From ‘The Bad Guys’ to ‘The Northman,’ Younger Audiences Lead a Box-Office Comeback

"The Northman," "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent," and "Everything Everywhere All at Once" suggest original films still have a shot.
"The Northman"
"The Northman"
Aidan Monaghan / Focus Features

As exhibitors gather in Las Vegas for their annual CinemaCon convention this week, this weekend’s box office will provide their rallies with optimism. It fell short of $100 million (in 2019, only four weekends fell short), but there’s a few talking points to battle the concern that theaters are too franchise dependent.

It also provided a case study in balance: Four films grossed over $10 million, a one-unremarkable statistic. However, this weekend was the first instance in more than two years.

DreamWorks Animation’s “The Bad Guys” (Universal) topped this weekend, placing #1 at a better-than-expected $24 million. Family films often do well, but this performance came in the face of Paramount’s “Sonic the Hedgehog” sequel and Warner Bros.’ “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.”

Two more original titles debuted with “The Northman” (Focus) and “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” (Lionsgate). Robert Eggers’ Viking epic came in at $12 million, while the very meta Nicolas Cage-as-Nicolas Cage action comedy made over $7 million.

Throw in the strong hold for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24), down only 15 percent in its fifth weekend (its third in wide release) and there are many indications of an audience for other than the tried and true. For theaters, that’s critical. If they are going to reach a minimal recovery (for now, perhaps 80 percent of 2019’s performance), it won’t be accomplished without some fresh blood.

The risk of dependence on sequels and similar is evidenced by the 67 percent drop for the second weekend of “Fantastic Beasts.” It seemed like a surefire $100 million domestic release (doing better foreign, but bearing the weight of a $200 million production cost) but it will fall short. It dropped behind “Sonic,” still #2 and dropping only 48 percent despite competition from “Bad Guys” for younger audiences.

The offbeat and edgy trio of “Northman,” “Massive Talent,” and “Everything Everywhere” combined for $25 million. These specialized-adjacent titles likely cut into each other, but they grabbed a younger audience. More importantly, they suggest taking risks can pay off.

That recognition is well timed with Netflix under siege. Known as a filmmaker-friendly producer of riskier projects, it might become more conservative just as studios screw up the courage to take chances.

The jury is still out on “The Northman,” which cost $90 million and shows signs of divided audience response (a weak B Cinemascore). That suggests domestic box office might not get much beyond $30 million, with foreign perhaps around the same. “Massive Talent” grossed less and cost less (budget reported as $30 million). “Everything Everywhere” should have the best domestic gross. It could hit $40 million, far above expectations.

The key for all of these films is how much their theatrical presence will enhance future home revenues. Their next step is likely PVOD rather than streaming (“Northman” will appear after its third weekend, if it follows normal Focus policy). Theatrical play elevated their profiles and that’s a victory for theaters.

Total box office this weekend amounted to $94 million. That’s 78 percent of the same weekend in 2019 (which was Easter). This raises the four-week rolling comparison for 2019 to 77 percent. That figure has not surpassed 80 percent since theaters reopened.

The Bad Guys
“The Bad Guys”Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animation LLC

For all the mildly encouraging signs of the edgier originals, family titles are second only to Marvel in theatrical recovery. Three are in the top 10 this weekend, grossing $53 million. That’s 56 percent of the total audience. The return of ticket buyers to these films is crucial.

Two high-end limited releases debuted to modest results compared to pre-Covid performance. Celine Sciamma’s acclaimed “Petite Maman” (Neon), her first film since her breakout “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” grossed $45,829 in four New York/Los Angeles locations. (“Portrait” opened in two theaters to $67,000 in 2019.) The late Roger Michell’s “The Duke” (Sony Pictures Classics) with Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren took in $28,797 in a similar four.

The difference between the two grosses comes from additional revenue for “Petite Maman” from filmmaker Zoom screenings prior to the weekend that were added to the Friday total. Results are similar for the other two days.

SPC, recognizing the difficulty of getting traditional older audiences to attend key city opening weekends, had a two-for-one promotion at Manhattan’s Angelika Theater. That suggests higher attendance than the gross suggests and the possibility that it might pay off with word of mouth. With older audiences in decline and younger audiences responding, it suggests a possible permanent shift in specialized distribution.

The Top Ten

1. The Bad Guys (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 64; Est. budget: $75 million

$24,000,000 in 4,009 theaters; PTA: $5,987; Cumulative: $24,000,000

2. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Paramount) Week 3; Last Weekend #2

$15,225,000 (-48%) in 3,809 (-449) theaters; PTA: $3,997; Cumulative: $145,829,000

3. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (Warner Bros.) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$14,010,000 (-67%) in 4,245 (+37) theaters; PTA: $3,300; Cumulative: $67,127,000

4. The Northman (Focus) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 83; Est. budget: $70 million

$12,000,000 in 3,234 theaters; PTA: $3,711; Cumulative: $12,000,000

5. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 67; Est. budget: $30 million

$7,175,000 in 3,036 theaters; PTA: $2,363; Cumulative: $7,175,000

6. Everything Everywhere All at Once (A24) Week 5 ; Last Weekend #4

$5,425,000 (-12%) in 2,133 (-87) theaters; PTA: $2,544; Cumulative: $26,944,000

7. The Lost City (Paramount) Week 5; Last Weekend #3

$4,375,000 (-30%) in 2,828 (-602) theaters; PTA: $1,547; Cumulative: $85,395,000

8. Father Stu (Sony) Week 2; Last Weekend #5

$3,325,000 (-38%) in 2,705 (no change) theaters; PTA: $1,229; Cumulative: $13,870,000

9. Morbius (Sony) Week 4; Last Weekend #6

$2,250,000 (-52%) in 2,306 (-1,156) theaters; PTA: $976; Cumulative: $69,178,000

10. Ambulance (Universal) Week 3; Last Weekend #7

$1,800,000 (-56%) in 1,966 (-1,446) theaters; PTA: $916; Cumulative: $19,199,000


Additional specialized/limited/independent releases 

Petit Maman (Neon) NEW – Metacritic: 94; Festivals include: Berlin, Telluride, New York 2021

$45,829 in theaters; PTA: $11,457

The Duke (Sony Pictures Classics) NEW – Metacritic: 76; Festivals include: Venice 2020, Telluride 2021

$28,797 in 4 theaters; PTA: $7,199

Y Como Es El? (Patelion) NEW

$630,000 in 325 theaters; PTA: $1,938

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (Utopia) – Week 2; also on PVOD

$23,986 in 36 (+33) theaters; PTA: $666; Cumulative: $43,929

Mothering Sunday (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 5

$15,281 in 56 (-83) theaters;  Cumulative: $252,789


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