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‘Wonder Woman 1984’ Dominates a Christmas Box Office Like No Other

Normally, a blockbuster sequel opening to only 16% of the original's first weekend would be a disaster. Not this year.

WONDER WOMAN 1984, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, 2020. ph: Clay Enos / © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

Gal Gadot in “Wonder Woman 1984”

©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

Warner Bros. is reporting a domestic gross of $16.7 million for “Wonder Woman 1984” over the three-day holiday weekend. This is easily the biggest weekend gross since theaters reopened (“Tenet” did just under $10 million, in about a third more theaters).

It is also a nearly impossible figure to judge in context. Patty Jenkins’ initial DC Comics film, opening globally in May 2017, grossed $100 million its first weekend. The last time Christmas fell on Friday (allowing a maximum weekend environment to thrive), “The Force Awakens” grossed $149 million — in its second weekend. Last year, with the holiday on Wednesday, “The Rise of Skywalker,” again in its second weekend, grossed $72 million across the three days. In both cases they had double the theater count.

Fewer than 40 percent of theaters are open, with those that are representing a better proportion of potential gross, with industry sources suggesting around 55 percent of the potential gross. Does that extrapolate to a potential of a $30 million or better figure, had everything been open? If so, that would be a positive figure combined with its home availability.

Among the caveats, how much of the public would resist even if all theaters were open? And, how much is this helped by having so little competition, unlike normal Christmases where multiple top entries play at the same time?

The number does say that somewhere around two million people ventured out for “Wonder Woman 1984” despite the competition of home viewing on HBO Max. That appears to be a positive sign. But for whom exactly?

In this oddest of moviegoing Christmases, it’s hard to think which would be better for theaters. Is doing well (relative to the barriers to audiences) while also available for home audiences a good thing? Or would a weak showing have proven Warner Bros. made a mistake? And how is any of this defined? Analysis sometimes can conclude we really don’t know yet.

“Wonder Woman 1984”

Warner Bros.

Anecdotal evidence suggests a good, but not great initial audience response. The B+ CinemaScore is considered at the low end of favorable within the industry. The 2017, meanwhile, film got an A. Twitter is hardly a reliable gauge, but initial reaction has tended toward the negative side, including from those who say they loved the earlier film.

As for HBO Max play, effectively free versus customers paying $9-10 or more for in theaters, there are no verified reports of how many of its 12 million+ subscribers viewed “Wonder Woman 1984.” But, figure it was extensive and likely ahead of those who went to theaters. Pixar’s “Soul” (Disney+) also debuted this weekend, but streaming only, with no theaters playing.

“Wonder Woman” was available in 200 locations more than #2 film “News of the World.” That’s because of its standout appeal over other titles, but also indicates the studio took some locations they normally wouldn’t. Those include pop-up drive-ins, either in parking lots of closed indoor theaters — some of which remain active apart from existing ones.

One thing we can’t gauge are some nuances of the film’s performance. That’s thanks to Warner Bros.’ corporate decision to deny not only the normal industry reporting of most of the daily grosses, but what has normally also been how it conveys them to the media and public.

They started this sleight of hand for “Tenet,” blaming that potential negative misinterpretations might have been bad publicity in helping to get theaters opened again. It was dubious then, but more now. Since then, multiple studios have released new films, and all but Warners and Sony have adhered to norms. This denies vital detailed information that exhibitors, rival studios, investors, the media, and those interested in the public could use.

Meantime, Warners did announce they are, in their words, “fast-tracking” the development of a third “Wonder Woman.” Whether this is significant, or an attempt to grab some positive attention, or somewhere in between, is unclear.

“Wonder Woman” accounted for over 60 percent of the total business this weekend. Three other wide-opening (none with immediate home showings) doing so little business, however, takes away from the encouraging signs from the DC Comic film.

Best among them is “News of the World” (Universal), with $2.4 million in 1,900 theaters. That’s under $1,300 per theater. That average is worse than “Cats” did last year in its second weekend. This adult-oriented with Tom Hanks, positive reviews, and some awards potential, but still mostly exhibits a lack of interest.

Focus Features

“Promising Young Woman” (Focus) also got good reviews, with a younger, edgier appeal in its darkly comic tale of female revenge. It only took in $680,000 in 1,310 theaters. That’s barely over $500 per theater. Per normal Universal/Focus practice, both “Promising” and “News” are expected to have PVOD availability in January, so this visibility should help both.

The Italian (though dubbed in English) live action “Pinocchio” (Roadside Attractions) with Roberto Benigni lagged in seventh place, with only $274,000 in 764 theaters. More successful with family audiences at #3 is “The Croods: A New Age” (Universal), with $1,730,000 despite continuing its strong showing on PVOD. The DreamWorks Animation title has passed $30 million in domestic theatrical box office.

Does the apparently respectable showings of both “Wonder Woman” and “Croods” in day-and-date play suggest coexistence in the future? Theaters have little choice (though likely are resistant to Warners on at least some titles), but the key question is how studios think this is going. So far, it’s too early to make a decisive case as to what, in a post-COVID world, will work best.

The Top 10

1. Wonder Woman 1984 (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 59; Est. budget: $200 million; also available on HBO Max

$16,700,000 in 2,151 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $7,764; Cumulative: $16,700,000

2. News of the World (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 78

$2,400,000 in 1,900 theaters; PTA: $1,263; Cumulative: $2,400,000

3. The Croods: A New Age (Universal) Week 5; Last weekend #2; also available on Premium VOD

$1,730,000 (-17%) in 1,726 theaters (-180); PTA: $1,002; Cumulative: $30,347,000

4. Monster Hunter (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$1,125,000 (-49%) in 1,817 theaters (+81); PTA: $619; Cumulative: $4,216,000

5. Promising Young Woman (Focus) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 71

$680,000 in 1,310 theaters; PTA: $519; Cumulative: $680,000

6. Fatale (Lionsgate) Week 2; Last weekend #3

$660,000 (-28%) in 1,168 theaters (+61); PTA: $565; Cumulative: $1,961,000

7. Pinocchio (Roadside Attractions) NEW – Metacritic: 63; Est. budget: $13 million

$274,605 in 764 theaters; PTA: $359; Cumulative: $274,605

8. Elf (Warner Bros.) REISSUE; last weekend #4

$(est.) 110,000 (-70%) in 257 theaters (-298); PTA: $214; Cumulative: $(adjusted) 267,500,000

9. The War With Grandpa (101) Week 12; Last weekend #8; also available on Premium VOD

$90,882 (-47%) in 515 theaters (-288); PTA: $176; Cumulative: $18,446,000

10. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Warner Bros.) REISSUE; last weekend #9

$(est.) 85,000 (-49%) in 223 theaters (-264); PTA: $381; Cumulative: $(adjusted) 168,800,000

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