‘The Fabelmans’ Is Below Recent Platform Debuts: Why That Doesn’t Matter Much

Steven Spielberg's four-theater platform opening looks more like "Green Book" than "Parasite," but both of those films won Best Picture.
"The Fabelmans"
"The Fabelmans"

On the weekend after elections, there’s no better time to recognize that early numbers don’t always reflect final results. Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans” (Universal) grossed $160,000 in four theaters, for a $40,000 per-theater average. That isn’t impressive at first glance, but recent precedent — from the same studio, using the same distribution strategy — suggests that could change.

Platform films initially focus on creating word of mouth, particularly in awards-sensitive New York and Los Angeles. Compared to many other platform releases, “Fabelmans” fell short. However, in 2018 “Green Book” opened in 25 theaters to $320,000, or about $13,000 per theater. The PTA at its four New York/Los Angeles locations skewed higher, with $25,000. At the end of a very long run, it grossed  $85 million domestic.

Like “Green Book,” Spielberg’s film won the often Oscar-predictive audience prize at the Toronto International Film Festival. “The Fabelmans” bona fides include an 86 Metacritic score, the best for any studio release this year, and what sources confirm is an A Cinemascore. And of course, Spielberg’s career established him as Hollywood royalty a long time ago.

Brendan Gleeson in the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN
“The Banshees of Inisherin”Jonathan Hession / courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Anecdotal reports from initial audiences confirm an excellent reaction, with grosses increasing on Saturday. Its initial $40,000 PTA is on par with “TÁR” (Focus) and below “The Banshees of Inisherin” (Searchlight) and “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24).

Late-year platform films that debuted with PTAs over $75,000 include “Parasite,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “The Favourite.” These appealed to a younger and edgier cinephile audience and while Spielberg possesses many qualities, young and edgy are not the Spielberg brand. That’s tough on a PTA when older audiences have been slow to return to upscale movies.

It’s not just “Fabelmans.” “Inisherin” grossed $1.7 million this weekend, with its PTA down only 23 percent and a $5.8 million total. It is holding well; it should rise significantly during the holidays. However, in 2017, Martin McDonaugh’s “Billboards” grossed more than double at the same point on its way to $57 million.

Covid-era distributors know older audiences often prefer to avoid crowds; that may have presented an additional challenge for “Fabelmans,” given this weekend’s release of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Disney). And as “Ticket to Paradise” results suggested, the older demographic tends to favor going to theaters during weekdays.

In two weeks, “The Fabelmans” will expand to around 600 theaters. There’s promise of improvement, or at least steady growth, but this is an intimate and deeply personal effort that lacks Spielberg’s usual blockbuster appeal. Still, “Fabelmans” should be viewed as a work in progress that could resonate as much as “Green Book.”

Other than “Banshees,” other recent openers are dropping. Many screens were subject to “Wakanda” displacement. At this point, neither “TÁR” nor “Till” (United Artists) are expected to reach $10 million. On a smaller scale, “Triangle of Sadness” (Neon) and “Decision to Leave” (MUBI) continue to do reasonably well.

"A Couple"
“A Couple”screenshot

“A Couple,” a narrative film from veteran documentarian Frederick Wiseman, was the only other new release to report grosses with $5,000 at New York’s Film Forum. Multiple other new releases such as Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pinocchio” (Netflix), “The Box” (MUBI), “Nothing Lasts Forever” (Showtime), and “Spirited” (Apple) all of which have home viewing ahead, failed to convey results.

“You Resemble Me” (self-released), a rare film from an Egyptian director, though French made, added a Los Angeles date its second week to New York, with two theaters grossing $20,000. That’s an impressive result for a niche title.

Films are listed by week in release, starting with those opened this week:

The Fabelmans (Universal) NEW – Metacritic: 86; Festivals include: Toronto, AFI 2022

$160,000 in 4 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $40,000

A Couple (Zipporah) NEW – Metacritic: 73; Festivals include: Venice, Toronto

$5,000 in 1 theater; PTA: $5,000

You Resemble Me (self-released) Week 2

$20,069 in 2 theaters (+1); PTA: $10,035; Cumulative: $33,513

Meet Me in the Bathroom (Utopia) – Week 2

$28,123 in 20 (+16) theaters; PTA: $1,406; Cumulative: $222,718

Armageddon Time (Focus) Week 3

$352,000 in 981 (-25) theaters; PTA: $355; Cumulative: $1,600,000

Holy Spider (Utopia) Week 3

$20,023 in 8 (+4) theaters; Cumulative: $66,659

The Banshees of Inisherin (Searchlight) Week 4

$1,700,000 in 960 (+95) theaters; PTA: $1,771; Cumulative: $5,784,000

Aftersun (A24) Week 4

$139,960 in 92 (+47) theaters; PTA: $1,521; Cumulative: $535,023

All That Breathes (Submarine Deluxe/Sideshow) Week 4

$4,810 in 3 (-1) theaters; Cumulative: $31,358

Till (United Artists)  Week 5

$618,254 in  1,358 (-778) theaters; PTA: $455; Cumulative: $8,038,000

Decision to Leave (MUBI) Week 5     163

$201,925 in 131 (-32) theaters;  Cumulative: $1,582,000

Terrifier 2 (Cinedigm/Iconic)  Week 6; also on VOD

$(est.) 290,000 in 454 (-791) theaters; Cumulative: $(est.) 10,427,000

TÁR (Focus) Week 6

$343,000 in 1,090 359 (-731) theaters; PTA: $959; Cumulative: $4,500,000

Triangle of Sadness (Neon) Week 6

$250,000 in 184 (-303) theaters; PTA: $1,363; Cumulative: $3,520,000

RRR (Vertical) Week 34

$10,478 in 1 theater (single show); Cumulative: $11,113,000



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