December 3rd-5th Weekend Preview and Predictions

Post-Thanksgiving Leftovers: Ghostbusters looks to Reclaim First Place, House of Gucci Showing Surprising Staying Power, and Wolf Sets a Debut in the Specialty Market!

As is pretty typical of the post-Thanksgiving holiday weekend, there isn’t looking to be much of a change to the lineup at the box office that weekend with the vast majority of the titles staying the same and no major new films entering the fold. I’ve seen a surprising debate about this erupt recently, with some saying its no use to program this weekend with new films given that it’s the start of December, people are shopping, and everyone is still working off the turkey from last week, so no one will be headed out to the theaters anyway. More recently, I’ve seen the argument arise that this is the perfect weekend to launch a new flick given all those above-listed reasons, all creating conditions for no competition. It’s hard to say what side I fall on in this debate, though ond point was made about one movie this coming weekend that I definitely agree with (Keep reading and I’ll tell you about it).

Now, I know I said that there aren’t any new movies coming out this weekend, but there is technically one newcomer. Pouncing into the fray, or rather meekly limping in, is the new Nathalie Biancheri movie, Wolf. Bare with me please I describe this film: A young man who believes himself to be a wolf trapped in a human body is sent to a clinic for people who also believe themselves to be animals where he falls in love with a young woman who believes herself to be a wildcat. They forge an intense bond as they fight against the oppression of the ruthless head doctor at the clinic, “The Zookeeper.” No, you didn’t read that incorrectly. This move exists and will be rolling out in limited release this weekend courtesy of Focus Features (my personal favorite arthouse distributor). Yes, this wild-sounding movie, starring 1917‘s George McKay and Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose, is a huge middle finger to anyone who says that there are “no original ideas” in movies anymore and on that level, good for director Nathalie Biancheri for swinging for the fences to create something unique in an industry that values brands more than anything else. Unfortunately, I am very much inclined to think that this very quality of the film will also be its downfall.

Yes, as much as people love to decry that there are no original movies anymore (either with a truly new story with new characters or at the very least based on a property that has never been adapted before and that isn’t a “brand” already), when those kinds of movies show up in theaters, they often tank because audiences generally don’t want to spend $12-15 to watch something that they aren’t totslly sure that they’ll enjoy. That’s what Netflix is for! Trying new types of movies now that the barrier to entry is removed and the financial risk is mitigated. For proof of this behavior, just look at acclaimed films like Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, original ideas like Reminiscence, starring Hugh Jackman, or even old school studio biopics like Respect, starring Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin, or more recently, King Richard, starring Will Smith as Venus and Serena Williams’ father. All four of these films came out this year, admittedly in the wake of a pandemic, but still entering into a theatrical market that was able to sustain a new James Bond Movie, an A Quiet Place sequel, and power Venom 2 to a $90 million opening weekend (higher than the original). Despite the clear willingness to show up for the familiar brands they love, audiences didn’t flock to the other four, non-brand reliant, films that many people claim they want to see more of at the multiplex. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it is the nature of the market, and worth taking the time to understand.

Where does this leave Wolf? Not in the best place. Under different circumstances, I would have some optimism for a scrappy little cult-film-in-the-making like this one given that it is being shepherded by Focus Features. Having long been my favorite arthouse label/independent distributor (followed closely these days by NEON), I’ve long admired Focus’ ability to balance their thoroughly fringey and more experimental fare with more commercial films that are able to balance their more arthouse flair with broader audience appeal. In a better scenario, I might have even seen Wolf opening with around $2 million (lord knows A24 was able to take the wildly experimental The Green Knight to a $6 million opening this past July). However, Wolf‘s arthouse leanings put it at a disadvantage as it tries to appeal to an audience that is not only niche but also more reluctant to return to theaters in the wake of COVID. Add to that a 46% (and dropping) Rotten Tomatoes score to further scare people away, and Wolf would be lucky to breach $1 million at all. I am actually a bit surprised by the reviews, the earliest of which seemed to be positive, noting the oddness of the film’s premise but praising its ambition and the committed performances of McKay and Depp. Unfortunately, it seems that a wider net of critics are not as taken with the film as those who saw it on the festival circuit, claiming that the film’s metaphors swallow the story and turn it to mush. “A” for effort on Biancheri’s part, but it seems that this film will not be paying dividends.

As for the rest of the top ten, the order of films looks to be relatively unchanged, with the main difference from last weekend being that I predict Encanto to lose some traction. Given that audiences last weekend didn’t seem nearly as taken with the film as they usually are with Disney’s annual Thanksgiving Weekend Animated Film (see last weekend’s post for a breakdown of those numbers), it comes as no surprise that Encanto‘s weekday grosses, outside of “$5 Matinee Tuesday” have been soft this week. Admittedly, this may be the result of kids in school and this film skewing heavily in the family-oriented direction, but it casts a doubt on the film’s staying power. As a result, I am predicting it to take second place this weekend at the box office with a 50% drop for a weekend gross of $13.6 million, losing it’s first place crown in just a week.

While Encanto‘s predicted placement this coming weekend is a bit surprising, the real shocker is just what film has been beating it at the box office throughout this week! Despite the presence of the obvious contender, and my pick for the the number one spot this week, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, it’s House of Gucci that has been dominating this week! In spite of what I felt was a bit of a lackluster gross over this past Thanksgiving Holiday, House of Gucci is proving to have much more staying power than I could have anticipated as it has continuously netted the number one spot amongst daily box office grosses throughout the week, never once falling beneath $1 million and generally netting around $1.14 million per day (nearly a fantastic $1.5 million on Tuesday) with its gross to date standing at $25.7 million dollars domestic and $38.6 million worldwide.

Now, taking a step back, this isn’t as surprising as it could be given the obvious factor that this is an adult-skewing film; R-rated and focusing on real-life drama rather than fantastical thrills. As a result of it not relying on family/kid audiences, it makes complete sense that it would be able to top the weekday charts with grosses likely coming from adults seeing it as a weekday matinee or even just a fun, “treat yourself” weeknight theatrical excursion. What does surprise me though, is that film is beating out Ghostbusters: Afterlife in these weekday grosses. To be fair, Afterlife did open two weekends ago and go and had a very nice Thanksgiving week boost that keep it atop the box office daily charts through its entire first week in theaters, so everyone who was just dying to see it did. Still, with its strong exits and word-of-mouth, I would expect Afterlife to be putting up a bit more of a fight instead of lounging in third place daily this week, and this performance does create a genuine question as to just how well Ghostbusters: Afterlife will hold this weekend.

At earlier in the week, when doing my own calculations, I predicted a strong 38% hold for the film, giving it a gross of $15 million for a number one spot at the box office, followed by Encanto with $13.6 million in second, and House of Gucci with a 55% drop to $6.48 million in third place. Now, I still expect things to fall in this order, but House of Gucci‘s performance does suggest that it could potentially hold a bit better than expected, and in doing so, pull away older audiences from the more broadly appealing Afterlife. If this is to be, and I do think there is a chance, I would adjust my prediction to say that Afterlife may fall closer to 40% for a gross closer to $14 million (not a huge difference) while House of Gucci could see a slightly stronger hold of 50% for a gross closer to $7 million. It’s not the biggest change overall, but it would signal strength for House of Gucci and give even more credence to the idea of Lady Gaga as a bonafide movie star.

As for the rest of the top ten, there looks to be very little change from last weekend’s lineup. The main change would be that of Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City cratering with an (at best) 65% drop to a gross of $1.8 million in likely seventh place. Its weekday grosses have been absolutely dismal and its staying power looks to be non-existent. Outside of that, I’m predicting the rest of the lineup as follows: fourth place going to Eternals with a drop of 49% for a gross of $4 million and fifth going to Clifford with a drop of 45% for a gross of $2.75 million. King Richard should be able to post a strong hold on the strength of its reviews and Oscar buzz, but it will be losing a surprising number of theaters this coming weekend (628 to be exact) which could cause it to fall harder than expected. I would predict a drop of about 40% for a gross of barely $2 million in sixth place but we’ll have to keep a close eye on it. Finishing in eighth and ninth place, respectively, it looks to be Dune with a strong hold of 35% for a gross of $1.3 million and No Time to Die with a hold of 30% for a gross of $1.2 million. The final spot in the top ten will potentially come down to whether Venom 2 or Wolf but it is highly dependent on whether or not Wolf connects in some way as well as its theater count (which I am not privy to). My conservative estimate would be that Venom 2 will take the tenth spot with a strong hold of 25% for a gross of $1.1 million.

As for the specialty market, outside of Wolf, some of the regular suspects like that of The French Dispatch and Spencer are being phased out while fresher faces while the likes of C’mon C’mon continue to expand. Notably, Belfast did increase its theater count last week and did see a slight gain at the box office from weekend to weekend. Being another film from Focus Features, I’m curious if the expansion will continue as we get closer to Christmas (Belfast is a very charming and family-oriented film that I could definitely see flourishing over the holiday frame) and whether or not that will prevent Wolf from ever really having a high theater count. One specialty holdover that probably should be going wider this weekend, though, is that of Licorice Pizza (I told you I’d circle back to that debate). While I don’t mean that the film should go super-wide (over 1,500 theaters) right after its amazing Thanksgiving opening, I do think that of all films to be adding at least a few more theaters, Licorice Pizza should be one. Instead of expanding this week, it appears that Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest will actually be staying in just 4 theaters this weekend, potentially looking to repeat or even improve upon last weekend’s fabulous per-theater-average by building buzz up to a fever pitch and then broadening the film’s reach. That’s a surprisingly risky move for MGM, but I’m curious to see how it plays. Still, with barely any competition in both the mainstream and specialty markets, this would have been a solid weekend to make a splash.

As for any new releases in the specialty market, this weekend will see the release of Paul Verhoven’s latest, Benedetta, following a nun who engages in a lesbian affair (what more could you ask for from the man behind Basic Instinct and Elle), in roughly 202 theaters through IFC Films, as well as the theatrical release of Netflix’s The Hand of God, the newest film from Italian virtuoso and The Great Beauty director, Paolo Sorrentino. While the film is not as acclaimed as his other works, the film has received strong buzz (and debuted an incredible trailer) and has been selected as Italy’s entry into the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar race. This coming week in theaters will serve as its qualifying run before it hits Netflix’s online platforms on December 15th (I’m looking forward to it). Also of note is a Fathom Events release (it’s always worth paying attention to those), Christmas with The Chosen, a religious concert film featuring numerous faith-based musicians performing against the backdrop of a re-enactment of Joseph and Mary’s journey to bring the baby Jesus into the world (quite the 180° turn from Benedetta). While Fathom Events don’t always make the box office charts (let alone the top ten) its quite cool to see them when they do, and with the potency of the religious audience having been displayed many times in the past, combined with the time of year, Christmas with The Chosen has more than a decent shot of charting this weekend. Keep an eye out!

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