Sonic the Hedgehog 2 proves the value of listening to your audience while Ambulance arguable does the same (by not doing so). Meanwhile, Morbius officially fails while The Lost City recovers some steam and Everything Everywhere makes a splashy wide debut!
Weekend Box Office Top 10 (Apr 8th-10th) / 3-Day Weekend Gross / Percent Change from Last Week / Weekend # / Distributor), Weekend Actuals:
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2 / $72.1 million / (N/A) / Weekend 1 / Paramount Pictures
- Morbius / $10.2 million / -74% / Weekend 2 / Sony (Columbia)
- The Lost City / $9.02 million / -39% / Weekend 2 / Paramount Pictures
- Ambulance / $8.7 million / (N/A) / Weekend 1 / Universal Pictures
- The Batman / $6.45 million / -41% / Weekend 6 / Warner Bros.
- Everything, Everywhere, All At Once / $6.06 million / +462% / Weekend 3 / A24
- Uncharted / $2.63 million / -28% / Weekend 8 / Sony (Columbia)
- Jujutsu Kaisen 0 / $825K / -82% / Weekend 4 / Funimation (Crunchyroll)
- Spider-Man: No Way Home / $625K / -57% / Weekend 13 / Sony (Columbia)
- RRR: Rise, Roar, Revolt / $570K million / -65% / Weekend 3 / Sarigama Cinemas
11. Sing 2 / $220K / -75% / Weekend 16 / Universal Pictures
12. UFC 273: Volkanovski vs. The Korean Zombie / $180K / (N/A) / Weekend 1 / Iconic Releasing
13. Selena (25th Anniversary Re-release) / $141K / (N/A) / (N/A) / Iconic Releasing
21. Aline / $21K / +90,008% / Weekend 20 / Roadside Attractions
As expected, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 did indeed become a runaway success! However, it still managed to surprise by coming in ahead of even the inflated expectations based on Friday’s grosses, giving Paramount its fourth major opening weekend of the year. That same cannot be said, however, for Michael Bay’s Ambulance, which turned in the lowest opening of his career. Overall, outside of Sonic, it was a bit of a depressed weekend with three entries in the top ten coming in under $1 million. Still, there were several goodies sprinkled in.
With regard to just how well Sonic 2 actually ended up doing, the film had already been tracking for around a $60 million debut before a Friday gross of $26.5 million raised those expectations up to $67-69 million in most of the trades. Even that projection was not enough, however, as Sunday estimates found the film coming in at $71 million, a huge jump from the original film’s opening weekend of $58 million. With weekend actuals officially in, we’re looking at a huge $72 million dollar opening weekend! One could get technical (or cynical, take your pick) and state that the original Sonic the Hedgehog movie opened to $70 million dollars itself given that it did open over the 4-Day Presidents Day weekend in 2020, but even there the comparison is still very strong as Sonic 2 came in ahead of that number and did so in just three days rather than four.
I’ve already detailed Sonic‘s road to the big screen in my last post, but it bears repeating that this film franchise has an amazing level of fan goodwill thanks to Paramount and Jeff Fowler’s willingness to heed fan criticism and adjust their film to cater to the Sonic fanbase (who ostensibly are the core of the franchise). Their moves prior to the release of the first film as well as the surprise success and quality of it (plus the promise of fan-favorite characters appearing in a potential sequel) set Sonic 2 up for even greater success upon its release. The creative team expanded the sequel’s story and scope to include many more references to the original games while Paramount was able to smartly position the film at just the right moment to take advantage of a gap in the kid-targeted film market. We’ve talked at length in these posts about the amazing success and endurance of Sing 2 as it was able to carve out a niche for its by being the only real “kid-friendly” option for family audiences over the past few months, pulling in $162 million domestic since its Christmas debut. With that film winding down and finally starting to really leave theaters, Paramount smartly set up Sonic 2‘s debut to take its place, and sure enough, its worked wonders.
While critics have been mixed on the film (as they were with its predecessor), word of mouth from audiences had been stellar, as we can see from the film’s A Cinemascore and its 74% recommend on ComScore. One can also see the strength of its word of mouth in the film’s actual daily grosses, which showcase a pattern that we rarely see nowadays, a growth from Friday to Saturday. As mentioned above, Friday’s grosses came in at a massive $26.5 million, but Saturday managed to not only hold on to that audience but grow it to $26.8 million. Furthermore, if you were to take out the film’s $6.25 million in Thursday night preview grosses (grosses that get rolled into the Friday gross total), you’d see an even bigger jump from $20.25 million to $26.8 million, a leap of +32%. Numbers like this not only indicate great word-of-mouth but also speak to Sonic 2‘s kid-friendly appeal as many pundits did note that a large percentage of the film’s revenue this weekend came from Saturday matinee screenings. In any case, a $72 million opening primes Sonic 2 for a very healthy run, and with an extra $70 million in international grosses, this $110 million feature already has taken in $142 million right off the bat.
The only question left here becomes just how much the film will indeed leg out. It’s a bit difficult to say in this regard as the first film’s run (the best comparison here) was notably cut short by the start of the pandemic. To its credit, the first Sonic the Hedgehog‘s legs were still rock-solid with a x2.52 multiplier. A run like that at the domestic box office would take Sonic 2 to $181.4 million, and if the film is to maintain the same domestic/overseas split as its predecessor (another tricky to predict variable as COVID was already spreading overseas when Sonic first debuted), its final worldwide tally would land around $378 million. All that said, like with Sing 2, Sonic 2 really is the only “kid-targeted” option for younger moviegoers, frankly, through June 17th when Lightyear from Pixar debuts. One could argue that Universal’s The Bad Guys could breakout and pose a threat to Sonic (and to be fair, that movie looks genuinely excellent), but Sonic is based on an established property and has such a large amount of momentum out of the gate that I’m inclined to believe that The Bad Guys will pose little threat. Sonic 2 absolutely will not have Sing 2 legs (it being a Christmas release which gave it a multiplier of x7.27!), but a x3 multiplier might just be in order, which would pull Sonic 2 past the $200 million mark domestically, making it the first non-comic book movie of the pandemic (and first videogame movie of all time) to do so. We’ll see what happens, but Sonic 2 is absolutely primed for success.
As for the number two spot at the box office this weekend, Morbius officially locked in a -74% drop, confirming once and for all that audiences were not on board with the film. I’ve seen a lot of derision amongst pundits, many of whom seem to be chastising anyone who dared argue that Morbius was an “audience favorite” in spite of its poor critical reception, stating that there was nothing about this opening weekend or exit polling scores to at all suggest that it had a “quiet fanbase” that would drive it to box office success. While I do agree that there was nothing that suggested Morbius was an audience favorite in spite of its reviews, I do take issue with the aggressiveness against those who felt it could be a possibility. If you remember from last weekend, Morbius‘ debut, while not at all strong, wasn’t necessarily weak either. The film came in with $39 million domestically, generally in line with expectations, and opened “okay” worldwide with about $84 million. I personally labeled the film with a giant question mark as I didn’t feel there was much of a way to get an exact read on the film until this past weekend. Now, seeing its -74% drop, we can officially label it a dud, but the aggressiveness and insinuation of idiocy that seems to permeate the commentaries of many critics and pundits against the anyone who defended the film feels like a bit much. Even in the grand scheme of things, Morbius‘ failure isn’t even as large as many pundits might make it sound. Grossing $10.2 million this past weekend, its domestic haul is now $57 million while also having managed to pull in $126.37 million worldwide. In all likelihood, Morbius will end its domestic run with roughly $70 million, and a continued 44%/55% split between domestic and international grosses would have its worldwide total finalizing at $155 million which, on a $75 million budget, breaks even. Ancillary revenue will likely make up the difference in advertising and distribution costs so, while Sony will likely not be revisiting Jared Leto’s Morbius any time soon, they’re not likely to lose much money on it either. In the end, Morbius is a box office whiff; no need to kick it while it’s down, just let it go.
Third place saw some better news, this time for The Lost City which managed to recover a bit from its steeper than expected fall last weekend with a hold of -39%. This gave it a gross of $9 million and took its overall domestic haul to $68.7 million. A hold like this makes a lot of sense given that this was a very male-focused weekend with the likes of Sonic 2 debuting alongside Ambulance (more on that in a moment) and Morbius holding over with The Batman. As a result, the prudently positioned Lost City ended up being the only major movie this weekend targeted specifically at older women and thus continues to rake in the dough. I must admit I am a bit worried as The Lost City, despite good positioning, is slowing down faster than I would’ve wanted it to. I was highly hopeful that Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum’s star power would power the film to a domestic gross of $100 million, but it’s looking more and more like the film will be finalizing with a domestic gross closer to $80-85 million. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as that would be the strongest domestic performance for a non-IP-based movie since Dog with $61.2 million, and the strongest domestic finish for a female-led vehicle since House of Gucci with $53.8 million, clearly showing that Sandra Bullock still has a lot of pull with moviegoers. The movie also still has several territories to open in worldwide, notably most of Europe where it will be opening this coming weekend as well as Brazil, Mexico, and Japan. Still, it’s a shame to see its domestic performance peter out as fast as it’s going, and suggests a distinct cap on just how much a non-franchise film can make in this day and age. Never say never as Paramount has shown itself to be very savvy so far this year and maybe they can push it past the $100 million domestic mark, but I’m keeping my expectation in check for now. The Lost City still looks to be the most female-skewing film in theaters until Downton Abbey: A New Age arrives on May 20th, so it certainly has a lot of runway.
Fourth place went to our other new entrant into the marketplace, Michael Bay’s Ambulance, and, unfortunately, the news here was not so good as the reported $40 million heist thriller opened to just $8.7 million. Aside from being just absolutely dismal for a film of this budget, that opening is the lowest of Bay’s directorial career. It’s a shame because I had honestly high hopes for this film, which was pitched as “in the vein of Speed” and seemed like the perfect film for Bay to use his technical prowess while also stripping back his style and the less appealing elements of his overall aesthetic (heavy product placement, objectification of women, focus on spectacle over story, and other elements that audiences have generally come to dislike about his films) to just craft a taut, compelling thriller. I was admittedly disappointed when the first trailer for the film opened with a swooping aerial shot that loops around a building in LA to follow a car chase, an indicator to me that Bay was likely still indulging in his more “over-the-top” habits instead of focusing on good storytelling. Stronger than expected reviews slightly restored my faith, but it turns out that it was mostly in vain given how low that debut was. Sure enough, Ambulance played like a typical Michael Bay movie, skewing male at 62%, and older with 77% of the audience being over 25, and 49% of the audience being over 35, telling me that the film did indeed fall into Bay’s tired “spectacle-over-story” aesthetic.
I’ve actually been thinking about Ambulance a lot more than I otherwise would have, in large part because I was hoping it would be something a bit different. In fact, as a comparison, the movie that specifically came to mind when I would muse in anticipation of Ambulance was The Lost City. Both seem incomparable at first, but when one remembers that the film was pitched as a modern version of Speed, it all comes into focus. That (frankly brilliant) 1994 thriller, which also starred Sandra Bullock, is the kind of film that we rarely see anymore: a straightforward action-adventure whose appeal boils down to just watching good, appealing actors (Bullock, Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, and even Jeff Daniels) act out a tense scenario. Speed is simple yet taut and story-focused, allowing the action to push the narrative forward and never once failing to engage. While certainly full of special effects, compared to the standards of many action films these days, Speed is actually not very flashy, only getting stylish to punctuate certain moments and that works like a charm! It’s an old-school film that isn’t trying to be anything more than it is, a thrill ride.
I brought up The Lost City earlier largely because this other Sandra Bullock movie where the appeal is largely rooted in those same elements. The Lost City is a throwback movie to era movies weren’t trying to be anything more than they were, just fun entertainment. It harkens back not only to films like Romancing the Stone, but also films from Bullock’s oeuvre which were firmly built around her charm and comedic ability. While I have stated that The Lost City isn’t doing as well as I would’ve personally hoped, it’s still doing quite well, and in no small part due to the fact that by relying predominately on Bullock and Tatum’s appeal and chemistry, the movie feels fresh in a sea of effects-driven franchise blockbusters. Instead of CGI spectacle or the draw of an established property, Bullock is both the draw and her own special effect. Once again, we have another old-school movie that is concerned with one thing above all else, being entertaining.
Ambulance feels like the perfect film to follow in these footsteps, having the potential to be a stripped-back thrill ride focused solely on being entertaining and leaning on A-list talent like Jake Gyllenhaal (and to a lesser degree Yahya Abdul Mateen II and Eiza Gonzalez; both talented in their own rights but not yet “names”) to provide that special sauce. However, instead of taking a stripped-back approach, Bay opted for his typical schtick, putting the emphasis on the spectacle of stunts, effects, and action set pieces, instead of allowing the story to build and dictate where it needs emphasis. While the instinct to be visually bold and striking instead of focusing on the story may have been a driver of Bay’s success earlier in his directorial career, that style of filmmaking has largely gone out of fashion with audiences and become somewhat uncommercial. For evidence, one need only look at the declining domestic, and eventually, international grosses of the Transformers film franchise to prove just how far out of love audiences have fallen with Michael Bay.
To be clear, I don’t have a problem with Bay’s style or even think that it is necessarily bad. Yes, it gets in the way of the story and yes turns women into objects but I don’t necessarily think that is a reflection of his beliefs and values (the man comes from a background in advertising, having shot literal award-winning campaigns for Victoria’s Secret, Nike, Miller Lite, and even the original “Got Milk?” ad, so clearly he knows that sex, style, and spectacle all sell and it’s hard to blame him for carrying that into his movies). The problem with his style, however, is that Bay has become a parody of himself in a lot of ways, and it’s hard for people to buy a movie ticket for a film (and, implicitly, a director) they really don’t take seriously,; at least, no as seriously as that film (and that director) takes itself. Ambulance clearly did something right as with a 67% on Rotten Tomatoes (5.7/10 as the average score), the film is actually Bay’s best-reviewed directorial effort, but the impression that the trailer gives is that it’s just another run-of-the-mill “explosive movie” from Michael Bay with little else to offer. Had Bay had a little more self-awareness, and a willingness to pull back and let the story drive the drama instead of the spectacle, we might be having a different conversation as Ambulance might have fallen more in line with The Lost City as a non-franchise movie that is solely out to entertain you. Instead, the film just looks like another entry in the “Michael Bay Cinematic Universe”, a franchise that audiences have proven to be a bit sick of.
So, what’s the outlook for Ambulance and Bay’s career? Well, honestly, Bay and his talented cast will likely be totally fine. While Bay’s directing has become cliched at this point, the man is still a very prolific producer with a surprisingly diverse resume of films and TV series coming from his production company, Platinum Dunes, including A Quiet Place, The Purge, and even Amazon’s Jack Ryan series. He’s so successful in that regard that Sony just signed him to a major multi-year producing deal for film and television, so he’ll be just fine (though we’ll see if he directs again any time soon). His stars, Gyllenhaal, Mateen, and Gonzalez will also be fine as Gyllenhaal is a name talent, Mateen is an Emmy winner and rising star, and Gonzalez’s charisma, genuine talent, and strikingly gorgeous looks have made her something of a Hollywood “It Girl”. The only party that really looks to lose out here is Universal, but even there we find a surprising wrinkle in this scenario as Universal is not actually the one footing the $40 million bill here. Instead, the savvy studio only signed on to distribute the picture which is fully financed by Endeavor Content and New Republic Pictures. To be clear, Universal is still going to lose money on this picture as it is unlikely to gross all that much even if it ends up having great legs. That said, it will not be nearly as much as it otherwise would’ve been given that their exposure is primarily limited to marketing costs. At the end of the day, Endeavor Content, whose corporate sibling, talent agency WME, reps Bay (and Gyllenhaal, Mateen, and Gonzalez; hence how this project got put together) looks to really be losing with this venture. If anything, the agents at WME should encourage Bay to step out of his comfort zone and try a new directing style; one that maintains its technical skills (which are genuinely great) but focuses more on story than set pieces. As a producer, Bay already knows the importance of diversifying your portfolio, so it would behoove him to do the same as a director.
Rounding out the top five is The Batman with a hold of -41% for a gross of $6.45 million, taking its domestic total to $358.9 million. So far, that is the best domestic total for a movie this year and a very nice win for Warner Bros. film division as the company official heads into its merger with Discovery. It’s not likely to make it to $400 million, especially with the announcement that The Batman will be debuting on HBO Max on April 18th for no extra charge, but it’s still a really great run that is likely to top out around $375 million. Internationally, The Batman has pretty much slowed to a crawl and will not be hitting $800 million, which I have to imagine is a bit concerning for Warner Bros. brass, but it does set the stage for the film to break out big time should a sequel be released. The HBO Max debut will certainly bring about a new wave of buzz for the film.
As for the rest of the top ten, Everything Everywhere All At Once actually ended up showing off its impressive might as it managed to push into sixth place with a genuinely strong wide release debut of $6 million. I’d suspected the film had the potential to do this kind of business in wide release given its successful and calculated expansion from its limited run. My personal comparison had been to A24’s Midsommar which debuted with $6.5 million, but I neglected to consider another, likely more apt comparison in that of The Green Knight. That fantastical and dream-like interpretation of the famed Arthurian legend of Gawain (which also happened to be one of my favorite movies of last year) has a similarly noncommercial vibe to Everything Everywhere All At Once yet, thanks to clever marketing and a real push for mainstream relevance on the part of A24, managed a staggeringly high (for this kind of film) opening weekend of $6.7 million and ended up grossing $17.17 million total at the domestic box office. Given its similarly off-kilter sensibility (though it is admittedly a faster-paced story), Everything Everywhere All At Once looks poised to follow in The Green Knight’s footsteps and perhaps even exceed it. For a film of this ilk, a $6 million debut in the top ten is nothing to sneeze at, and given that it only went wide in 1,250 theaters (with a very solid per-theater-average gross of $4,847; of the top five per-theater-averages of the weekend), it would seem that there is absolutely room for the film to expand. While I would not go fully wide with 2,000+ theaters just yet, if I were A24, I might consider trying to push the film into 1,800 theaters this coming weekend to continue the film’s slow and steady build-up at the mainstream box office. In any case, it’s a fantastic debut for this kooky little movie and a great start for a potential Best Actress campaign for Michelle Yeoh.
Seventh place housed Uncharted, which continues to do great business even in its eighth week of release with a very strong hold of -28%, the best of the top ten, for a gross of $2.63 million, taking it to $142 million domestic and $383 million worldwide. Whether the film reaches $400 million or not is an open question, but it looks more and more likely to be heading for a final domestic tally of $150 million which would make it the highest-grossing videogame film of all time in the US. I spoke at length above about the appeal of a film whose sole purpose is to entertain, and Uncharted very clearly borrows from that playbook in crafting a fun action-adventure-treasure hunting film in the vein of the beloved National Treasure franchise. It’s a formula that clearly works and should be adopted by more studios when crafting their films.
As for the rest of the top ten, places eight, nine, and ten all went to films whose grosses dipped beneath $1 million; no doubt a byproduct of Sonic 2 taking up a lot of space in the market. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 and RRR: Rise, Roar, Revolt, each ended up sticking around in the top ten with $825K and $570K in eighth and tenth place respectively. Good for them, even if those grosses were the results of an -82% and -65% drop, respectively. Regarding RRR, it should be noted that the S. S. Rajamouli historical fiction epic crossed a major box office milestone this weekend by officially grossing 1,000 crore (the equivalent of $132 million) worldwide and becoming the third highest-grossing Indian film of all time at the worldwide box office. RRR’s continued success is causing me to genuinely ponder if any American studio will ever consider snapping up Rajamouli to direct an epic for them as it could truly be a mega-crossover hit for both the American and Indian film markets, which would be historic. Elsewhere, completing our top ten in ninth place is that of No Way Home which officially was K.O.’d by Sonic 2‘s entrance into the fray, losing 696 theaters and dropping -57% (its biggest drop) for a gross of $626K. We likely will not be seeing much more of this film, but $803 million domestic and $1.891 billion worldwide seems like a great way to send Spider-Man off. Until next time, Web-Slinger!
Finishing off with the specialty market, we had two notable event releases with the 25th Anniversary re-release of Jennifer Lopez’s Selena and a theatrical screening of the Volkanovski vs. the Korean Zombie UFC fight (both through Iconin Releasing) though neither made a huge impression. One movie that did make a huge impression on me, however, was Aline, a French-Canadian comedy-drama that espouses itself to be “a fiction freely inspired by the life of Celine Dion”, charting the rise of a young Canadian singer who eventually becomes an international musical star. I only started seeing previews for this film, released by Roadside Attractions, this past week yet, apparently, this film had been playing for 20 weeks at the North American box office. I can only imagine that it has been primarily playing in Canada, but it officially broke into the American market this weekend with an expansion from one theater to 61 theaters and a whopping +90,008% increase in its grosses from weekend to weekend, taking in $21K. The trailer looks silly and over-the-top and the reviews are decidedly mixed but the positive notices for the film proclaim it to be a rapturous experience and it did receive 10 nominations at the Cesar Awards (the French equivalent of the Oscars), winning Best Actress, so I find myself utterly intrigued and will likely rent the picture down the line.
To close out this late box office report, I have one more tidbit of great news for a movie we all love, Sing 2. Yes, all though it dropped out of the top ten a few weeks ago, the film has still been going pretty strong, and with its gross of $220K this weekend, it officially topped $400 million globally! What a great moment to bookend the pandemic box office with. Obviously, the pandemic is still not over, but with major movies coming down the pipeline almost every weekend from now on, the box office looks to be seriously coming back into full swing, and it seems only fitting that one of the most resilient and leggy movies of last year should essentially finish its run this weekend and usher us into a newer, healthy stage of box office business. Thank you Sing 2!