Full of Surprises, Encanto Retains First Place While Ghostbusters Falls Much Harder Than Anticipated and Not One, but TWO Specialty Event Features Crack the Top Ten!
Weekend Box Office Top 10 (Dec 3-5): (Title / Weekend Gross / Percent Change from Last Week / Weekend # / Distributor), Sunday Estimates:
- Encanto / $12,739,000 / -53% / Weekend 2 / Disney
- Ghostbusters: Afterlife / $10,350,0000 / -57% / Weekend 3 / Sony (Columbia)
- House of Gucci / $6,773,404 / -53% / Weekend 2 / United Artists (MGM)
- Christmas With the Chosen / $4,100,000 / (N/A) / Fathom Events
- Eternals / $3,939,000 / -50% / Weekend 5 / Disney (Marvel)
- Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City / $2,655,000/ -50% / Weekend 2 / Sony (Screen Gems)
- Dune / $1,810,000 / -13% / Weekend 7 / Warner Bros.
- Clifford, the Big Red Dog / $1,799,611 / -64% / Weekend 4 / Paramount (w/ Paramount+)
- King Richard / $1,205,000 / -63% / Warner Bros. (w/ HBO Max)
- Sword Art Online Progressive: Aria of a Starless Night / $1,050,000 / (N/A) / Weekend 1 / Funimation
11. Venom: Let There Be Carnage / $1,035,000 / -35% / Weekend 10 / Sony (Columbia)
13. Belfast / $500,000 / -48% / Weekend 4 / Focus Features
14. C’mon C’mon / $462,022 / +57% / Weekend 3 / A24
15. The French Dispatch / $401,000 / -36% / Weekend 7
16. Licorice Pizza / $223,328 / -35% / Weekend 2 / United Artists (MGM) ($55K per theater, 4 theaters)
17. Benedetta / $145,000 / (N/A) / Weekend 1 / IFC Films ($718 per theater, 202 theaters)
19. Wolf / $81,000 / (N/A) / Weekend 1 / Focus Features ($263 per theater, 308 theaters)
21. Drive My Car / $27,300 / Weekend 2 / Janus Films ($6,825 per theater, 4 theaters)
Boy, did this weekend not turn out like anyone could have expected. Well, I’m saying that from the perspective of an amateur box office prognosticator (despite my wealth of knowledge on the subject, I’ve only really been writing down my opinions and critiques of box office performances for, essentially, a few months given my pandemic hiatus from this blog), so I am sure that some pundits more experienced than I may have seen this coming, but I would wager that there were more than a few surprises for everyone this past weekend as these numbers rolled in.
In my last post, I mentioned there being a debate regarding this specific weekend, the post-Thanksgiving frame, as to whether or not this is truly a “slow” weekend at the box office. Traditionally, most studios and distributors choose not to program this weekend with much new fare, citing the start of December and the Christmas season (thus resulting in an audience that is too preoccupied with shopping to go to the movies) as well as newer films from the previous Thanksgiving Holiday commanding most of the audience interest in the case that people may not have been able to catch them on opening weekend. Despite these (reasonable) concerns with launching a film in this frame, it has come to my attention that there is also a school of thought which says that this weekend is undervalued as a potential launching point for a new release, given the usual lack of competition. Essentially, the argument boils down to “if you build it, they will come”; if you program the weekend with a film audiences want to see, they’ll show up given the lack of competition, and the only reason that this weekend is “slow” is because no distributors actually make the effort to put out product. Prior to the start of this weekend, I wasn’t sure about where I stood on this matter, but now, as I’ve seen these numbers roll in, I think I’m going to have to side with that Field of Dreams reference.
In my weekend preview, I noted that outside the specialty market and Wolf, there was only one film new (surprising) film opening courtesy of the venerable event programmer Fathom Events. That film is Christmas With the Chosen, which I had originally summarized as a Christian concert film set against the backdrop of a re-enactment of the birth of Jesus. If you couldn’t tell from that generic description, I had no idea what the hell I was talking about. In reality, the film is actually a cinematic extension of an ongoing TV show called The Chosen. I’ve never about this show until now, but from what I have bow been able to gather, it is a television series dramatization of the life of Jesus of Nazareth (yes, Jesus Christ, that Jesus) that portrays him “through the eyes of those who met him”, hence the title The Chosen. Created by Dallas Jenkins and acted out by real actors, this show is known to be one of the top crowdfunded projects of all time. Reportedly designed to be “binge watched” as Jenkins has stated (clearly hip to the streaming inclinations of the television industry at large), the show was produced and originally distributed through a mobile app called VidAngel where its surprising popularity lead to it being picked up by notable religious network BYUtv (Brigham Young University Television). The expansion of its audience and continued popularity across multiple platforms has led to the show now being picked up and shown on several other networks and services like Christian broadcaster Trinity Broadcasting, UPtv Network, and even NBCUniversal streaming service, Peacock!.
This theatrical film, Christmas With the Chosen, serves essentially as a “special extended episode” of the show, showcasing the birth of Jesus expressed through the eyes of Mary and Joseph. Fathom Events, famous for their ability to turn unexpected programs (from filmed Ballets, Symphonies, and West End Productions to re-releases of classic films) into full-blown events clearly saw the potential with this property, and in agreeing to distribute it in 1,700 theaters, has inadvertently created a genuinely big deal at the box office. Now, you may be asking yourself, “Just how ‘big’ are we talking about here? I’ve never even heard of this program, could it really have that big of an audience?” Well…
Opening this past Wednesday with a whopping $2.7 million (highest gross of the day, wow!) and continuing into Thursday with just a 19% drop to $2.2 million (once again, wow!), Christmas With the Chosen exploded into the weekend with a total $4.1 million gross. That in and of itself was composed of a very strong (for a special event film) $1.2 million on Friday, GROWING by +25% to a $1.5 million Saturday gross (indicating some great word of mouth), and finishing strong with an estimated $1.4 million on Sunday. Frankly, finalizing most films would kill for a weekend performance like that which, when combined with its Wednesday and Thursday grosses, totals an estimated $9 million!
Now, the question does become for some, in a world where we have Marvel movies opening anywhere from $75-$90 million, even in the wake of a pandemic, how is that performance at all special? That’s a legitimate question, but as is typical, all box office requires context. Let’s reiterate, this is movie is, for all intents and purpose, basically a supped-up TV episode. On top of that, it’s an episode of a crowdfunded Christian TV series following the life of Jesus. Based on those factors alone, Christmas With the Chosen shouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell (pun intended) of making a dent in cinemas, let alone making it into the top ten. Yet, here it is, posting $4.1 million this weekend and notching the #4 spot in the box office top ten. That’s higher than Eternals but even more impressively, just about $2 million away from the $6.7 million gross of House of Gucci in third place. To put the film’s gross further into perspective, it’s a higher gross than the vast majority awards contender openings this year with it beating out Spencer‘s $2.1 million opening (with its total 5-day gross of $9 million outperforming Spencer‘s entire $6.7 million run) and putting it within striking distance of King Richard‘s $5.4 million opening (as well as grossing nearly 70% of King Richard‘s domestic haul to date in just 5 days). So yeah, a tiny little Christmas movie is giving the presumed Best Actor and Actress Oscar frontrunners a run for their money. Speaking of King Richard, just for good measure, Christmas With the Chosen also had a stronger opening weekend than every other non-comic book/Kaiju/IP-based Warner Bros release this year (The Little Things with Denzel Washington, Those Who Wish Me Dead with Angelina Jolie, Reminiscence with Hugh Jackman, etc…) with the exceptions of Malignant and In the Heights, neither of which performed necessarily that much better.
The immense performance of the Fathom release not only speaks to the distributor’s strong eye when picking material to release but also to the continued strength of Christian audiences even in the wake of COVID. Religious films, specifically those produced by faith-based companies, producers, and behind-the-scenes talent, have long shown an ability to deliver at the box office. Part of this comes from the fact that films like this usually are cheap to produce so they can easily turn a profit, but there is also something to be said for the grassroots marketing done by the producers of these films. By disseminating information about the films through Churches, the films turn int into family-oriented events where people can get together with like-minded individuals to enjoy entertainment together. Whether or not you are religious, or even agree with this approach of event-izing religion, it’s impossible to deny the effectiveness of this kind of marketing. Even non-religious films have used this kind of marketing to great effect, my favorite example being that of 2017’s Wonder which marked itself through specialized early screenings to church groups and schools and powered itself to hugely surprising $27 million opening that November, with the film eventually grossing over $300 million worldwide on a budget of $20 million. Taking a similar approach, Christmas With the Chosen specifically set up showtimes across the country in the mornings and early afternoons to take advantage of audiences just leaving mass. It’s actually quite brilliant and has resulted in what is being called one of, if the highest-grossing Fathom Events release ever. When I said you should always keep an eye on Fathom Releases, I meant it.
Not for nothing, the box office also had one other happy surprise in the #10 place with the surprise release of Sword Art Online Progressive: Aria of a Starless Night (my lord, that’s a mouthful) taking in $1.05 million in 840 theaters. I say surprising, but in reality, I’m sure that fans of the popular anime series all had the calenders marked. Similar to religious audiences, anime fans have the potential to mobilize in a big way when it comes to anime film releases, particularly when said anime is an extension of an existing series. Most recently, Dragon Ball Super: Broly managed to debut with $9.8 million back in January 2019, taking the #4 place between Christmas holdovers Aquaman and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and managing to gross $30 million domestically in just a three-week run, while just this past April, Demon Slayer: The Movie – Mugen Train shattered records for anime films in the United States by opening to $22 MILLION(!!!) and taking in $47 million total domestic (on top of a $503 million worldwide gross, most of that coming from Japan where the film dethroned Spirited Away as the highest-grossing anime film of all-time, as well as becoming the highest-grossing film in Japan ever and the pandemic-laden 2020’s highest-grossing worldwide release). I’m doubtful this Sword Art Online film will reach those heights, but the Funimation release is just a further affirmation of the worldwide appeal of anime and a demonstration of its continued strength in the US.
As for the rest of the top ten, the picture was not as rosy, as the vast majority of the films did not see any as solid business as they could given the fact that there was (ostensibly) no competition. Something that surprised me what that Encanto managed to hold on to its #1 spot this week. This was in spite of depressed weekday grosses throughout the past week and its underwhelming debut. I noted in last week’s rundown that the film’s sharper drop from its previous weekend Friday to Saturday grosses suggested that audiences were not taking to this Disney animated adventure the same way that they did its nearest comparisons, Moana and Coco. In response, I predicted that the film would drop 50% in its second weekend for a gross of $13.6 million and I wasn’t too far off with it dropping 53% for a $12.7 million gross. That’s a drop on par with Moana‘s 50% drop back in 2016, which had the film legging out to a $248 million final domestic gross. However, Encanto opened to roughly half of Moana‘s $56 million opening with $27 million in the 3-day frame, so, starting from a place of weakness, legs like Moana would only have it getting to barely $120 million by the end of its run; a final domestic tally which is made even more impossible by the fact that Encanto will become available for free on Disney+ come Christmas Eve, which will hinder audiences heading to the theaters to see it. It looks as though this was always the plan from Disney, to use the film’s theatrically exclusive window as a glorified marketing campaign, but I can’t help but feel sorry for the film getting undercut.
The real overall surprise in that scenario though, is not that Encanto is kind of flopping, but that it retained the #1 spot again Ghostbusters: Afterlife, a film that I was sure was going to have a very strong hold and reclaim the top spot, but instead fell a surprisingly heavy 57% in its third weekend. The drop resulted in a $10.3 million in second place. Now, it’s not all bad, as Ghostbusters: Afterlife did manage to crack the century mark with an estimated $102 million domestically up to this point (worldwide it has a healthy $145 million). That said, I’m beginning to suspect that my early assumption that everyone who really wanted to see the film saw it over Thanksgiving, as the daily numbers for the film have been surprisingly soft and this weekend’s drop was just so much larger than anticipated. One could be tempted to argue that Christmas With the Chosen‘s overperformance and Sword Art Online‘s surprise strength may have drawn audiences away, but those films don’t really have a huge level of overlap between their audiences, at least not enough to pull away eyeball to that degree. The simple truth is probably that Afterlife may have peaked a bit too soon (I was very tempted to write that in a much crasser way, but thankful I thought up some different wording). Does this spell the Apocalypse for Afterlife? No. I think it still has some runaway domestically and will probably get close to if not end up matching the previous domestic and worldwide grosses of 2016’s all-female reboot (my father wants to see it but has yet to venture out so there is definitely still a pocket of the audience left untapped). That might seem a bit like a step down given that the 2016 film flopped, but Afterlife‘s responsible $75 million budget would make a worldwide gross of $230 million still profitable. I still can’t help but be a bit confounded by the film after it came out of the gate so strong. With only one major international territory left to hit, Australia, I’m doubtful about any last minute boost from overseas markets. We’ll just have to see next week.
In third place, House of Gucci continues to be hard for me to read. Sure enough, my prediction that it would hold a bit better than 55% this weekend was accurate. Surprisingly strong weekday grosses suggested that the audiences would show up to support the film in greater numbers this weekend and sure enough, they did. That said, instead of a 50% drop for a gross of about $7 million, House of Gucci fell 53% and settled at $6.7 million in third place. That’s not a huge difference from what I predicted, but not at the level I thought audiences would be rallying. Still, for what it’s worth, the film now has $33.6 million domestic and about the same gross internationally for a total of $67.2 million worldwide, more than practically any adult drama released this year and certainly more than any adult drama not based on an existing property (so excluding things like Dune and No Time to Die). That’s a feather in the cap of Lady Gaga, Ridley Scott, and MGM, but it looks like this is still going to end up with an underwhelming worldwide gross and be labeled a flop. I personally enjoyed the film, but the audience for it, while certainly present, just doesn’t seem to be big enough to support the cost of the production. Continued drops like this would have it finishing its domestic run with a low $40 millions gross while a continued 50/50 split between domestic and overseas revenue will guarantee it losing the studio money. The film’s only real hope for a chance at breaking even is if its awards chances materalize. That might seem like a long shot, but Lady Gaga did just win the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress, beating out frontrunner Kristen Stewart as well as heavy hitters like Olivia Colman for The Lost Daughter (which, in turn, won Best First Film), Jessica Chastain for The Eyes of Tammy Faye, indie “it-girl” Alana Haim fro Licorice Pizza, and even dark horse contenders like Penelope Cruz for Parallel Mothers and Jennifer Hudson for Respect. The NYFCC is one of the four most prestigious critics groups in the country and although a win there in no way guarantees an Oscar nomination, the win for Gaga at least shows that she is still in the race.
The rest of the top ten played host to most of the usual suspects. Eternals came in at #5 with a 50% drop for a gross of $3.9 million taking it to $156 million domestic and $384 million worldwide (it’s definitely not breaking even). Shockingly, of all the films in the top ten, one of the strongest holds came from last week’s DOA release, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City! I’d completely expected the film to tank with a drop of over 60%, so imagine my surprise when the film actually held by 50% for a gross of $2.65 million in sixth place. Mind you, the film is still going to flop. This weekend’s gross only takes it to $13 million domestically and a worldwide total of $24 million on a $40 million budget (that’s an $80 million break-even point outside of P&A). Still, that is a really great hold for a horror movie, let alone one that has been called “the worst theatrical experience of the year” by some critics. The film is supposed to be more faithful to the actual Resident Evil video games than the previous Milia Jovovich-led outings so perhaps that really does carry come cache with a certain pocket of the audience. I can see this movie doing solid if not spectacular business when it hits the rental market and doing particularly well if it ever streams on Netflix. Sony recent signed a multi-million dollar deal to have Netflix as the exclusive Pay-1 window distributor of their slate of films from 2022 through 2026, and while I am not sure if Welcome to Raccoon City will fall into that package, Sony already had a good pre-existing relationship with the streamer prior to their new deal, and given that Netflix did release a photorealistic, CGI-animated tv series based on Resident Evil earlier this year, I could see that series and this film driving some decent traffic on the service.
As for the rest of the top ten, Dune came in seventh with the strongest hold of them all, just a 13% drop for a gross of $1.8 million. It would seem that shifting to theatrical exclusivity after the 31-day HBO Max concurrent release window is propping up the movie’s grosses. Having already passed $100 million domestically (it stands at $104 million now), all eyes are on Australia as the last territory to receive the film. Early reports see the film’s opening weekend in the land down under at $3.4 million, taking its worldwide gross to $382 million, $18 million from the coveted $400 million worldwide total that we’re praying for Dune to cross. That is looking more and more unlikely as time marches on, especially given that Denis Villeneuve’s last directorial outing, the comparable Blade Runner 2049 opening to a roughly equivalent $3.5 million in Australia when it was released and only managed to leg out to $9.7 million total in the territory. Legs like that would have Dune ending its worldwide theatrical run with $388.5 million (ugh!). Hopefully, Dune‘s upcoming IMAX re-release and a potential slew of Oscar nominations (including maybe Best Picture, which would be deserved, and Best Director, which is distinctly possible) can give the film the necessary shot in the arm to give it that PR-friendly gross, but alas, I’m going to stop holding my breath.
After that, it was pretty much all downhill for everyone else. Clifford, the Big Red Dog tumbled a sharper than expected (for a family film with no competition) 64% for a $1.8 million gross in eighth place, putting it at $45.7 million domestic and making think it might not make it to $50 million (it also opened overseas this weekend and is looking soft). King Richard saw a much bigger drop as well with 63% for a gross of $1.2 million and a domestic haul of $13.4 million (not even Oscar can save it now). The above mentioned Sword Art Online took tenth place, in so pushing Venom: Let There Be Carnage and presumably No Time to Die (whose grosses have mysteriously yet to be reported) officially out of the top ten. No need to cry for those two as both are still doing excellent business worldwide (Venom 2, for what it’s worth, held 35% for a gross of $1.035 million and will likely end its domestic run with solidly the same domestic haul as its predecessor).
In the specialty market, there were highs, lows, and more proof that something, anything, should have expanded into a wide release this weekend to build its momentum. Belfast, to its credit, made an effort and added 127 theaters, but it was already basically wide so it dropped 48% for a gross of about $500k. The film is likely to end its run with just about $6 million domestic, roughly tying Spencer. As far as I can tell, it has yet to open anywhere overseas and specifically will not open in the UK until January 12th. That will be interesting to watch as the film does touch on UK (specifically Northern Irish) history and I wonder how the public will respond. C’mon C’mon expanded nicely into 565 theaters (up 463 from last week) and saw a nice boost of +57% for a gross of $462k. Its domestic total stands at a healthy (for an indie) $1.138 million, and I am hearing this movie mentioned more and more in conversation as it rolls out. A friend of mine from work even saw it and says it might be the best movie he’s seen all year, so it seems that C’mon C’mon is indeed cementing itself as a dark horse Oscar contender, largely (and fascinatingly) by playing its release like an old-school, pre-pandemic Oscar contender.
Speaking of old-school, pre-pandemic Oscar releases, Licorice Pizza did not expand (as it clearly should’ve) this weekend and instead remained in just four theaters. To be fair, it did still command the highest per-theater average of the weekend with a very strong $55K, dropping only 35% from last week and grossing $223k in sixteenth place. Not at all shabby, but I would highly recommend that the film start expanding its theater count in the coming weeks. Licorice Pizza reportedly expands into wide release on Christmas Eve, and it would do well to steadily grow its theater count and build up a bit more momentum so it doesn’t get drowned out it a deluge of awards film, Christmas hopefuls, and the juggernaut that is Spider-Man: No Way Home barreling down the pipeline. It has the reviews, it has the awards buzz, and it has Paul Thomas Andersons name attached; Licorice Pizza is as well fortified as it can be, time to let it fly.
Quick shout out to The French Dispatch, the Wes Anderson indie heavyweight that brought the specialty market back to life and kept its heart beating for 2 months, which saw a strong 36% hold and will likely be leaving us soon, and newly-minted NYFCC Best Film Awards-winner, the Japanese Drive My Car, which got a great +98% boost for a gross of $27k (its domestic haul totals $58k in two weeks). As for the newcomers, Netflix’s Hand of God is not reporting grosses, as is typical of theatrical releases for Neflix fare. The only other newbies were Focus Features’ Wolf and IFC Film’s Benedetta, which both made little impact. Paul Verhoven’s transgressive lesbian nun film opened in muted 202 theaters, virtually guaranteeing a total lack of impact. It appropriately took in $145k for a terrible per-theater average of $718. Numbers like these do not an awards contender make, though IFC, which is highly prolific as a distributor of independent dramas, comedies, horror films, and foreign films, likely doesn’t care as they have so many titles they’ve released this year that they are probably swimming in money (as least as much as an indie distributor can). Benedetta has great reviews and is reportedly dropping on PVOD for rental next weekend, where it will likely clean up on the strength of Paul Verhoven’s name alone.
Wolf, on the other hand, is an unmitigated…well….not a flop as it isn’t an expensive film and was likely never to be a crowdpleaser, but I’m certain Focus was not expecting the film to debut this low. Coming in at #19 on the list, Nathalie Biancheri’s drama about a man who believes himself to be a wolf took in a paltry 81k in 308 theaters (that is such a terrible opening theater count) with a $263 per-theater average. Now, I am positive this film will have cult appeal, and per Universals agreement with AMC (and aI assume Cineworld and other major theater chains), the film will be available to rent on PVOD in just 17 days where it will likely find an audience. That said, while the theater count is not high, it is high enough for practically anyone to watch it in theaters (especially if you live within a few miles of a metropolitan area) so no one can say it wasn’t playing near them. I bring this up because I just know when Spider-Man comes out to huge grosses at the box office and Sony confirms their plans for another trilogy for films starring Tom Holland, there will be an outcry of “Originality in Hollywood is dead!” Before anyone decides to say that, I hope they take the time to remember that Wolf, a small independent drama, about a boy who thinks he’s a wolf who falls in love with a girl who thinks she’s a wildcat, that isn’t based on a pre-existing property, did indeed come out this past weekend with a pretty wide availability for a film this unconventional, and for all intents and purposes no one ventured out to see it. Now, by no means is anyone obligated to watch a movie if they aren’t interested, or can’t, for one reason or another (I personally was not interested in the movie myself), and to be fair, the reviews are thoroughly mixed (the concept is being criticized but the performances are being praised), but, warts and all, Wolf is the exact kind of original, ambitious, “trying to do something new”-kind of movie that many people feel isn’t made any more in favor of comic book blockbusters, and it was relatively available for all to see. Hollywood is a business, and in so, only responds to money, therefore, when the industry sees a product like Wolf not make a dent in theaters, there is little incentive to try and make anything “new.”