This weekend in history: Two films directed by African-Americans took the top two spots, for the first time ever. “Wrinkle,” directed by Ava DuVernay, is a rare film directed by a woman budgeted over $100 million. (Kathryn Bigelow’s “K-19: The Widowmaker” and Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” preceded it among non-animated films, but it’s the first from a black woman.
This breakthrough should not be diminished, but it’s only one of several important takeaways this weekend — not all so encouraging. We’re 10 weeks into 2018; last year at this point, five films had opened at $40 million or more. This year, there’s only “Black Panther” and its phenomenal success (it’s approaching $1.1 billion worldwide) may mask some significant issues.
Grosses are still up around 8 percent for the year so far, down from over 12 percent at the end of February That’s nothing compared to the likely drops in upcoming weeks, when last-year comparisons will include the massive numbers for “Beauty and the Beast.”
Which brings us to “A Wrinkle in Time.” This long-awaited adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s early 1960s novel has been a major project at Disney, positioned to replicate their recent successes in reboots of classic children’s stories. In that group, its $33 million start is lackluster. While it bests “Bridge to Terabithia” (which adjusted opened at $30 million), but far less-anticipated titles opened stronger. “The Last Airbender”: adjusted $48 million. “Percy Jackson and the Olympians”: $36 million. “Jack the Giant Slayer” — a major flop — still managed $31 million.
What’s the problem(s)? Given the film’s anticipation and profile, likely much of the potential audience paid attention to the reviews, which weren’t great. And while the book is beloved, it saw its peak popularity years ago. Though still a perennial, it’s no “Harry Potter;” it doesn’t automatically connect with contemporary kids.
Another issue: Beyond “Black Panther,” business isn’t booming. After a strong end of year that saw multiple surprise successes (“Wonder,” “The Greatest Showman,” and especially “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” which is still in the Top 10), most other new releases fell short.
“A Wrinkle in Time” doesn’t deserve to be seen as a setback for DuVernay or for the advancement of African-American filmmakers. She made a viable, high-budget film that didn’t work as well as hoped. Disney has the resources to ensure lots of additional revenue comes in and it doesn’t disappear from sight. Anyone who thinks this should be counted as a reason not to continue diversity and taking chances needs to explain why Guy Ritchie keeps getting work.
That leaves us with “Black Panther,” again. Upcoming weeks will see further records, to be duly noted; this weekend saw the passing of $1 billion worldwide, making it the second by an African-American director (“The Fate of the Furious” ahead of it for now). It’s at $562 million through 24 days domestic. That’s astoundingly only $30 million behind the adjusted number for the biggest Marvel domestic release (“The Avengers”) at the same point.
And that’s where its biggest records will come. International is massive, though despite the better-than-expected China opening (black-cast films rarely open there, let along thrive), it is unlikely “Panther” equals the top grossers from the comic-book world. But it will come close.
Not standing out applies to three other new wide releases. “The Strangers: Prey at Night” from recently minted Aviron was low budget (perhaps $5 million), so its $10.8 million start is adequate. Further down is the more-expensive “The Hurricane Heist” (Entertainment Studios) from veteran director Rob Cohen. And even worse is “Gringo” from Amazon (shifting away from specialized, distributed in this instance by STX) that didn’t even make the Top Ten.
New films are out there, but what fills the gap is not ultimately strong enough to keep theaters as busy as they should be. “Panther” is stellar, and its drops better than average. But as early as next week, it will fall under $30 million. Compare that to March 2017, which had “Beauty and the Beast” followed by two more films that opened over $40 million. This year, it’s quite possible that none of the upcoming films over the same period will do as much.
At some point, movies that aren’t “Black Panther” need to step up.
The Top Ten
1. Black Panther (Disney) Week 4; Last weekend #1
$41,136,000 (-38%) in 3,943 theaters (-142); PTA (per theater average): $10,435; Cumulative: $562,016,000
2. A Wrinkle in Time (Disney) NEW – Cinemascore: 52; Metacritic: B; est. budget: $103 million
$33,316,000 in 3,980 theaters; PTA: $8,371; Cumulative: $33,316,000
3. The Strangers: Prey at Night (Aviron) NEW – Cinemascore: 50; Metacritic: C; est. budget: $5 million
$10,480,000 in 2,464 theaters; PTA: $4,253; Cumulative: $10,480,000
4. Red Sparrow (20th Century Fox) Week 2; Last weekend #
$8,150,000 (-52%) in 3,064 theaters (+8); PTA: $2,660; Cumulative: $31,199,000
5. Game Night (Warner Bros.) Week 3; Last weekend #4
$7,905,000 (-24%) in 3,061 theaters (-441); PTA: $2,582; Cumulative: $45,046,000
6. Peter Rabbit (Sony) Week 5; Last weekend #6
$6,800,000 (-32%) in 3,112 theaters (-495); PTA: $2,185; Cumulative: $93,458,000
7. Death Wish (MGM) Week 3; Last weekend #3
$6,600,000 (-49%) in 2,882 theaters (+35); PTA: $2,290; Cumulative: $23,875,000
8. (tie) The Hurricane Heist (Entertainment Studios) NEW – Cinemascore: 32; Metacritic: B-; est. budget: $35 million
$3,150,000 in 2,402 theaters; PTA: $1,311; Cumulative: $3,150,000
8. (tie) Annihilation (Paramount) Week 2; Last weekend #6
$3,150,000 in 1,709 theaters (-403); PTA: $1,843; Cumulative: $26,095,000
10. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Sony) Week 12
$2,755,000 (-38%) in 2,157 theaters (-403); PTA: $1,277; Cumulative: $397,263,000