Events are considered box-office salvation. Case in point: This week brought the trailer debut of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” and next week is the debut of “Avengers: Endgame.” Both are, to put it mildly, highly anticipated.
However, this week also saw the detailed, appetite-whetting announcement of the Disney+ streaming service as well as “Guava Island,” a just-under one-hour musical starring Donald Glover and Rihanna that premiered at the Coachella Music Festival before showing on Amazon Prime for a brief period Saturday. The social media attention these events received dwarfed interest in any standard theatrical release this weekend. And then add the “Game of Thrones” final season opener to the mix.
Four new wide movies debuted, with the lower-budget “Little” showing the best total with $15.5 million. It placed second to “Shazam!”, despite the D.C. Comics film’s 53% second-week drop.
For individual films, the news is more downbeat than positive. But the standout reality is that, even though the number of new releases doubled from the same weekend last year, with appeal to multiple core audiences, overall business fell 25% from last year.
The year-to-date gross is now $600 million behind the same date last year. That’s more than at any previous point so far, even though (as the overall gross total rises) the 19% drop is not at the lowest point so far (that was close to 25%).
“Avengers: Endgame” is likely to put only a slight dent in this shortfall. And, with new films generally falling short, it increasingly suggests that while spectacular results are vital for films like “Endgame” and “Star Wars,” they also damage smaller films that struggle to seem as vital and interesting in comparison.
Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 original “Hellboy” was his fifth film, and his most expensive (an adjusted budget of $100 million). It opened at 2018 prices to $33 million, and did well enough worldwide to justify a sequel, also directed by Del Toro, which did a little better.
The Dark Horse Comics universe (which also includes “300,” “The Mask,” and “Sin City”) hasn’t risen to the level of Marvel and D.C. Comics. But at a time when audiences clearly favor this sort of character and genre, it made sense for Lionsgate and partners to make a stab at revival.
Or so it seemed. Somewhere between idea and release, the bottom fell out. This is just plain bad. One can look at weak reviews, a C Cinemascore that means even core fans dismissed this, or maybe too crowded a genre market as reasons for failure.
Or maybe it’s more: the standards for comic-book franchises have gotten so high, with Marvel and D.C. both elevating quality as well as budget, that revived older faces just aren’t welcome. It also might relate to how the top providers have gotten smart about making female interest front and center. Males made up 56% of the crowd, with 64% of the audience age 25 and older. But even these groups were way under what was needed.
“Little” did better, and with its modest $20 million budget (yet another example of smart production moves at Universal) was the surprise top performer among the new releases. Directed by Tina Gordon (not only female but also African-American) — her second after “Peeples” — this fantasy comedy stars Regina Hall (who won top awards last year for “Support the Girls”) as a stressed-out woman reverts to childhood.
It had the best second-day uptick among the new non-kids films this weekend. Its Cinemascore (B+) isn’t great, but is the best among the newbies this week. That, plus Easter ahead, could keep this afloat as the most successful counterprogrammer among current films. Still, it’s not a healthy sign for the best of four new releases to barely clear $15 million.
“After” (Aviron) also has a female helmer. Yet another young-adult novel adaptation, it has enough pedigree that, in the past, might have made it more attractive. But, like “Hellboy,” what once worked is no longer enough. This dropped a troubling 32% on Saturday, suggesting it won’t get better.
Laika Animation has seen its five previous releases, the four most recent released by Focus, become a respected and often successful brand of inventive original work. Now handled by United Artists (the reinvented distributor that comes out of Annapurna and MGM), this is a decided dropoff in reaction.
Previous releases have opened to $12 million and a lot more. This time, it’s less than $6 million. The timing for the release, with pre-Easter school vacations in some locations, and a market not overburdened by family films, made sense.
But again, a big falloff from past results. Again, the same-old is not clicking. On top of other disappointing news, taht takes on significance.
The weakness of new films sometimes means better results from holdovers. In another sign of grim times, with one exception the rest of the Top Ten holdovers fell around 50 percent or more. “Shazam!” repeated as #1, but was down by 53%. Good enough for top spot, but not a sign of a breakout hit.
Week 2 of “Pet Sematary” was worse — off 59%. “Best of Enemies” in its second, nearly as much. “Dumbo” and “Us” were better (the latter indeed a breakout, the former struggling to hit $100 million).
The sole exception? The rich get richer. “Captain Marvel” dropped only 31%, even though it lost 600 theaters. The year’s biggest hit (at least until “Endgame”) will hit $400 million domestic soon, $1.1 billion worldwide.
When the public reduces its interests in this kind of film, the bottom could fall out. No sign of that yet, and it may be a long way off. But this week shows clear signs that it has never been so dependent.
The Top Ten
1. Shazam! (Warner Bros.) Week 2; Last weekend #1
$25,140,000 (-53%) in 4,306 theaters (+89); PTA (per theater average): $5,838; Cumulative: $94,913,000
2. Little (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 49; Est. budget: $20 million
$15,499,000 in 2,667 theaters; PTA: $5,811; Cumulative: $15,499,000
3. Hellboy (Lionsgate)NEW – Cinemascore: C; Metacritic: 30; Est. budget: $50 million
$12,015,000 in 3,303 theaters; PTA: $3,628; Cumulative: $12,015,000
4. Pet Sematary (Paramount) Week 2; Last weekend #2
$10,000,000 (-59%) in 3,585 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,789; Cumulative: $41,122,000
5. Dumbo (Disney) Week 3; Last weekend #3
$9,186,000 (-50%) in 3,706 theaters (-553); PTA: $2,509; Cumulative: $89,945,000
6. Captain Marvel (Disney) Week 6; Last weekend #5
$8,626,000 (-31%) in 2,975 theaters (-598); PTA: $2,899; Cumulative: $386,582,000
7. Us (Universal) Week 4; Last weekend #4
$6,946,000 (-50%) in 2,768 theaters (-744); PTA: $2,509; Cumulative: $163,498,000
8. After (Aviron) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 28; Est. budget: $14 million
$6,200,000 in 2,138 theaters; PTA: $2,900; Cumulative: $6,200
9. Missing Link (United Artists) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 68
$5,841,000 in 3,413 theaters; PTA: $1,712; Cumulative: $5,841,000
10. The Best of Enemies (STX) Week 2; Last weekend #6
$2,000,000 (-55%) in 1,705 theaters (no change); PTA: $1,712; Cumulative: $8,102,000