usually more than two-thirds foreign.) China was the last major territory to open, to a tepid $31 million.
“Passengers” didn’t open as well as hoped, but it had an under-50 percent drop this weekend. Worldwide totals are up to $185 million, with more to come. Its $110 million budget remains a challenge, but it is no disaster.
Fox’s holiday two entries show its much lower-budgeted “Why Him?” holding well (off only 35 percent), with a domestic gross about equal to the three-times-more-expensive “Assassin’s Creed.” The video game adaptation dropped 56 percent. Its days in the Top 10 are over, and it now depends on foreign receipts to limit the heavy loss.