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With ‘Black Adam,’ October Box Office Will Cling to The Rock

After a dire $317 million September, theaters have a reason to be cheerful with Dwayne Johnson as a DC Comics superhero.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, "Black Adam"

“Black Adam”

Warner Bros.

The good news about September box office is with a domestic total of $317 million, it exceeded our projection ($300 million) for the first time in months. That’s small solace for theaters; it’s still a dreadful result and the lowest-grossing month since April 2021, when theaters were just beginning to revive.

At 46 percent of the September 2019 (the last “normal” year, although ticket prices are 20 percent higher now), it also has the worst monthly comparative total of 2022. (Year to date is about 66 percent of 2019; factoring in that 20 percent price increase, it shows actual attendance at 55 percent.) It was also the first month this year to come in below the same month in 2021.

But like we said, there is some good news. In a rare month with no franchises or sequels, three original releases with female leads opened to $19 million or more and each — “The Woman King” (Disney), “Don’t Worry Darling” (Warner Bros. Discovery), and “Smile”(Paramount)  — opened to #1. That is encouraging news that will likely spur similar productions for theatrical release.

October starts a fourth quarter with an atypical shot at being better than July-September thanks to Disney titles “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (November 11) and “Avatar: The Way of Water” December 16. In 2021, with recent months skewed by Covid-related delays, October gross of $623 million bested November. That won’t happen this year.

October 2021 had “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” “No Time to Die,” “Halloween Kills,” and “Dune” all open to $40 million or more, with “Venom” top at $90 million. This month doesn’t have the same potential, with projections range anywhere from $400 million to $600 million. However, there’s only one significant variable: How will DC Comics title “Black Adam” (WBD) perform?

It opens October 21, so only 11 days will count toward the month’s total. The “Shazam!” spinoff stars Dwayne Johnson and the most recent tracking suggests a $75 million opening weekend, which would normally translate to as much as $150 million through October 31. As things stand, $500 million looks like a reasonable estimate for the October box-office total.

Among new wide releases, Sony’s animated “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile” opens Friday and “Halloween Ends” (Universal) opens October 14; these are the likely next-biggest contributors. “Lyle” is the first family release in some time, and although it is based on a well-known 1965 children’s book, it might not have the heft to reach #1. Projections are closer to $10 million than $20 million, but it would surprise few if it performs better than expected.

The latest “Halloween” entry (like last year’s, streaming from the start on Peacock), is expected to fall short of last year’s $49 million start but should open to $35 million or more. Unlike “Lyle,” which could sustain across multiple weeks, the horror film will likely fade fast.

Three other wide releases are expected to open lower. David O. Russell’s “Amsterdam” (Disney), which opens this Friday, might not exceed $10 million this weekend with questionable longer-term prospects. With an $80 million budget it’s his most expensive film, and with a 47 Metacritic score it’s his worst reviews.

Ticket to Paradise

“Ticket to Paradise”

Universal Pictures

October 21 also sees the George Clooney and Julia Roberts rom-com “Ticket to Paradise” (Universal) open after a foreign take of around $50 million so far. It should open to $10 million-$15 million; expect the same range for Lionsgate’s exorcism horror film, “Prey for the Dead,” which opens October 28.

This month will also see the debuts of multiple limited-release titles, with a level of platform releases we haven’t seen in nearly three years. Success will be critical to the long-term health of that struggling market sector, much as this summer’s hits reinforced the wide studio release strategy.

Among holdovers, “Smile” is showing strength with a reasonable chance of beating at least one of the new openers this week. No holdover last weekend grossed even $7 million, so the residual impact of older films on the month’s total will be below average.

As always, theaters are at the mercy of the films released. What “Black Adam” can do is show improvement and set the tone for “Wakanda” and “Avatar.” We need them to follow in the footsteps of “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Spiderman: No Way Home.”

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