For the second time this year, two original, non-franchise movies, “Night School” (Universal) and “Smallfoot” (Warner Bros.), opened to over $20 million. The last time two originals topped the box office was last spring, with “A Quiet Place” and “Blockers.”
This yielded the first weekend since Labor Day to improve over the same dates last year ($102 million total gross compared to $90 million in 2017). Grosses for the year continue their strong increase — just under nine percent (six percent up in ticket sales) — as weekends like this help to guarantee an uptick for the whole year.
The two new films both gained from having core appeal and adding to wider audiences — exactly what is needed to boost films that don’t derive their appeal from pre-sold elements. They differ in that modest-budget “Night School” boasts more domestic appeal, while the more expensive animated film “Smallfoot” plays better internationally. But their presence with some initial success will encourage more like them.
“Night School,” about a group of adults trying to get their GED degrees after work, performed at the higher end of expectations, because this movie with working-class appeal starring African-American box-office lures Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish crossed over to a wider audience. Hart is well established, but some of his earlier successes including recent reboot “Jumanji” were shared with co-stars (Will Ferrell, Jack Black, Dwayne Johnson), while Haddish has built on her “Girls Trip” success last year on multiple platforms. Combined they add up to a powerful force indeed.
Due to a less lucrative fall release date, the $28-million gross falls below both Hart’s top films and “Girls Trip.” The A- Cinemascore and a healthy second-day increase of 18 percent portends a healthy run ahead.
Check out the movie’s broad appeal: the 50-50 male/female “Night School” audience pulled 37 percent white audiences, 30 percent African-American, and 24 percent Latino.
In a slim year for comedies, Friday opener “Night School” beat out Wednesday opener “Crazy Rich Asians” for the top comedy opening of the year. It’s early yet but “Night School” could have a strong multiple and a shot at $100 million.
Of note – for producer Will Packer, this is his tenth career #1 opener. His films are approaching the $1.4 billion total.
Warners Animation is best known for its LEGO-related titles; “Smallfoot” marks only its sixth release, and the third non-LEGO entry, as well as is Warner Animation’s third straight late September release.
This $23 million opening, while not on the high end for animation, is still the best of the three fall films (ahead of “Storks” and last year’s “The LEGO Ninjago Movie”), but handily beat by the two earliest “LEGO” releases.
Aiding its cause was the absence of any new animated film since late July, or a major one since “Hotel Transylvania: Summer Vacation.” Comedy and animation remain a refuge for original material, in this case, role reversals among Yetis and humans. Based on this decent opening, this should thrive ahead. International tends to disproportionately boost animated titles (most territories have yet to open). While it’s not a low-budget film, $80 million is relatively modest for a studio cartoon title. It’s a promising start.
Two other wide releases had lower results. “Hell Fest” (Lionsgate partner CBS Films) grossed less than its $5.5 million budget. Getting in early on the non-stop pre-Halloween month ahead, it’s a slasher film set in a haunted house. For the genre, a four percent second-day drop is a mildly positive note.
“Little Women” (Pinnacle) is the latest of many adaptations of the classic novel (ahead of Greta Gerwig’s anticipated version) with little advance notice, poor reviews, and only $747,000 in 643 theaters.
Among second week titles, last week’s surprisingly strong “The House With a Clock in Its Walls” (Universal) dropped 53 percent, not a stellar hold. It is just below $45 million so far, with a total of around $75 million now in view at best.
Whatever hopes remained for Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9” (Briarcliff) other than sustaining some big city and college area runs beyond this week were dashed by its 63 percent drop this weekend. The issue for the film isn’t so much a too-wide release as a decline in interest in the director’s films. A platform release would likely have reflected a similar fall, with the major difference a much less expensive release overall in marketing terms. Still it will end up around $6 million, more than $2 million more than his last film “Where to Invade Next.”
The best holds in the Top Ten were “A Simple Favor” (Lionsgate) down 36 percent in week three and at $43 million. The female-focused thriller joins another women’s picture, “Crazy Rich Asians” (Warner Bros.), which in its seventh weekend fell just under 35 per cent to reach $165 million.
The Top Ten
1. Night School (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 43; Est. budget: $29 million
$28,000,000 in 3,010 theaters; PTA (per theater allowance): $9,302; Cumulative: $28,000,000
2. Smallfoot (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 15; Est. budget: $80 million
$23,020,000 in 4,131 theaters; PTA: $5,573; Cumulative: $23,020,000
3. The House With a Clock in Its Walls (Universal) Week 2; Last weekend #1
$12,510,000 (-53%) in 3,592 theaters (no change); PTA: $3,483; Cumulative: $44,765,000
4. A Simple Favor (Lionsgate) Week 3; Last weekend #2
$6,600,000 (-36%) in 3,073 theaters (-29); PTA: $2,148; Cumulative: $43,067,000
5. The Nun (Warner Bros.) Week 4; Last weekend #3
$5,435,000 (-45%) in 3,331 theaters (-376); PTA: $1,632; Cumulative: $109,018,000
6. Hell Fest (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: C; Metacritic: 23; est. budget: $5 million
$5,075,000 in 2,297 theaters; PTA: $2,029; Cumulative: $5,075,000
7. Crazy Rich Asians (Warner Bros.) Week 7; Last weekend #4
$4,150,000 (-35%) in 2,347 theaters (-455); PTA: $1,768; Cumulative: $165,682,000
8. The Predator (20th Century Fox) Week 3; Last weekend #5
$3,700,000 (-60%) in 2,926 theaters (-1,114); PTA: $1,265; Cumulative: $47,634,000
9. White Boy Rick (Sony) Week 3; Last weekend #6
$2,385,000 (-51%) in 2,017 theaters (-487); PTA: $1,182; Cumulative: $21,715,000
10. Peppermint (STX) Week 4; Last weekend #7
$1,770,000 (-52%) in 2,002 theaters (-678); PTA: $884; Cumulative: $33,537,000