‘Beau Is Afraid’ Gets Off to Huge Start and ‘Mario’ Is No Less Super — but ‘Air’ Is No ‘Argo’ at the Box Office

"The Super Mario Bros. Movie" is the top story by far, but initial results from three platform films show better-than-usual initial results.
Beau Is Afraid
"Beau Is Afraid"

With a stunning second weekend total of $87 million, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” (Universal) justifies the case for its potential to become 2023’s top domestic release. The Illumination Animation adaptation of the Nintendo game fell only 41 percent, exceeding even the most generous estimates for its hold.

With $348 million already in for its first 12 days and its strong hold suggesting vast public interest and repeat viewings, “Super Mario Bros.” looks primed for at least a $600 million total. That would be a domestic take exceeded only by “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” last year — and a level not assumed for any number of potentially strong upcoming releases, particularly with Marvel titles still strong but below past levels. Worldwide, it is already as $678 million.

“Super Mario Bros.” accounted for more than 60 percent of the gross in a week notable for five new films in the Top Ten. In a return to a feast or famine divide, none opened to even $10 million, nor did any other title. That raises the question of how healthy things actually are — does “Super Mario Bros.” suggest that the big hits ahead will exceed expectations, or is it an exception?

Meanwhile, three new platform titles showed initial strength, particularly the three-hour-long “Beau Is Afraid” (A24). Ari Aster’s latest, starring Joaquin Phoenix, at $320,000 in four theaters had the second-best per-theater take of any release since 2019. The eco-documentary “Wild Life” (Picturehouse) had a strong two-city debut, led by New York, while the Norwegian satire “Sick of Myself” (Utopia) also showed promise.

Nicholas Cage as Dracula in Renfield

“The Pope’s Exorcist” (Sony) at #2 led the new releases with a modest $9,150,000. At least it’s a lower-budget title (at $18 million). “Renfield” (Universal) cost $65 million, with the Dracula-themed film with Nicolas Cage (on the 4oth anniversary of his early “Valley Girl”) among three titles nearly tied for #3 at just under $7.8 million.

At just under $8 million as of now, Amazon’s “Air” (MGM) had a bigger drop than hoped, off 47 percent. That might not look that bad for a second weekend, but there are several reasons to be concerned. Adult-oriented films that rely on word of mouth — particularly when they have a good but not great start like “Air” — generally show greater strength in their holds. And the drop comes after a holiday weekend where, because of its Wednesday opening, some of the initial audience went earlier (comparing weekends like this is trickier).

Ben Affleck’s similar “Argo,” which opened better in 2012, fell only 15 percent its second weekend on its way to an eventual gross that at today’s prices would be around $200 million. “Air” looks like it’s headed to $55-60 million (so far $33 million). That’s decent, and based on what Amazon plans ahead (PVOD, Prime), that could be sufficient to justify their decision to take this theatrical. Still, it feels less than what the potential would have been pre-Covid.

For now, “John Wick: Chapter 4” (Lionsgate) in week 4 sits at #3, with $160 million in so far. Lower on the Top Ten were three other new releases. “Suzume” (Sony), the latest Japanese anime release from Crunchyroll, took in $5 million to place #7. “Mafia Mamma” (Bleecker Street), with Monica Belluci and Toni Collette (the latter unexpectedly inheriting the role as an Italian mob boss), placed #8 with a little over $2 million. “Nefarious” (Soli Deo Gloria), an unlikely R-rated faith-based horror film (the third of the week) came in #10 with $1,33o,000 in 933 theaters.

The weekend total of about $141 million did positive things for comparative numbers. It increased the 2023 year-to-date lead over last year to 37 percent. Were that to hold the rest of the year (unlikely, but if “Super Mario Bros.” indicates high-end results for other titles), that would project to $10.1 million, above expectations. Then there’s our four-week rolling comparison to the same period in pre-Covid 2019 — with “Super Mario Bros.” elevating current totals, the period is six percent ahead of then. The last time that happened was late July last year, after a very strong summer month.

“Beau Is Afraid” showed A24 operating on all cylinders. Take an established director with a strong following after “Hereditary” and “Midsommar,” leaven with an intriguing cast, elevate with a strong preview program, Q&A sessions, IMAX play, and a smart (if somewhat different) four-theater New York/Los Angeles selection, along with a sense of something unusual and daring, and its result is no huge surprise.

Which is not to say it isn’t impressive. “Beau” is reportedly receiving a divided response, and the mere fact that it’s a three-hour genre film comes with challenges. It goes wide this Friday (with some IMAX screens starting Tuesday), and it might find a more challenged response ahead. But so far, so great.

Some context — $320,000 for “Beau” came close to the $350,000 “Sweetwater” (Briarcliff), a biopic about the first Black NBA player, grossed in over 1,200 theaters.

Kris Tompkins looks up at the sky with the Patagonian mountain range as her backdrop.(Jimmy Chin)
“Wild Life”Jimmy Chin

“Wild Life,” which documents two conservationist life-long work to preserve open spaces in South America, was particularly strong at New York’s Angelika, where it grossed almost $37,000. Its D.C. run added another $10,000 to the initial impressive response.

Among recent subtitled releases, the $20,o12 for “Sick of Myself” is at the high end. Add that it’s a Norwegian comedy from an unknown director and that becomes a very promising start.

Two top second-week expansions had mixed results. Kelly Reichardt’s “Showing Up” (A24) increased to 28 theaters and $129,000 ($4,574 PTA). “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” (Neon) went wider with 142 theaters and $185,000 ($1,303 PTA).

The Top 10

 1. The Super Mario Bros. Movie (Universal) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$87,000,000 (-41%) in 4,371 (+28) theaters; PTA (per theater average): $19,904,000; Cumulative: $347,824,000

2. The Pope’s Exorcist (Sony) NEW – Metacritic: 44; Est. budget: $18 million

$9,150,000 in 3,178 theaters; PTA: $2,879; Cumulative: $9,150,000

3. John Wick: Chapter 4 (Lionsgate) Week 4; Last weekend #2

$7,925,000 (-45%) in 3,607 (-574) theaters; PTA: $2,201; Cumulative: $160,100,000

4. Renfield (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Metacritic: 54; Est. budget: $65 million

$7,770,000 in 3,375 theaters; PTA: $2,302; Cumulative: $7,770,000

5. Air (MGM) Week 2; Last weekend #3

$7,721,000 (-47%) in 3,507 (no change) theaters; PTA: $2,201; Cumulative: $33,284,000

6. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (Paramount) Week 3; Last weekend #4

$7,350,000 (-47%) in 3,324 (-532) theaters; PTA: $2,211; Cumulative: $74,070,000

7. Suzume (Sony) NEW – Metacritic: 75

$5,000,000 in 2,170 theaters; PTA: $2,304; Cumulative: $5,000,000

8. Mafia Mamma (Bleecker Street) NEW – Metacritic: 43

$2,045,000 in 2,002 theaters; PTA: $1,021; Cumulative: $2,045,000

9. Scream VI (Paramount) Week 5; Last weekend #4

$1,455,000 (-58%) in 1,288 (-998) theaters; PTA: $1,130; Cumulative: $106,793,000

10. Nefarious (Soli Deo Gloria) NEW

$1,330,000 in 933 theaters; PTA: $1,426; Cumulative: $1,330,000

Other specialized titles

Films (limited, expansions of limited, as well as awards-oriented releases) are listed by week in release, starting with those opened this week; after the first two weeks, only films with grosses over $5,000 are listed.

Beau Is Afraid (A24) NEW – Metacritic: 69

$320,396 in 4 theaters; PTA: $80,099

Wild Life (Picturehouse) NEW – Metacritic: 65; Festivals include: South by Southwest 2023

$46,718 in theaters; PTA: $23,359

Sweetwater (Briarcliff) NEW

$350,000 in 1,204 theaters; PTA: $291

Sick of Myself (Utopia) NEW – Metacritic: 72; Festivals include: Cannes 2022

$20,212 in 2 theaters; PTA: $10,106

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (Zeitgeist) NEW – Metacritic: 69; Festivals include: Toronto 2022

$7,400 in 2 theaters; PTA: $3,700

Showing Up (A24) Week 2

$128,080 in 28 (+24)  theaters; PTA: $4,574; Cumulative: $217,591

How to Blow Up a Pipeline (Neon) Week 2

$185,000 in 142 (+130) theaters; PTA: $1,303; Cumulative: $338,475

Joyland (Oscilloscope) Week 2

$8,256 in 1 (no change) theater; PTA: $8,256; Cumulative: $39,171

My Architect (Abramorama) REISSUE  Week 2

$568 in 1 (no change) theater; PTA: $568; Cumulative: $12,156

His Only Son (Angel) Week 3

$ in 1,037 (-883) theaters; Cumulative: $

A Thousand and One (Focus) Week 3

$85,000  in 130 (-796) theaters; Cumulative: $3,311,000

Champions (Focus) Week 6; also on PVOD

$347,000 in 183 (-234) theaters; Cumulative: $16,117,000

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