Stephen King’s mighty “It” is single-handedly reviving box office totals after a bleak late summer. It is rare for the second weekend of a hit film to provide the majority of the gross for the time period, but that’s what Warner Bros. achieved on the horror flick’s second weekend. While not as dominant as it was in its September record initial three days, $60 million represented barely more than a 50 per cent drop. Not bad.
With almost $219 million in the till so far and a strong hold, forget $300 million as an ultimate domestic total — $350 million now looks possible. “It” is already the third-biggest modern-day September release ever after only ten days. It will soar past “Rush Hour” by next weekend, and end up almost certain behind “Crocodile Dundee” (adjusted to current ticket prices, at about $410 million) as best for the month in the era of wide initial releases.
Why ‘mother!’ bombed
On the other hand, Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” marked a challenge for Paramount, which knowingly took on a major risk. Its failure ($7.5 million in 2,368 theaters, F Cinemascore rating despite favorable reviews) will bring much second-guessing about the decision to go wide.
The reality: there was no route for success. When one makes a $30-million film starring Jennifer Lawrence that falls outside of mainstream audience expectations, strong festival play and reviews aren’t enough to propel it to awards. It has no expectations of appealing to most of the artistically conservative older audiences essential for quality films.
That means that the alternative, trying a platform release with a slow word-of-mouth build also carries its own risks. Those include higher expenses, even more attention to initial box office response, and heading deeper into a fall release schedule that will only get more competitive.
Let’s assume Paramount knew the difficulties involved. These likely included expectations of negative audience response. They also had to keep their eye on foreign play and try to open around the world before the negative domestic reaction hurt its chances (it grossed a soft $6 million in its first 16 mostly European foreign territories) and increase awareness in order to get attention for later home viewing options. And at $30-million plus marketing, the studio needs to protect those possibilities. A slow release with a likely even worse wider break could have done more damage.
Personal, non-mass audience films from top auteurs are tricky. Five years ago Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” opened limited to about $150,000 per theater platform dates, then expanded two weeks later to lackluster wider results (about $16 million total eventually). Aronofsky himself saw failure with “The Fountain” which went wide initially in 2006, with only $3.8 million initially (in 1,472 theaters). He rebounded with Oscar contenders “The Wrestler” and “Black Swan.”
The state of the box office
This weekend’s Top Ten Total would have qualified before last week as the second-biggest September gross ever (just behind “Rush Hour” adjusted at $62 million). The 51 per cent drop — below average for most $100 million-plus openings and terrific for a horror film (the genre usually falls more than others) — was boosted by post-hurricane reopening Florida theaters, but even so it’s is terrific.
The recent surge has reduced 2017’s gross shortfall from last year to about five per cent. It still will be a steep uphill climb to equal last year (full weeks will need to average about $27 million each to accomplish that feat, but is down from the $30 million per week number needed before “It” arrived).
Two new releases had more normal numbers for September (i.e., under $15 million — last year three wide new films grossed just $8 million to $9.5 million). The action thriller “American Assassin” (CBS Films/Lionsgate), starring recent “Spider-Man” villain Michael Keaton, did a credible $14.8 million. That’s second only to “It” among new releases over the last four weeks. The gross is similar to Lionsgate’s first “John Wick” three years ago, which went on with good word of mouth to do well enough (particularly internationally) to justify a sequel. Indie Michael Cuesta (“12 and Holding”), who in recent years has been a major creative part of “Homeland,” with this film is trying to recreate a more sophisticated than usual action film.
Overall the rest of the holdovers in the Top Ten held better than usual with less competition from Hurricane Irma and the NFL, not to mention wide openers, which only grossed $23 million.
Of note is “Wind River” (Weinstein), which at $29 million has surpassed last year’s Oscar-contender “Hell or High Water,” also written by Taylor Sheridan, who added directing this time around. “Wind River” did boast a much wider and expensive release, and should make it to at least $35 million.
The Top Ten
1. It (Warner Bros.) Week 2; Last weekend #1
$60,000,000 (-51%) in 4,148 theaters (+45); PTA (per theater average): $14,465; Cumulative: $218,711,000
2. American Assassin (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 46; Est. budget: $33 million
$14,800,000 in 3,154 theaters; PTA: $4,692; Cumulative: $14,800,000
3. mother! (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: F; Metacritic: 75; Est. budget: $30 million
$7,500,0003,167 in 2,368 theaters; PTA: $; Cumulative: $7,500,000
4. Home Again (Open Road) Week 2; Last weekend #
$5,334,000 (-38%) in 3,036 theaters (+96); PTA: $1,757; Cumulative: $17,135,000
5. Hitman’s Bodyguard (Lionsgate) Week 5; Last weekend #
$3,550,000 (-26%) in 3,272 theaters (-50); PTA: $1,085; Cumulative: $70,357,000
6. Annabelle: Creation (Warner Bros.) Week 6; Last weekend #
$2,600,000 (-35%) in 2,117 theaters (-886); PTA: $1,228; Cumulative: $99,900,000
7. Wind River (Weinstein) Week 7; Last weekend #
$2,554,000 (-18%) in 2,619 theaters (-271); PTA: $975; Cumulative: $29,122,000
8. Leap! (Weinstein) Week 4; Last weekend #
$2,118,000 (-13%) in 2,416 theaters (-275); PTA: $877; Cumulative: $18,660,000
9. Spider-Man: Homecoming (Sony) Week 11; Last weekend #
$1,875,000 (-7%) in 1,436 theaters (-221); PTA: $1,306; Cumulative: $330,262,000
10. Dunkirk (Warner Bros.) Week 9; Last weekend #
$1,305,000 (-30%) in 1,478 theaters (-632); PTA: $883; Cumulative: $185,142,000