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‘Black Panther,’ ‘Tomb Raider,’ a Gay Romance, and a Christian Breakout Couldn’t Save the Box Office

"I Can Only Imagine," the faith-based drama from Andrew and Jon Erwin, is the sleeper success of the year.

"Tomb Raider"

"Tomb Raider"

As “Black Panther” continues its astonishing run, the breakout surprise of the weekend was $17-million opener “I Can Only Imagine,” a Christian crowdpleaser, as well as gay teen romance “Love, Simon.”

A month ago, the strong showing for “Panther” suggested a positive trend for the industry; this weekend, the total box office collapsed compared to 2017, when it was boosted by “Beauty and the Beast.” (Given spring break and holiday factors, exact correlations are tough.)

"Tomb Raider"

“Tomb Raider”

Warner Bros.

“Tomb Raider” Opens Bigger Overseas

That’s the context for measuring Warner Bros.’ $23-million domestic opening for $100-million franchise reboot “Tomb Raider,” starring athletic Swedish Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander, who nabbed better reviews than the movie. It’s hardly a disaster. After all, it has already booked $102 million overseas, with China the biggest at $41 million. The international take will likely propel it to profit.

Still, it’s an example of how the studio’s emphasis on worldwide appeal does not support domestic theaters. In 2001, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” opened to (adjusted) $77 million. It was a female action-hero precursor to the even bigger “Wonder Woman” last year.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” recently demonstrated that a franchise could be retooled  to find as much success as the original. While “Tomb Raider” is a far better movie than its predecessor, Warner Bros.’ new marketing team (without leader Sue Kroll) failed to initially reach their “Wonder Woman” demo.

Total ticket sales this weekend look to end up around $132 million; last year’s total was almost double that. So even with the “Black Panther” numbers, there’s a $130 million shortfall. We’re up by just two percent over last year; by next weekend, the box office will likely fall behind.

"I Can Only Imagine"

“I Can Only Imagine”

Christian Breakout

The weekend box office damage was lessened by the stunning showing for faith-based “I Can Only Imagine.” The $17 million gross doubled even the optimistic high-end estimates, and reverses a recent decline in similar films.

Based on a multi-million selling song by MercyMe, the most-played single in the Contemporary Christian music genre, the movie was directed by brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin whose track record includes faith-based films such as “Woodlawn” (PureFlix, $14 million), as well as the 2014 TriStar release “Moms’ Night Out” ($10.4 million).

Among contemporary Christian community titles, only “Heaven Is for Real” had a better opening. That 2014 film, based on a non-fiction bestseller, scored $22 million and came at time when other lower-budgeted and less professional titles like “God’s Not Dead” had found a niche audience.

This looks like a major coup for Roadside Attractions (which initially pursued the film) and their partners at Lionsgate. Roadside, more often a specialized distributor, has the chops to reach a wider audience. Amazon’s “Manchester by the Sea,” launched in platform release into the awards period, was their top performer at just under $50 million. In fact, it is their only title to pass $25 million.

Given the Christian movie’s A+ Cinemascore, even if its initial audience skewed heavily older (80 percent over 35) and female (67 percent), it should easily top $50 million. Its marketing, heavily oriented to basic cable and broadcast buys, is reported to be under half the standard $30 million-plus for most wide releases. With a production cost of $7 million and strong post-theatrical interest, this will be a big profit maker.

“Love, Simon”

20th Century Fox

Gay Teen Romance Breakthrough

At $10 million,20th Century Fox’s “Love, Simon” is another low-cost studio film with a decent initial response. The gay teen romance managed $11.5 million as well as an A+ Cinemascore, suggesting strong word of mouth ahead. It had a much different audience than “Imagine” in terms of age (59 percent under 25), which skewed female.

Both these films continue a surge of domestic interest in non-franchise titles. The recent success of films like “Wonder” and “The Greatest Showman” should inspire production heads to be more open to original concepts; the audience is there. “Tomb Raider” might not top $50 million domestic. Both “I Can Only Imagine” and “Love, Simon” will get there.

Marvel Studios' BLACK PANTHER..Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2018

“Black Panther”

Marvel Studios


“Black Panther” has now passed $600 million domestic. It took the #1 spot for the fifth straight weekend, the first to do so since “Avatar.” Though its repeat came in part because of the disappointing “Tomb Raider” take, the better context is comparing it to “The Avengers,” up to now the top Marvel (and comic book movie) performer.

In its fifth weekend, “Black Panther” did better than the “The Avengers,” with a drop of just 34 percent. (“The Avengers” had a fifth-weekend drop of 44 percent.) That’s huge, thanks to repeat business and reaching even wider audiences.

In its second weekend, “A Wrinkle in Time” dropped 50 percent to fourth place. It could still hit $100 million domestic, and most of the world has yet to open, but this will need a big foreign surge to push it into profit. “Game Night” has a decent showing, with a 29 percent fourth weekend drop. “Peter Rabbit” became only the second 2018 release to hit $100 million, with only a 23 percent drop. Ongoing school vacations ahead will continue to boost it.

The Top Ten

1. Black Panther (Disney) Week 5; Last weekend #1

$27,024,000 (-34%) in 3,834 theaters (-134); PTA (per theater average): $7,049; Cumulative: $605,401,000

2. Tomb Raider (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 46; Est. budget: $100 million

$23,525,000 in 3,854 theaters; PTA: $6,104; Cumulative: $23,525,000

3. I Can Only Imagine (Roadside Attraction) NEW – Cinemascore: A+; Metacritic: 27; Est. budget: $7 million

$17,065,000 in 1,629 theaters; PTA: $10,476; Cumulative: $17,065,000

4. A Wrinkle in Time (Disney) Week 2; Last weekend #2

$16,565,000 (-50%) in 3,980 theaters (no change); PTA: $4,162; Cumulative: $61,060,000

5. Love, Simon (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: A+; Metacritic: 73; Est. budget: $10 million

$11,500,000 in 2,402 theaters; PTA: $4,788; Cumulative: $11,500,000

6. Game Night (Warner Bros,) Week 4; Last weekend #5

$5,570,000 (-29%) in 2,686 theaters (-375); PTA: $2,074; Cumulative: $54,174,000

7. Peter Rabbit (Sony) Week 6; Last weekend #6

$5,200,000 (-23%) in 2,725 theaters (-387); PTA: $1,908; Cumulative: $102,440,000

8. Strangers: Prey at Night (Aviron) Week 2; Last weekend #3

$4,810,000 (-54%) in 2,464 theaters (no change); PTA: $1,952; Cumulative: $18,612,000

9. Red Sparrow (20th Century Fox) Week 3; Last weekend #4

$4,450,000 (-48%) in 2,583 theaters (-481); PTA: $1,723; Cumulative: $39,584,000

10. Death Wish (MGM) Week 3; Last weekend #7

$3,368,000 (-49%) in 2,676 theaters (-206); PTA: $1,259; Cumulative: $29,950,000

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