‘The Empty Man’ Opens at Empty Theaters as Weekend Box Office Grosses Less Than $10 Million

Releasing films like "The Empty Man" may be doing more harm than good: This weekend, everything averaged less than $1,000 per screen.
The Empty Man
"The Empty Man"
screengrab/Disney/20th Century Fox

This week has been one of the year’s strongest for new film releases. “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (Amazon) is the most talked-about movie in months. “On the Rocks” (AppleTV+ and A24) reunites the director and star of “Lost in Translation.” The director of “Cast Away” and the “Back to the Future” franchise adapted Roald Dahl’s “The Witches” (HBO Max). The creator of “Dear White People” returned to feature films with an $8 million Sundance acquisition, “Bad Hair” (Hulu). And Ben Wheatley dared to remake Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, “Rebecca” (Netflix).

Of course, none of those films were available in theaters. Instead, the only new wide release was graphic novel adaptation “The Empty Man,” a 20th Century title (released by Disney) produced in summer 2017. And while we don’t know the numbers for those home releases, “The Empty Man” placed fourth with $1.265 million, one of only four films that surpassed $1 million in gross.

“The Empty Man” is a typical Halloween-timed horror release, but it’s unusually long (137 minutes!) and saw little visible TV/cable advertising, received a last-minute trailer, no reviews (even the trades didn’t check in over the weekend), and a D+ Cinemascore. In short, not really the basis to determine audience interest in new films. Still, its poor #4 showing does nothing to help the cause of release rebooting.

Another dark signifier: No film averaged as much as $1,000 per theater. That’s never happened, ever, in any week that saw wide first-run films in release. It’s reasonable to believe that home-viewing titles gained much more attention, and more pleasure.

The estimated weekend total of all grosses in North America is around $12 million. That’s down from $14 million last weekend, with a top 10 that fell to around $9.5 million, down from around $12 million. These numbers aren’t sustainable. Halloween weekend looks little better.

This weekend, 12 of the 20 highest-grossing titles were horror related. That includes 12 library titles, which accounted for over $2 million in gross — perhaps 300,000 tickets purchased. Theaters and studios are trying whatever they can to entice audiences, but seasonal titles that largely are available at home aren’t a sustainable option.

With Warner Bros. not reporting theater-specific grosses for “Tenet,” it is tricky to gauge the performance of newly reopened locations in upstate New York and Long Island. None of these appeared to gross among the top 100 theaters — and to be fair, we wouldn’t usually expect to see them in that context, even without New York City and Los Angeles County — but it does show a slower recovery. Warner Bros. reported that Regal Destiny USA in Syracuse was the #8 “Tenet” location. When Seattle reopened last weekend, that market provided five of the 10 highest “Tenet” results. Overall, “Tenet” held on to #3 with a 15 percent fall; it now stands at $52.5 million domestic, $341.4 million worldwide.

HONEST THIEF, from left: Anthony Ramos, Liam Neeson, Jai Courtney, 2020. © Open Road Films / Courtesy Everett Collection
Honest ThiefEverett Collection

“Honest Thief” retained the #1 spot, dropping 43 percent — a big decline, especially considering the absence of competition. Last year, star Liam Neeson’s action release “Cold Pursuit” fell 46 percent in its second weekend, but it faced three new wide openers. “The War with Grandpa” fell 25 percent in its third weekend and is at $9.7 million; neither film looks to pass $15 million.

That’s a decline from earlier openers like “The New Mutants” and “Unhinged,” both of which crossed $20 million. None of these titles would have likely reached $50 million in a normal market, but their shortfalls explain why studios are loathe to release expensive titles or spend even a low-end $15 million-$20 million to release a new film.

The Top Ten

1. Honest Thief (Open Road) Week 3; Last weekend #1

$2,350,000 (-43%) in 2,502 theaters (+83); PTA (per theater average): $939; Cumulative: $7,476,000

2. The War with Grandpa (101) Week 3; Last weekend #2

$1,883,000 (-25%) in 2,345 theaters (+85); PTA: $803; Cumulative: $9,720,000

3. Tenet (Warner Bros.) Week 8; Last weekend #3

$1,300,000 (-15%) in 1,801 theaters (-200); PTA: $722; Cumulative: $52,500,000

4. The Empty Man (Disney) NEW

$1,265,000 in 2,027 theaters; PTA: $624; Cumulative: $1,265,000

5. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Disney) REISSUE; Last weekend #4

$577,000 (-44%) in 1,614 theaters (-580); PTA: $357; Cumulative: $169,600,000

6. Hocus Pocus (Disney) REISSUE; Last weekend #5

$530,000 (-30%) in 1,424 theaters (-216); PTA: $372; Cumulative: $(adjusted) 94,300,000

7. Monsters, Inc. (Disney) REISSUE

$494,000 in 991 theaters; PTA: $498; Cumulative: $(adjusted) 471,400,000

8. After We Collided (Open Road) Week 7; Last weekend #46; also available on Video on Demand

$420,000 (+1,050%) in 460 theaters (+397); PTA: $913; Cumulative: $(est.) 1,100,000

9. 2 Hearts (Freestyle) Week 2; Last weekend #6

$(est.) 350,000 (-33%) in 1,678 theaters (-5); PTA: $209; Cumulative: $350,000

10. The New Mutants (Disney) Week 9; Last weekend #7

$286,000 (-39%) in 830 theaters (-413); PTA: $345; Cumulative: $23,154,000

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