BOX OFFICE RUNDOWN!! (Sept 28-Sept 30) Night School Misses by a Hair, but gets a Gold-Star for Effort!!/Smallfoot Kicks House with a Clock in its Walls’ Butt!!

Weekend Box Office Top 10 (Sept 28-Sept 30): (Title / Weekend Gross / Percent Change from Last Week / Weekend # / Distributor), Sunday Estimates

  1. Night School / $28,000,000 / (N/A) / Weekend 1 / Universal
  2. Smallfoot / $23,020,000 / (N/A) / Weekend 1 / Warner Bros.
  3. The House with a Clock in its Walls / $12,510,000 / -53% / Weekend 2 / Universal
  4. A Simple Favor / $6,600,000 / -35.6% / Weekend 5 / Lionsgate
  5. The Nun / $5,435,000 / -45.5% / Weekend 4 / Waner Bros.
  6. Hellfest / $5,075,000 / (N/A) / Weekend 1 / CBS Films & Lionsgate
  7. Crazy Rich Asians / $4,150,000 / -34.6% / Weekend 7 / Warner Bros.
  8. The Predator / $3,700,000 / -59.7% / Weekend 3 / Fox
  9. White Boy Rick / $2,385,000 / -50.9% / Weekend 3 / Sony (Studio 8)
  10. Peppermint / $1,770,000 / -52% / Weekend 4 / STX Entertainment

Notable Outsiders:

16. Little Women / $747,000 / (N/A) / Weekend 1 / Pinnacle Peak

20. Colette / $418,501 / +159.6% / Weekend 2 / Bleecker Street

22. Free Solo / $300,804 / (N/A) / Weekend 1 / National Geographic Entertainment

27. The Old Man & the Gun / $150,000 / (N/A) / Weekend 1 / Fox Searchlight

28. Monsters and Men / $130,979 / (N/A) / Weekend 1 / Neon

40. All About Nina / $30,614 / (N/A) / Weekend 1 / The Orchard

From upsets to underperformances to unexpected performers, this was a weekend full of surprises. First off, we saw Night School just barely miss the $30 million mark despite the seemingly Teflon combination of Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish as the leads. Then, despite perfect positioning leading into the Halloween season, The House with a Clock in its Walls saw all the wind taken out of sails thanks to Smallfoot‘s arrival on the scene. Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, The Old Man & the Gun was bested in limited release by an unexpected newcomer.

Now, when discussing Night School it should be made clear that the film is not at all in bad shape. This weekend, the trades were quick to jump to the film’s defense (most likely out of defense for Tiffany Haddish, who is the current Hollywood “It-Girl”) and while there have been many instances in the past of the trades rewriting a narrative to fit an agenda or push certain talent forward, I do believe that Night School can easily stand tall on its own. The fact is that the movie did indeed come-up slightly short in terms of its projected opening weekend gross. Night School had remarkably consistent projections in the lead up to its release, with long-range tracking, month-out predictions, and the predictions going into the weekend all pointing toward a gross of $30 million. Estimates as of now show the film having come in at about $28 million, so definitely under, but in the grand scheme of the box office, this isn’t by much. To put this opening in context, Night School actually has the biggest opening for a pure comedy film this year. In a year filled with comedy critical darlings like Game Night, as well as pure comedy R-rated romps like Tag and Blockers, Night School managed the strongest opening of the bunch despite the ostensible handicap of a 30% Rotten Tomatoes score (interestingly enough, Universal seems to have the pure comedy genre all tied up as the second highest comedy opener of the year belongs its other title, Blockers, which raked in $20.5 million during its opening weekend). Indeed it is pretty likely that the Rotten Tomatoes score was the x-factor preventing Night School from crossing the $30 million mark. Still, $28 million is a more than solid start for the film as it cost about $29 million to make, and with an “A-” Cinemascore, the film has the potential to play quite well down the line.

Despite the hoopla surrounding the underperformance of the film financially, the more interesting picture comes into focus when one takes a look at the film’s demographic breakdown. As I mentioned in my predictions, the real secret weapon of the film was Tiffany Haddish. Night School was the first big deal she made after her breakout turn in Girls Trip; reteaming with Girls Trip Malcolm D. Lee and producer Will Packer, it looked as though Universal might have an ace up their sleeve. Haddish herself has proven to be a savvy businesswoman by capitalizing on her newfound buzz as this deal was only the beginning of a long list of projects that she was able to attach herself to. Clearly, Universal is not the only studio that sees potential in her; in fact, Paramount seems to have invested quite heavily in Haddish as she is set to frontline Nobody’s Fool, the latest Tyler Perry movie which is being released under Paramount’s new, diversity-driven label, Paramount Players, and her upcoming film, Limited Partners, was the subject of a large bidding war that Paramount won (the film is currently in pre-production). Of course, now that Haddish has been given her opportunity, the time comes when she has to deliver on the promise she showed, and while Night School may have opened a bit softer than expected, a savvy agent should be quick to point out the following. First and foremost is that the audience for Night School‘s total opening weekend was split 50/50 between men and women. The best performing films at the box office ideally perform close to this ratio, but it is a rarity to see a film actually hit the mark when balancing male and female appeal; it also speaks to Tiffany Haddish’s, and Kevin Hart’s, broad appeal to both men and women, a valuable asset in studio filmmaking. Speaking of gender appeal, it should also be noted that while the eventual split was 50/50, Haddish also proved that she has particularly strong appeal with women specifically as well, shown in the fact that the opening night (Friday) demographic breakdown saw women over 25 making up the largest demographic group at 33% of the audience, which is unusual for a type of comedy like Night School which tends to skew more male. The film also saw an audience breakdown of 37% Caucasian, 30% African-American, 24% Hispanic, and 5% Asian (according to Deadline), which, in terms of film, is actually a very even break down, and demonstrates massive cross-cultural appeal to Haddish’s credit. Overall, despite a softer opening, Haddish has still proven herself to be quite a valuable commodity going forward.

In second place, we find this weekend’s second new release, Smallfoot, which can celebrate a small victory, not in that it outperformed expectations (the trades were actually right on the money with this one) but in that beat back the potential threat of The House with a Clock in its Walls overtaking it as last weekend’s early Halloween treat was pushed back to third place. Yes, in the battle for family entertainment glory, Smallfoot presented the lighter and funnier option and was rewarded with an “A-” Cinemascore (higher than that of House with a Clock which sported a “B+”). That said, this didn’t necessarily do much for the film’s financial prospects. Going into the weekend, Smallfoot was pegged with an opening gross projection between $22-$23 million and sure enough it opened to $23 million. To the film’s credit, this is bigger than that of Storks. Warner Animation Group’s last non-LEGO Movie outing opened to $21 million in 2016 and was able to make it to $72 million domestically with the help of strong holds throughout its run. Storks also boasted an “A-” Cinemascore, so Smallfoot will likely see strong holds and potentially an even larger domestic haul thanks to stronger reviews. However, despite being well-liked by audiences, Storks only made it to $183 million worldwide. Smallfoot is saddled with a hefty $80 million dollar budget and thus a gross similar to that of Storks is simply not gonna cut it. Smallfoot will have to hit $200 million worldwide for the industry to even begin to consider calling the film successful. Hopefully, Smallfoot has better legs than its title would imply.

As for The House with a Clock in its Walls, Smallfoot‘s little victory was managing to take a large amount of wind out of the former’s sails. Having taken the top spot last weekend and even outperformed industry expectations, House with a Clock has found itself outpacing its best comparison, 2015’s surprise hit, the similarly Jack Black-fronted Goosebumps. Rich with atmosphere and positioned as the perfect lead-in into the Halloween season by Universal, House with a Clock was expected to hold somewhere in the 40%s. I was a bit bolder in my predictions, projecting that the film would hold similarly to Goosebumps (somewhere around 35-37%), but alas, it was not meant to be. In their reviews of House with a Clock, many critics said that they feared that the film might potentially be too scary for younger kids despite its PG rating. Clearly, parents listened and the result was a much steeper drop of 53%. The film is still in admittedly okay financial shape. Despite having a much bigger second-weekend drop, the film is still outpacing Goosebumps in terms of day-to-day grosses. Given that Goosebumps managed to make it to $80 million domestically, House with a Clock should have no trouble doing so as well, especially as we enter October. House with a Clock is also frugally budgeted at $42 million so it will have a lower threshold to cross in order to break-even. That said, I mentioned in my own review of the film that it could potentially play better as a rental, and with this surprisingly large drop, I have a feeling that rentals might be how the film will be earning most of its money. Only time will tell, however, so it is best to keep an eye on the film as we gear up for All Hallows Eve.

As for the rest of the weekend, most everything played out as expected. A Simple Favor took fourth place, sporting another strong hold of 35.6% for a gross of $6.6 million. As of now, the film is up to $62 million worldwide; by my rough estimate, the film is already profitable (that said, Lionsgate has recently been stealing a page from STX’s playbook and financing several of its films via foreign distribution sales, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that A Simple Favor‘s net budget is more around $10 million as opposed to $20 million and that the film has already turned a massive profit). Interestingly enough, the film is currently tracking alongside Blake Lively’s last mainstream outing, The Shallows, having opened to the same gross ($16 million) and being at roughly the same domestic gross at this point in its release ($45 million to A Simple Favor‘s $43 million). As a result, industry trades are predicting the film to end its domestic run with a gross somewhere between $55-$60 million, and one has to marvel at how Blake Lively might have one of, if not the most consistent box office track records of any actor in Hollywood; every one of her movies (outside of any in indies or limited releases) for the past six years has ended their domestic run somewhere around $45-$55 million. I can’t help but wonder how this will affect her upcoming film, The Rhythm Section, which is set for a 2019 release and is a potential franchise-starter from the production team behind the James Bond movies.

Spots five through eight played out exactly as I had predicted, with The Nun besting Hellfest for fifth place (as well as reaching a gross of $330 million worldwide and becoming the highest grossing Conjuring movie to date), while Hellfest itself managed to gross $5 million in sixth. Crazy Rich Asians fell only 34.6%, grossing $4.1 million in seventh place while also outgrossing The Proposal domestically to become the sixth highest grossing romantic comedy of all time in the US (Crazy Rich Asians currently stands with a domestic gross of $165 million and a worldwide gross of $218 million). Finally, The Predator came in at number eight with a gross of $3.7 million. Expect the film to fall off the map quite soon. White Boy Rick placed ninth, while Peppermint managed to hold on to the top ten for just one more weekend in tenth place.

In the specialty market, we find the final surprise of the weekend. While I had originally predicted that The Old Man & the Gun would take the top spot in terms of per-theater-averages, I was shocked to discover that it was bested in that department. Not Monsters and Men, not Colette nor The Sisters Brothers, not even Little Women, but instead Free Solo went on to beat out the Robert Redford-starrer, and by a mile no less. What is Free Solo you ask? It’s a documentary about a rock climber doing a free solo climb (that is without any harnesses) up El Capitan. I have seen absolutely no advertising for this film, but it must have fans because not only did it win the People’s Choice Documentary Award at the Toronto International Film Festival but it also managed to drum up a massive $75,000 per-theater-average! And this film is from NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC!! To understand the magnitude of this achievement for Free Solo, just take a look at The Old Man & the Gun, which despite being marketed as THE Robert Redford’s final film, only managed to make $150,000 across five theaters, for a per-theater-average of only $30,000 (Fox Searchlight’s distribution team is probably kicking itself right now for going with five theaters instead of four). The difference between the two is staggering and represents a severe dent in Redford’s Oscar campaign. He and Fox Searchlight will have to work overtime if they want to be competitive in this year’s race.

As for the rest of the limited releases, there were no real noteworthy performers. In terms of per-theater-averages, Neon’s Monsters and Men didn’t register, while Little Women couldn’t crack into the top ten as I thought it would. Another surprise was that indie distributor The Orchard seemed to drop All About Nina-the new Mary Elizabeth Winstead vehicle from first-time feature director Eva Vives-almost completely without warning or advertisement. Debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, All About Nina had some potent buzz behind it, particular for Winstead’s performance which several media outlets have labeled as genuinely “Oscar-worthy”. One such media outlet (AwardsCircuit.com) said it would be a perfect property to be picked up by Oscar-whisper distributor A24 (something I agree with based stills for the film and the fact that A24’s Oscar slate seems light this year). However, the film was picked up for distribution by the Orchard instead. What makes this seeming dumping of the film in theaters so shocking, however, is that it came out the week of the announcement that Mary Elizabeth Winstead had been cast as Huntress in the upcoming DC live-action film Birds of Prey alongside Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. While there is no way that Orchard would have known about this news prior as the announcement came out midway through the week, it seems as though it might have been worth doing a big, last-minute advertising push to capitalize on Winstead’s momentum. Sadly though, that would be giving Hollywood executives a little too much credit.

To end on a brighter note, it is worth noting that Bleecker Street’s Colette, starring Keira Knightley in her first period drama in a while, saw a strong boost following a jump from four to 38 theaters; this in turn resulted in a weekend gross of $418,501 ($11,013 per-theater) which is whooping 159.6% jump from last weekend. Bleecker Street is looking to turn Colette into a sleeper Oscar contender, and if the distributor can sustain this momentum, Keira Knightly could be looking at her third Oscar nomination this year. The film follows her as she plays famed author, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, who fought against her husband (and societal constraints) for creative ownership of the books she ghostwrote for him. I hope to review the film once it goest semi-wide.

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(Box Office Data taken from BoxOfficeMojo.com, Deadline.com, and BoxOfficePro.com)

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