Margot Robbie celebrates a great year this weekend with her Supporting Actress nomination for “Bombshell” and key presence in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” And to be the lead (as well as a producer) for “Birds of Prey” (Warner Bros.) would normally mean that grossing $33 million is sufficient balm in case she doesn’t win.
Not so in this case for multiple reasons detailed soon. But the larger context first. Grosses in total will be down $20 million for the same weekend last year, something not seen thus far in 2020. That’s about an 18% drop from the $115 million in 2019, and at $95 million it’s the second time in six weekends the box office has fallen short of $100 million. Last year it didn’t happen twice until the normally slow Labor Day weekend.
What kept the weekend — hurt by only having one new wide release, compared to four a year ago (“Birds” grossed just under what “The LEGO Movie 2” did then) — from falling even more was the typical boost to holdovers. Three dropped under 10%, led by Universal’s “1917” (under 5%), five under 25%, and only one (the second weekend of “Gretel & Hansel”/United Artists) more than 40%.
Warner Bros. / screen cap
The instant classifying of films as duds can be overdone. “Dolittle” (Universal), because of its enormous cost will lose money, but it actually is getting real interest. “Birds of Prey” at half the cost opened about 50% better. And though international openings of $48 million in most of the world (as an R-rated film, China was always unlikely even before theaters shut their doors due to the coronavirus) are weaker than hoped, this still projects to a $250-300 million total. That plus further revenues position it to avoid a loss.
But this was a film with higher hopes. It stars Robbie, and it had no opening competition. In fact, nothing big had opened for three weeks. It is a DC Comics extended universe title, for which even a $50 million start would be modest. It is an offshoot from “Suicide Squad,” which opened to $133 million. As a February release, it hoped to capitalize on the similar Marvel attempt at a more violent and sexy comic book take with the R-rated “Deadpool” three years ago.
That led to guesses that this would open in the $50 million or better range. Studios always lowball, rarely risking anything but a worst-case scenario. Warners pegged this as $45 million. Instead, $12 million less. That’s a big fail in box office terms.
Again this could still be a $100 million domestic haul, with enough foreign to keep it whole. The Saturday drop was under 6%, better than “Bad Boys for Life,” “Joker,” “Suicide Squad” (which dropped 40%). All were much bigger openers, thus more likely to fall. But it is possible that even with a B+ Cinemascore (the same as “Joker”) it could survive. The R-rating looks like it may have hurt.
But the second weekend, even with three new openings, doesn’t have a lot to challenge “Birds of Prey.” And with Valentine’s Day Friday this could be a fits-the-bill choice for then — plus with Presidents Day its a holiday as well. But it could still go either way. Still, remember “Dolittle”: first impressions aren’t always the final say.
Since “1917” opened Christmas Day, “The Revenant” has stood as the template for box office comparisons to this strong Oscar contender. They are valid to a great extent. The difference is the Academy Awards were three weeks later in 2016 than this year, and that film’s Oscars overlapping weekend came after it had grossed $170 million, compared to $122 million for Sam Mendes’ film so far. So the 5% drop actually is a terrific look, considering that “Revenant” from a much later, lower gross added 2%.
The steady performance for “1917” could revise studio Oscar launches in the future. The late release and delayed expansion was high risk but high reward. Even if it fails to win Best Picture, this will easily hit $160 million domestic. Win, and as much as $200 million is possible (keep in mind these days much of the pre-awards business includes the anticipation of wins; a surprise victory, something that for an in-play wide release film hasn’t happened since “Chariots of Fire” would add a much higher percentage.) But any victory is also directly related to its thriving now.
Whatever it grosses it will be below the juggernaut that is “Bad Boys for Life” (Sony). Its fourth weekend, and first not at #1, saw a reasonable 34% drop, second place, $166 million in hand already. It will end up, including adjusted to even ticket prices, as the best haul of the franchise. That’s what happened for Sony when they relaunched the “Jumanji” films two years ago.
And their latest one (“Jumanji: The Next Level”), though not bigger than the previous entry, is still #5, falling only 8%, and just under $300 million. Sony’s ability to revive their decent non-comic book based properties is one of the brighter spots of recent box office results.
Throw in their lower-budgeted “Little Women,” now over $100 million and off 24% (with its Oscar nominations a plus, but not decisive in its success). That makes it three releases in under two months to hit at least that mark.
Thanksgiving was the release time for “Knives Out” (Lionsgate), with the hope it might find some interest in what was a less competitive date this year. We are now nearing Presidents Day, and it returned to the Top Ten (it was #11 last weekend) with a 9% drop. $159 million so far, perhaps another $10 million possible.
“Dolittle” took fourth place, with only a 12% drop. At $64 million ($159 million total worldwide) this is a film that on a more economical budget made sense. But it also one that with a potential loss of any China date has no chance of coming close to recouping its initial pre-marketing $190 million cost.
The third weekend of “The Gentleman” (STX) fell 25%, approaching $27 million. This low-cost acquisition will pay off for the company with around $40 million domestic. The second weekend of “Gretel & Hansel” wasn’t catastrophic — its fall of 43% better than many second weekends for non-franchise horror films. That was better than “The Turning” (Paramount), also second weekend, with the Blake Lively action title dropping 49% just out of the Top Ten.
Meantime, the pre-Oscar surge helped “Parasite” (Neon) and “Jojo Rabbit” (Searchlight) hover close to that level as well. More of these and other specialized titles HERE.
1. Birds of Prey (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 60; Est. budget: $90 million
$33,250,000 in 4,236 theaters: $; PTA (per theater average): $7,849; Cumulative: $33,250,000
2. Bad Boys for Life (Sony) Week 4; Last weekend: #1
$12,005,000 (-32%) in 3,530 theaters (-175); PTA: $3,401; Cumulative: $166,327,000
3. 1917 (Universal) Week 7; Last weekend: #2
$9,000,000 (-5%) in 3,548 theaters (-439); PTA: $; Cumulative: $132,543,000
4. Dolittle (Universal) Week 4; Last weekend: #3
$6,600,000 (-12%) in 3,462 theaters (-288); PTA: $1,924; Cumulative: $63,960,000
5. Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony) Week 9; Last weekend: #5
$5,530,000 (-8%) in 2,729 theaters (-216); PTA: $2,026; Cumulative: $298,460,000
6. The Gentlemen (STX) Week 3; Last weekend: #6
$4,180,000 (-25%) in 2,557 theaters (-118); PTA: $1,635; Cumulative: $26,852,000
7. Gretel & Hansel (United Artists) Week 2; Last weekend: #4
$3,511,000 (-43%) in 3,007 theaters (no change); PTA: $1,167; Cumulative: $11,535,000
8. Knives Out (Lionsgate) Week 11; Last weekend: #11
$2,350,000 (-9%) in 1,443 theaters (-112); PTA: $1,628; Cumulative: $158,942,000
9. Little Women (Sony) Week 7; Last weekend: #8
$2,325,000 (-24%) in 1,805 theaters (-496); PTA: $1,288; Cumulative: $102,673,000
10. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Disney) Week 8; Last weekend: #7
$2,226,000 (-31%) in 1,746 theaters (-456); PTA: $1,274; Cumulative: $510,547,000