‘Spider-Man’ Call Home — Theaters Need You STAT

It's not fair to judge the state of movie theaters by this weekend. But it's absurd to deny the weak results aren't a problem as well.
"House of Gucci"
MGM / courtesy Everett Collection

Weak Thanksgiving holdovers? Absence of new titles? Uptick in Covid concerns? Confusion over home availability? Name your poison, and it still might not include the scariest possibility — that interest in moviegoing has taken a permanent hit from which it may never recover.

At $12.7 million, “Encanto” (Disney) led a weekend when all films combined could only manage around a $51 million total. This year’s animated release from the studio dropped 53 percent, within range of the post-holiday second weekend for similar titles.

But the drop came from a low-end start. Some context for the rut theaters are in: Two years ago, weekend three of “Frozen II” (which opened a week earlier) did $35 million, almost three times as much as “Encanto.” While nobody expected the Colombia-set animated film (with songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda) to perform at that sequel’s level, the shortfall is indicative of theatrical weakness — in this case, exacerbated by anticipation by many of its Disney+ streaming less than three weeks from now.

This is normally a dead weekend, but even by those low standards, it is record-setting. From 2015-2019, the totals ranged from $85-105 million. The $51 million figure is 57 percent of 2019. That reduces our four-week rolling comparison to two years ago to 54 percent. That’s the lowest figure since mid-August (the high point was 82 percent mid-October).

None of this guarantees continued bleakness. “West Side Story” (Disney), which remains a big question mark despite its initial acclaim and Steven Spielberg’s usual success, opens this Friday. And then comes “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (Sony), already heavily pre-bought, and a slam-dunk to be the year’s top release. But theaters need it to do business similar to what “Star Wars” films have done in recent years with pre-Christmas openings. The last four have grossed between $390-652 million by December 31. That, to put it mildly, is a high target to achieve at the moment.

The top films all had typical drops after the holiday, with last weekend’s top four (“Ghostbuster: Afterlife/Sony #2, crossing $100 million; #3 “House of Gucci”/United Artists showing life; #5 “Eternals”/Disney completing the set) all similarly down. The best hold was “Dune” (Warner Bros.), off only 13 percent with a return to IMAX screens. On the low end were “Clifford the Big Red Dog” (Paramount, down 68 percent) and “King Richard” (Warner Bros., down 63 percent, and still searching for the elusive great word-of-mouth most expected).

The grosses weren’t worse than they might’ve been had two non-mainstream titles not taken advantage of screen availability. Fathom Events’ faith-based “Christmas With the Chosen,” a set of songs from the popular religious streaming program, debuted midweek, with $9 million in for five days. For the weekend it placed #4. At #10 is “Sword Art Online Progressive” (Funimation) with just over $1 million. Its the most recent Japanese animated adaptation from the sci-fi novel series.

“Licorice Pizza” (United Artists), sticking to its plan of limited exposure until its December 25 wide release, had a terrific hold at four theaters. Its 35-percent drop is even more impressive since last week had Thursday evening shows at three of its locations.

George MacKay stars as “Jacob” in director Nathalie Biancheri’s WOLF, a Focus Features release. Credit : Conor Horgan / Focus Features
“Wolf”Conor Horgan / Focus Features

Here’s the stunning reality of the trickiness of releasing films right now, particularly this weekend. “Pizza” has an estimated gross of $223,000 in four. The newly opened “Benedetta” (IFC) and “Wolf” (Focus) combined played in 506 more theaters, and combined grossed $3,000 more.

Paul Verhoeven’s lesbian nun film has been a hot topic since Cannes. IFC opted to delay any VOD play and concentrate on theaters. “Wolf,” which premiered in Toronto and for which George MacKay has received much acclaim, is a typical likely PVOD release after three weeks. Both barely caused a ripple.

“Flee” (Neon), the acclaimed New York Film Critics Circle winner and Oscar submission, managed $25,000 in four top-tier theaters. The timing suggests hoped-for word-of-mouth will lead to lengthy play as reviews and awards add up (the next wave of cities is this Friday).

Fresh off its New York Film Critics win for Best Film, “Drive My Car” (Janus) added Los Angeles. Its four theaters have small capacity and with its three-hour running time, the $27,000 gross includes some sell-outs. It also expands next week.

The Top 10

1. Encanto (Disney) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$12,739,000 (-53%) in 3,980 (no change) theaters; PTA: $3,201; Cumulative: $57,960,000

2. Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Sony) Week 3; Last weekend #2

$10,350,000 (-57%) in 4,059 (-256) theaters; PTA: $2,550; Cumulative: $102,192,000

3. House of Gucci (United Artists) Week 2; Last weekend #3

$6,773,000 (-53%) in 3,477 (no change) theaters; PTA: $1,948; Cumulative: $33,641,000

4. Christmas With the Chosen (Fathom) NEW

$4,100,000 in 1,642 theaters; PTA: $2,412; Cumulative: $9,000,000

5. Eternals (Disney) Week 5; Last weekend #4

$3,939,000 (-50%) in 3,230 (-750) theaters; PTA: $1,220; Cumulative: $156,529,000

6. Resident Evil: Raccoon City (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend #

$2,655,000 (-50%) in 2,803 (no change) theaters; PTA: $947; Cumulative: $13,174,000

7. Dune (Warner Bros.) Week 7; Last weekend #; also on Premium VOD

$1,810,000 (-13%) in 1,217 (-49) theaters; PTA: $1,487; Cumulative: $104,573,000

8. Clifford the Big Red Dog (Paramount) Week 4; Last weekend #; also on Paramount +

$1,800,000 (-64%) in 3,261 (-31) theaters; PTA: $552; Cumulative: $45,728,000

9. King Richard (Warner Bros.) Week 3; Last weekend #; also on HBO Max

$1,205,000 (-63%) in 2,654 (-648) theaters; PTA: $454; Cumulative: $13,403,000

10. Sword Art Online Progressive (Funimation)

$(est.) 1,040,000 in 840 theaters; PTA: $; Cumulative: $(est.) 1,040,000

“Drive My Car”

Additional specialized/limited/independent releases 

Benedetta (IFC) NEW – Cinemascore: 73; Festivals include: Cannes, New York 2021

$145,000 in 202 theaters; PTA: $718

Wolf (Focus) NEW – Cinemascore: 55; Festivals include: Toronto 2021

$81,000 in 308 theaters; PTA: $263

Flee (Neon) NEW – Cinemascore: 91; Festivals include: Sundance, Telluride, Toronto, New York 2021

$25,033 in 4 theaters; PTA: $6,258

Try Harder (Greenwich) NEW –  Festivals include: Sundance 2021

$25,232 in 5 theaters; PTA: $5,046

The Scary of Sixty-First (Utopia) – Metacritic: 58; Festivals include: Berlin 2021

$8,108 in 1 theater (1 show only); PTA: $8,108

Project Space 13 (Circle Collective)

$3,000 in 1 theater (1 show only); PTA: $3,000

Licorice Pizza (United Artists) Week 2

$223,328 in 4 (no change) theaters; PTA: $55,832; Cumulative: $761,000

Drive My Car (Janus) Week 2

$27,300 in 4 (+2) theaters; PTA: $6,825; Cumulative: $58,879

C’mon C’mon (A24) Week 3   102

$462,022 in 565 (+463) theaters; Cumulative: $1,139,000

Belfast (Focus) Week 4; also on Premium VOD

$500,000 in 1,255  (+27) theaters, Cumulative: $5,863,000

Julia (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 4

$30,410 in 116 (-172) theaters; Cumulative: $311,434

Spencer (Neon) Week 5; also on Premium VOD

$121,048 in 303 (-43) theaters; Cumulative: $6,866,000

The French Dispatch (Searchlight) Week 7

$401,000 in 425 (-25) theaters; Cumulative: $15,143,000

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