Tuesday noon marks the exact halfway point of 2019. No one was predicting that grosses would be down some $600 million–nearly 10%–from the 2018 midyear mark. Still to come are a trio of strong performers that should reduce that gap, as this week’s “Spider-Man: Far from Home” (Sony) is followed by Disney’s “The Lion King” and Universal’s “Fast and Furious” offshoot “Hobbs & Shaw.” But this weekend gave further evidence of some pesky issues that won’t go away.
The positive news: an unexpectedly strong launch for Danny Boyle’s “Yesterday” (Universal), the Beatles fantasy that qualifies as one of the most original releases of the year. Written by Richard Curtis (“Love Actually”), the film grossed $17 million, far exceeding pre-opening estimates as low as $10 million. With the boost of a Wednesday opening, “Annabelle Comes Home” (Warner Bros.) came out ahead of “Yesterday” for the weekend, but looks like another case of sequel fatigue.
“Toy Story 4” (Disney) reclaimed the top spot, the tenth time in the last 17 weeks Disney has so dominated the box office. The Pixar sequel dropped a reasonable 52%, more than the 46% drop for “Toy Story 3” but less than last summer’s bigger opening of “Incredibles 2.”
The weekend total, however, is $30 million below the same weekend last year. But that should change next weekend with “Spider-Man,” with the Marvel title that surfs off “Avengers: Endgame” expected to soar. “Spider-Man” opened early in China, Japan, and Hong Kong to $111 million, which places it among the elite of past Marvel debuts.
Lower-budget horror films, including franchises, have been a continued draw during the recent box office downturn. “Annabelle Comes Home” is the sixth entry in New Line’s “Annabelle/Conjuring” series. It delivered $31 million for five days, lower than the opening weekend for the previous entries. “The Nun” post-Labor Day last year came in at $58 million. That was quite recent, as was the somewhat overlapping “The Curse of La Llorona” in April (its first three days did $26 million).
Franchise fatigue? Or horror overload? This came a week after the spotty opening of another scary doll movie, the reboot of “Child’s Play” (United Artists). The more offbeat “Midsommar” (A24) opens Wednesday. But horror titles coexist regularly. “Annabelle” does feel like a case of franchise fatigue. The previous entries (except one) have (adjusted) passed the $100-million domestic mark, with the lowest hitting $91 million. This will be lucky to reach $60 million–more grist for the sequel overkill mill.
“Yesterday” marks a rare Danny Boyle title not to land a platform release. In fact, the mainstream romantic comedy with fantastical elements delivered Boyle’s second-best opening weekend (“The Beach” grossed $25 million adjusted). At $17 million, “Yesterday” is within $4 million of Boyle’s best total domestic gross (“127 Hours” scored $21 million adjusted) since his massive Oscar-winner “Slumdog Millionaire.”
So that’s a return to form. What also makes “Yesterday” a standout these days–apart from Curtis’ original story about an aspiring singer who wakes up from an accident to be the sole human aware of the Beatles and their output–is it’s a romantic comedy.
The collapse of comedies has been noted all year. There is clearly a hunger for them. Whatever its quality, the Netflix Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston “The Murder Mystery” was a huge initial draw. 2019 comedy successes include Marvel and animated films with comedic elements, along with “Us,” “The Upside” and “A Madea Family Funeral.”
But comedies aimed at women, particularly “Late Night” (Amazon) and “Booksmart” (United Artists) in recent weeks, have not drawn big audiences. That’s what repressed estimates for “Yesterday,” which launched at Tribeca to poor reviews; it now boasts a mediocre 55 Metascore.
“Yesterday”‘s strong performance suggests that the problems with the two more specialized titles had less to do with how they were released than audience disinterest. These days, audiences remember that a low-budget non-event movie will soon show up online.
“Yesterday” offered an accessible, charming story that audiences had not seen before– along with a soundtrack packed with beloved Beatles songs. The movie still grossed more in three days than “Late Night” will likely do its full run, and not that much less than “Booksmart.” Its total cost (with full-bore studio marketing) was higher than both those films. Universal smartly attached its trailer to “Rocketman” –targeting the right audience. “Yesterday” was only up slightly on Saturday, but with an A- Cinemascore and greater interest building off its decent start, this could see a nice multiple to head between $50-60 million.
The latest Pixar film, “Toy Story 4,” is up to $237 million domestic in ten days, adding another $58 million this weekend. That’s excellent: the sequel is already the #4 film for the year, behind three other Disney releases. Disney/Fox now account for 36% of the gross so far (Fox had 4% before the takeover).
Pixar tends to lag behind most big animated films overseas. So far, the foreign total for “Toy Story 4” is a bit ahead, with several countries including Japan and Germany still to open. It may fall short of $1 billion worldwide, but clearly is adding some heft to the heart of the summer.
Disney’s bounty continues with another strong “Aladdin” weekend, still #4, down only 29%. The weekend saw a number of good holds — “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” (Lionsgate) fell only 22%, “The Secret Life of Pets 2” (Universal) and “Rocketman” (Paramount) 31%, even the troubled “Men in Black: International” (Sony) only 38%.
The exception was the second weekend of “Child’s Play” (United Artists), down 70% from an uninspired start. Franchise rebooting ain’t what it used to be.
“Endgame” vs. “Avatar”
Disney is pushing “Endgame” to reach the global gross reached by James Cameron’s “Avatar” nearly a decade ago, which unadjusted is the highest ever. In reality it will never reach the success “Avatar” or the even the bigger “Gone With the Wind” and “Titanic.” No matter for Disney, which inventively added a Stan Lee tribute and a token amount of new material as a reason to bring the film back for one more go. The distributor eked out another $7.5 million worldwide, but “Endgame” is still $28 million short of its goal. Disney will have other tricks up its sleeve. This specious statistic matters to them.
Watch Disney when the time finally comes to release “Avatar 2.” Will they bring back the original (now that they own it) to return it to the top spot? It’s good to be king.
The Top Ten
1. Toy Story 4 (Disney) Week 2; Last weekend #1
$57,932,000 (-52%) in 4,575 theaters (no change); PTA: $12,663; Cumulative: $236,922,000
2. Annabelle Comes Home (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Metacritic: 53 ; Est. budget: $30 million
$20,370,000 in 3,613 theaters; PTA: $5,638; Cumulative: $31,204,000
3. Yesterday (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 55; Est. budget: $26 million
$17,000,000 in 2,603 theaters; PTA: $6,531; Cumulative: $17,000,000
4. Aladdin (Disney) Week 6; Last weekend #3
$9,344,000 (-29%) in 3,235 theaters (-600); PTA: $2,888; Cumulative: $305,862,000
5. The Secret Life of Pets 2 (Universal) Week 4; Last weekend #5
$7,090,000 (-31%) in 3,353 theaters (-451); PTA: $2,117; Cumulative: $131,202,000
6. Men in Black: International (Sony) Week 3; Last weekend #4
$6,550,000 (-39%) in 3,663 theaters (-561); PTA: $1,788; Cumulative: $65,031,000
7. Avengers: Endgame (Disney) Week 10; Last weekend #13
$5,537,000 (+179%) in 2,025 theaters (+1,040); PTA: $1,788; Cumulative: $841,318,000
8. Child’s Play (United Artists) Week 2; Last weekend #2
$4,277,000 (-70%) in 3,007 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,734; Cumulative: $23,405,000
9. Rocketman (Paramount) Week 5; Last weekend #6
$3,870,000 (-31%) in 2,003 theaters (-411); PTA: $1,932 Cumulative: $84,174,000
10. John Wick 3: Parabellum (Lionsgate) Week 7; Last weekend #7
$3,175,000 (-22%) in 1,550 theaters (-57); PTA: $2,048; Cumulative: $161,315,000