We’ll discuss West Side Story in a separate post, but outside of that, it was an empty weekend thanks to National Champions barely registering. There were great holds across the board though!
Weekend Box Office Top 10 (Dec 10-12): (Title / Weekend Gross / Percent Change from Last Week / Weekend # / Distributor), Sunday Estimates:
- West Side Story / $10,500,000 / (N/A) / Weekend 1 / Disney (20th Century Studios)
- Encanto / $9,425,000 / -28% / Weekend 3 / Disney
- Ghostbusters: Afterlife / $7,100,000 / -31% / Weekend 4 / Sony (Columbia)
- House of Gucci / $4,060,749 / -42% / Weekend 3 / United Artists (MGM)
- Eternals / $3,100,000 / -24% / Weekend 6 / Disney (Marvel)
- Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City / $1,650,000 / -39% / Weekend 3 / Sony (Screen Gems)
- Clifford, the Big Red Dog / $1,345,000 / -30% / Weekend 5 / Paramount (w/ Paramount+)
- Christmas With the Chosen / $1,290,000 / Weekend 2 / -70% / Fathom Events
- Dune / $857,000 / -54% / Weekend 8 / Warner Bros.
- Venom: Let There Be Carnage / $850,000 / -15% / Weekend 11 / Sony (Columbia)
12. King Richard / $530,000 / -57% / Weekend 4 / Warner Bros. (w/ HBO Max)
13. National Champions / $300,000 / (N/A) / Weekend 1 / STX Entertainment
16. C’mon C’mon / $177,322 / -62% / Weekend 4 / A24
17. Licorice Pizza / $176,359 / -27% / Weekend 3 / United Artists (MGM) ($44K per theater, 4 theaters)
18. Red Rocket / $96,593 / (N/A) / Weekend 1 / A24 ($16,099 per theater, 6 theaters)
Wow, this is hard to watch. Honest to God, since we’ve gotten back to pre-pandemic levels (more or less) at the box office, this might be the worst weekend we’ve had. You know it’s bad not only when only one film in the top ten manages to get over $10 million, but even more so when more than one film (two in this case) gross less than $1 million. Yikes!
Now, to be fair, it is not only the Christmas season ( I just finished my shopping! More or less…), but we have a very, very, very pressing engagement next weekend with Spider-Man: No Way Home. I absolutely believe that given how much financial pressure that people are under right now, many bought their tickets for No Way Home early and are waiting until next weekend to head out to theaters. You can’t blame them (though many are and we will touch on that in a moment…), movies are expensive. It’s $12-15 for an evening ticket, and with many theaters converting themselves into more upscale venues (thank God), it’s only getting more expensive. Plus, with the average moviegoer only heading out to theaters once a month, No Way Home absolutely has taken root with the public and will not let any other films breathe until the weekend after next, if that!
Unfortunately for all other movies and studios, the result of this is depressed grosses. To be fair, many films actually had stronger holds this weekend, credit to them having stuck around long enough to establish a solid audience and stabilize their revenue flow. However, both new releases, West Side Story and National Champions, massively underperformed. I talk about West Side Story in a separate post that I will link here but sufficed to say that it’s a bit unsurprising that a remake of a remake didn’t play all that well with just a $10.5 million opening for a $100 million picture. Where I will begin in this post is with National Champions, a film which, as I feared might happen, debuted outside the top ten with just $300K despite being released in 1,197 theaters. It would be one thing if the film had debuted in under 1,000 theaters, but that this wide release came nowhere near the $1 million mark is absolutely insane and fully the fault of its distributor, STX Entertainment.
Oh, STX. Poor poor STX. I’ve had such an incredible love/hate relationship with this distributor, I almost feel like a disappointed parent. Truly one of the last film studios actively making old school, moderately budgeted films aimed at adults that aren’t based on an existing property, just a good actor matched with a good concept, I’ve defended them before for the quality of their films which I feel frequently goes unnoticed or is downright unappreciated. Starting with their first-ever release, the deeply disturbing but skilfully acted and directed directorial debut of Joel Edgerton, The Gift, to breaking into the mainstream with their hit Bad Moms, and continuing with really compelling films like My Spy, Den of Thieves, I Feel Pretty, Second Act (both of which I adore), and more recently, the fantastically written Hustlers, the delightfully dark and nasty I Care a Lot, the sugary actioner Gunpowder Milkshake, and the wildly deranged and hilarious Queenpins, I’ve always admired STX’s willingness to embrace a concept wholeheartedly and run with it. Moreover, I’ve always been very impressed with how they handle their budgets, generally selling off the foreign distribution rights in order to cover at least half the film’s costs and giving them a solid chance to profit in their theatrical runs. This willingness to sell rights and pivot when necessary came in handy when the pandemic hit as STX was quickly able to sell some of their slate to remain solvent like they did with I Care a Lot, Gunpowder Milkshake (both to Netflix), and My Spy (to Amazon where a sequel is in development). Some may consider that hedging your bets, but in a market that doesn’t take kindly to films like these, managing your budgets is just smart.
The problem with STX is that after crafting solidly entertaining films that really can compete and find an audience, the company usually proceeds to leave them hanging and not set them up to succeed. This isn’t necessarily always the case as they handled the releases of Bad Moms, A Bad Moms Christmas, The Upside, and Hustler quite well and shepherded them to become the four highest-grossing films for the company. However, for the vast majority of their other films, STX seems content to just plop them in theaters and watch them sink. I first noticed this when they barely did any marketing or publicity for their R-rated muppets spoof, The Happytime Murders. The company said they could do little publicity because star Melissa McCarthy was busy filming Superintelligence and couldn’t do any press. In hindsight, it probably would have behooved them to either push the movie back or have McCarthy dedicated at least a little time to press, because even though the film had terrible reviews, based on the film’s budget, how well McCarthy can open a film, and the fact that half the budget was likely covered by foreign pre-sales, instead of downright flopping in theaters, The Happytime Murders may have actually been able to break-even during its theatrical run and then made a tiny profit in the ancillary market. If only the effort had been made on the marketing side of things.
STX once again did this with Queenpins earlier this year. Now, with time, more context has come to light. STX, financed mostly by Chinese investors, has been having a rough go of it financially, so much so that they were purchased in mid-2020 by an India conglomerate, Eros, and rebranded as ErosSTX in the hope that new management and a new infrastructure, one that would allow them to tap into the highly lucrative Indian entertainment market, might help them become more profitable. To their credit, I Care a Lot and Gunpowder Milkshake were helped in securing distribution deals that lead them to great success on Netflix, with Golden Globe win for Rosamund Pike for I Care a Lot and a sequel in development for Gunpowder Milkshake. On the flipside, STX seemingly took this financial cushion and used it to sit on their laurels, learning nothing and not making an effort to switch things up. With Queenpins, the coupon scam comedy starring Kristen Bell, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Paul Walter Hauser, and Vince Vaughn, they smartly sold the streaming rights to the film to both Paramount+ and Showtime Network for a sum in the $20+ million range, which more than covered the budget for the film and essentially guaranteed it instantaneous profitability prior to its theatrical release. Unfortunately, STX then must have decided that this was just fine, and promptly only lightly advertised the film’s theatrical release, dropped into a much more limited number of theaters than anyone could have anticipated, and let it quickly fade into oblivion while rushing it to streaming platforms. One could argue that they had already made money on the film, but the fact that they didn’t put in the effort to have the film get an even moderately successful run in theaters (which would have been pure profit, all things considered) that they could then parley into an even more successful streaming launch is absolutely absurd. Moreover, while the film is in the black, putting on streaming services so quickly kills its rentability down the line, cutting into any and all downstream revenue. In other words, STX has proven itself to care more about the short-term revenue gain than the much larger long-term profit.
How does this relate to National Champions? Well, just like Queenpins, it was barely advertised. Scratch that, it wasn’t advertised, almost at all. Yes, there was one trailer for the film which follows a group of college football players who strike against their league in a fight for better compensation for putting their bodies and overall health on the line for their school’s profits, but that was all. Despite the absolute bare minimum of advertising, STX then unceremoniously dumped the movie into 1,192 theaters for a gross of $300K, one of the lowest grosses ever for a wide-release film. I personally was looking forward to this film, the premise is fascinating and the cast is stacked with some of your favorite character actors working today, but the fact that STX did truly nothing to support their own product boggles my mind, especially given that the film is reportedly very cheap ($8-9 million budget) so even a low-single figure million dollar debut, which absolutely possible with a movie starring J.K. Simmons that was properly advertised, would go a long way to setting the film up for financial success in the long run, particularly in the ancillary market. The film’s reviews were not incredible, but they weren’t bad either, and had people known it was in theaters, more would have sought it out and more would be able to recommend it for rent down the line. It’s exactly the kind of movie that Netflix could lease in a year or two (for possibly twice its budget) and have it be the most watch movie in America on their service for a weekend. All that would have been possible had STX tried just the slightest bit harder to release this film properly, but in what I can only surmise must be some kind of cost-cutting measure, they didn’t market the film and now no one even knows that it exists. STX’s merger with Eros fell apart last week due to financial issues and the distributor has now been acquired by the Najafi Companies in a deal worth $173 million (which is hilariously less than what Bad Mom‘s grossed worldwide in summer 2016). It’s not surprising, but no less sad, that this promising company is going through its second acquisition in a little over a year because it refused to learn.
On to better news, as mentioned above, the rest of the top ten actually held much better than I expected in most cases. While the grosses failed to lift the overall week, the individual films will benefit greatly. In second place, coming after West Side Story, Encanto saw an immaculate hold of just 28% resulting in a gross of $9.4 million and taking its domestic gross to $71.3 million. It’s a great upswing from last weekend and might just allow the film to cross the $100 million domestic mark in the next two weeks before it becomes available for “free” on Disney+. I’m sure it will blow up on the service and drive a lot of traffic, but it would be a nice feather in the film’s cap, PR-wise, if it can still cross $100 million, just as an affirmation of Disney’s continued box office strength. Worldwide, the film is at $151.8 million.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife also saw a fabulous hold of 31% percent in third place for a gross of $7.1 million and $116.6 million domestic. Its worldwide cume of $164.5 million means that it has officially broken even on its budget. We’re looking to see now if it can make to the $200 million in order to achieve full-on profitability, but this hold bodes well. On a side note, the fact that both these films, Afterlife and Encanto (as well as several others) saw such strong holds after being weaker in earlier weeks really speaks to the lack of competition this weekend, which itself speaks to just how poorly West Side Story performed.
The last two spots in the top five went to House of Gucci and Eternals, respectively. House of Gucci clearly saw little of its audience draw away by West Side Story as it saw its best hold of 42%, grossing $4 million in fourth place (haha funny). Lady Gaga reaffirmed that she was still in the Oscar race with her NYFCC Best Actress win last week, and while I’m still iffy about her Oscar prospects, I have no doubt in my mind that she is indeed a butts-in-seats movie star as House of Gucci really is defying the odds and muscling through to stay in the top ten. Maybe it’s the wigs, maybe it’s the glamor, maybe it’s drama, maybe it’s all of the above, but Gaga is clearly in her sweet spot and fans are eating it up. Currently, its domestic haul is $41 million while the international box office kicked into gear for the film in a big way as its overseas grosses total $52 million for a worldwide cume of $93 million. $100 million worldwide looks very much like it’s in the cards and while that still means House of Gucci is a flop, that is still higher than I expected it to climb last weekend so bravo! Eternals, meanwhile, also saw its best hold with a 24% drop for $3.1 million in fifth place. Like House of Gucci, that’s impressive, but it’s still a flop no matter which way you spin it (FYI, Eternals also bows on Disney+ for no extra charge on January 12th).
As for the rest of the top ten, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City also pulled another surprisingly strong hold out of thin air, dropping just 39% for a gross of $1.65 million in sixth place. Clearly, there really is a pocket of Resident Evil enthusiasts that like this more video-game accurate take on the franchise, and while it still won’t amount it a hill of beans with regard to profitability (a running theme this weekend apparently), I still hold strong in my conviction that Welcome to Raccoon City will play like gangbusters on Netflix. Plus, given that Netflix not only has a Resident Evil animated TV show but is also developing video games for the surface, I’m starting to think that Netflix should start developing a new video game installment with Resident Evil‘s publisher. The possibility for growth there is excellent.
Seventh place went to Clifford, the Big Red Dog, which took full advantage of the dead weekend to grab a little more cash on its way out the doggy door with a drop of just 30% and a gross of $1.325 million. As predicted, however, last weekend’s wunderkind, Christmas with the Chosen dropped a huge 70% to $1.3 million in eighth place, taking its total gross to a final tally of $13.4 million. This was bound to happen as event pictures like this rarely ever last beyond a single weekend, and given that Christmas with the Chosen is leaving theaters as of now. Still, it’s an incredible achievement for the religious franchise and notched the record as Fathom Events highest-grossing release, all while sticking in the top ten. There are only wins to be had with this film.
Given that National Champions was a bust and didn’t make it into the top ten, Dune and Venom: Let There Be Carnage each got one last moment to bask in the glow of the top ten for more one more weekend in spots nine and ten with grosses of $857K and $850K, respectively. Fascinatingly though, Dune had the highest drop, outside of Christmas with the Chosen, of any other release in the top ten at 54%. Of all the films, I thought Dune would manage to hold on in the 10-20% range given that it had gotten IMAX screens back and that it was not on HBO MAx anymore, which contributed to last weekend’s incredible 11% hold. What I neglected to realize was that it lost its IMAX again this week thanks to the IMAX premiere of The Matrix. Yes, surprisingly, the original Matrix film has never been screened in an IMAX format, and to prime audiences for the impending release of The Matrix Resurrections in two weeks, Warner Bros. smartly decided to mark the occasion by treating audiences to a visual extravaganza of kung-fu and gun-fu in premium color and sound. It’s estimated to have taken in around $215K in 700. That, in and of itself, almost single-handedly contributed to Dune losing 269 theaters which explains its larger than expected drop. The film stands at $389 million worldwide, tantalizingly close to $400 million; so much so that if it ends up getting a ton of awards nominations this week (both the embattled Golden Globes and the opportunistic Critics Choice Awards announce nominations this week), Warner should do everything in there power to get it back into theaters and pull it across the $400 million line. Venom 2, meanwhile, is totally good to go with the best hold in the top ten, 15%, and its total domestic haul essentially matching the first film with $212 million. With $493 million worldwide, it will absolutely gross over $500 million when all is said and done.
Outside the top ten, King Richard a huge 1,252 theaters, dropping a huge 57% for a gross of $520K in twelfth place. Not even Oscar wins can do anything to help this feature out so thank goodness Warner Bros. 2021 is coming to a close. Outside of that, in the specialty market, C’mon C’mon might have officially run out of steam. After successful and steadily being able to expand its theater count while maintaining very solid indie film grosses, saw its first actual weekend to weekend drop, and it was big with 62% for a gross of $177,322. The sad thing is that it only added four theaters this weekend for a total of 569, so the fact that it is beginning to tap out means that it might have gone as far as it can go (unless Joaquin Phoenix receives some awards love). Suddenly it’s looking like a slightly better move on the part of MGM that Licorice Pizza STILL HASN’T EXPANDED BEYOND FOUR THEATERS! Clearly, MGM intends to build up as much pressure as possible before exploding Licorice Pizza into wide release on Christmas work, and given that it only fell 27% and maintains a still very strong per-theater average of ~$44K, we might just have an indie crowd-pleaser on our hands. Maybe MGM really does know what they are doing (they did make No Time to Die a success and House of Gucci has more muscle than expected). Lastly, we have our newbie indie, Red Rocket, which doesn’t look like it will be making any big foray into the Oscar race. The dramedy about a porn star who returns to his hometown popped up in eighteenth place with $96K in six theaters for a per-theater average of $16K. That’s not at all bad for an indie movie, but it does Oscar contender make. Oh well, next time Sean Baker. Don’t Look Up and Being the Ricardos also debuted in limited release but neither Netflix nor Amazon looks to have released any box office figures so, oh well!