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‘Dumbo’ Leads the Weekend Box Office, But Flies Below Expectations

March box office came in like a lion and went out like a lamb, and now we're only 17 percent behind last year's totals.

DUMBO - Concept art

“Dumbo”

Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Dumbo” is the third of the three highly anticipated March releases that gave hope for a 2019 box-office rebound. It debuted at $45 million, falling below expectations (unlike the earlier “Captain Marvel” and Jordan Peele’s “Us”).

That doesn’t make it a dud, but it does reaffirm how hard it will be for the theaters to recover from the early-year disappointments. This month was expected to put a significant dent in the shortfall, and it did — at the end of March, the year-to-date revenue decline is 17%, compared to 27% at the end of February.

However, this week’s performance doesn’t get much of the credit. The total gross for all films will be very close to the same weekend last year. And as we approach what is considered “summer” (aka the release of the top Marvel film, which this year is the last weekend in April), it will become harder to make up the difference.

DREAMING BIG -- In Tim Burton’s all-new, live-action reimagining of “Dumbo,” persuasive entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) decides that a young elephant from a struggling circus belongs in his newest, larger-than-life entertainment venture, Dreamland. Directed by Burton and produced by Katterli Frauenfelder, Derek Frey, Ehren Kruger and Justin Springer, “Dumbo” flies into theaters on March 29, 2019. © 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“Dumbo”

Disney Enterprises, Inc.

“Dumbo” is one of the multiple tentpole franchises that makes Disney, even before its takeover of 20th Century Fox, the dominant force in studios. Tim Burton was crucial in launching this onslaught with his “Alice in Wonderland” in 2010. That title opened to ticket sales nearly triple that of the $170 million “Dumbo,” which also fell far short of the five earlier March/April releases.

“Dumbo” is an older and trickier classic to redo, with loss and tragedy as key parts of its story. The 1941 original animated film was only 64 minutes, with few human characters that are vital to many of Disney’s top projects.

With a talent like Burton involved for the first time since “Alice” as director, perhaps expectations were too high. Reviews were less than favorable, but it scored a decent A- Cinemascore. That’s below the A of “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Jungle Book,”  but even with a B+ “Oz The Great and Powerful” managed to triple its opening (increased weekday matinees in some locations help).

Still, an ultimate $135 million (three times opening) total would be a disappointment for this. Foreign scored a $73 million start. Given its initial cost, that’s also below would might have been expected. This could struggle to make its costs back, even with short-term home viewing revenues ahead.

"Us"

“Us”

Universal

Jordan Peele’s first film, “Get Out,” dropped only 15% its second weekend. But “Us,” despite a horror-genre normal drop of 53%, still made more in its second weekend — at $33 million, almost $5 million more. At $122 million, it’s positioned to equal the total “Get Out” amassed (nearly $180 million). That’s huge for two first films, even more so as their combined cost is under $30 million.

“Captain Marvel” in its fourth weekend dropped 40%, with $353 million domestic. It looks on track to reach around $425-$450 million, ahead of “Wonder Woman” two years ago. That would put it ahead of most of the Marvel character subsets, including Thor, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, and X-Men. Rarefied territory indeed.

NEON

Two just over 1,000-theater debuting titles, with minimal overlap in their audiences, met different initial fates. “Unplanned” (Pure Flix), with a no-holds-barred anti-reproductive freedom message and aimed at conservative religious groups, came out best with a better-than-expected $6.1 million. That comes even with an R rating, resistance from some media outlets in accepting advertising, and a mostly grassroots marketing strategy that included presales.

It led to a fifth place showing overall, and more impressively a second-day uptick of 36% (similar films sometimes fall their initial Saturday). It’s not a record among similar films; “God’s Not Dead,” the breakout release in this genre, had double the per-theater average five years ago. The convergence of abortion issues and faith among some believers has never been more apparent.

“The Beach Bum,” the latest film from indie notable Harmony Korine, seemed poised to recapture some of the success his earlier “Spring Breakers” had as an early A24 release in 2013. Starring Matthew McConaughey, it’s a raunchy comedy that benefited from attention at its premiere at South by Southwest a couple weeks ago, where it had a strong initial response.

“Spring Breakers” had a top-end limited release for a week before widening to about the same theater count seen for “Beach Bum.” However, the new film sold a third as many tickets. That’s disappointing. But if there is positive news, it is that its second day dropped only 7%. And a higher level of awareness could encourage post-theatrical interest.

The best of the holdovers remains CBS Films’ “Five Feet Apart,” which held on to fourth place with a drop of only 27%. It is nearing $36 million, and over $50 million now seems possible. It is exactly the kind of film CBS Films has meant to nurture, and its upcoming transition to non-theatrical efforts is a loss for theaters.

Also in the top 10 in its second weekend is “Hotel Mumbai.” The terror-attack recreation placed eighth in under 1,000 theaters with over $3.1 million, with a chance to find an even wider audience ahead.

The Top Ten

1. Dumbo (Disney) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 52; Est. budget: $170 million

$45,000,000 in 4,259 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $10,566; Cumulative: $45,000,000

2. Us (Universal) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$33,605,000 (-53%) in 3,743 theaters (+2); PTA: $8,978; Cumulative: $128,220,000

3. Captain Marvel (Disney) Week 4; Last weekend #2

$20,500,000 (-40%) in 3,985 theaters (-293); PTA: $5,144; Cumulative: $353,806,000

4. Unplanned (Pure Flix) NEW – Metacritic: XXXXXX; Est. budget: $6 million

$6,100,000 in 1,059 theaters; PTA: $5,770; Cumulative: $6,100,000

5. Five Feet Apart (Lionsgate) Week 3; Last weekend #4

$6,250,000 (-%) in 2,845 theaters (-21); PTA: $; Cumulative: $35,876,000

6. Wonder Park (Paramount) Week 3; Last weekend #3

$4,940,000 (-44%) in 3,304 theaters (-534); PTA: $1,495; Cumulative: $37,882,000

7. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (Universal) Week 3; Last weekend #5

$4,232,000 (-35%) in 2,785 theaters (-562); PTA: $1,520; Cumulative: $152,966,000

8. Hotel Mumbai (Bleecker Street) Week 2; Last weekend #38

$3,163,000 (+3,492%) in 924 theaters (+920); PTA: $3,424; Cumulative: $3,279,000

9. A Madea Family Funeral (Lionsgate) Week 5; Last weekend #6

$2,700,000 (-39%) in 1,923 theaters (-264); PTA: $3,424; Cumulative: $70,039,000

10. The Beach Bum (Neon) NEW – Metacritic: 56; Est. budget: $5 million

$1,800,000 in 1,015 theaters; PTA: $1,100; Cumulative: $1,800,000

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