TAGGED AS: Box Office, movies, news
Did you hear the one about the big snowstorm of 2009 that kept James Cameron’s Avatar from grossing more than $77 million its opening weekend? Well, have we ever got a story about the big Winter Storm of 2022: Inches of snow and some extreme negative temperatures kept audiences from getting out to the theaters this weekend, which also happened to include both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. As it turns out, the new Avatar and at least one new release did just fine, and there are still two full weeks of vacation left for most schools, and the warm comfort of a movie theater will continue to be an enticing option.
Avatar: The Way of Water continued its early reign with a second straight victory at the box office. Last week we showed you that Cameron’s film had the sixth-best opening ever in the month of December, which is currently the most important metric to look at, given the increase of business in the back half of the month can turn even the limpest of opening weekends into nine-digit winners. The Way of Water is obviously way ahead of any word-of-mouth surprise like The Greatest Showman, but that remains a factor even if audiences feel it’s the only spectacle out there worth braving the cold for. But the film to watch along with The Way of Water is the film ranked just above it on that all-time December list, and that is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
In its first seven days of release, The Way of Water had precisely one daily victory against Rogue One. On Tuesday the former claimed a total of $18.3 million vs. the latter’s $17.5 million. The other six days, the rebels won the day. That meant the Star Wars film ended its first week with $221.9 million compared to Avatar’s $197.6 million. The reason this is a unique situation is that Rogue One opened on the exact same day six years ago that Avatar did in 2022 – December 16. So it has the same Christmas Eve Saturday and Christmas Sunday that Hollywood tends to hate for skewing their more lucrative weekend numbers. Over that second weekend, Rogue One grossed $64 million through Sunday and $96.1 million from Friday-to-Monday. Initial estimates had The Way of Water making $56 million over the weekend and an $82 million 4-day. As the numbers continued to roll in, it virtually matched Rogue One’s three-day total of $64 million.
However, the Na’vi Marines are still below the pace of the rebel scum, as their 11-day total is about $287.6 million compared to Rogue One’s $318.1 million. Internationally, though, it has surpassed $880 million and is headed for a billion. Its non-domestic $601 million is the third-highest haul since the pandemic began, and that is with a COVID-ridden China and without a boycotted Russia. Top Gun: Maverick ($760 million) is its next target, and Spider-Man: No Way Home ($1.1 billion) after that. One more thing to not forget: Avatar: The Way of Water is pacing behind Rogue One’s final domestic total of $532 million. That means Avatar may need $1.5 billion in order to achieve theatrical profit, a total achieved only three times before, specifically by Avengers: Endgame, Titanic, and the original Avatar. Place your bets.
We can talk $2 billion all we want, but $80 million is nothing to sneeze at either. That is reportedly what it cost to make Damien Chazelle’s Babylon, and Paramount is now hoping it will have more success with golden statuettes than it is likely to achieve at the box office. The three-hour, anti-Hollywood epic from the Oscar-winning director of La La Land grossed a mere $3.6 million over the weekend. That is less than what Cadillac Records opened to back in 2009… on the dumping ground of the first week of December. Brad Pitt may be a supporting player in it all, but the studio put his name right at the top, and it failed to earn even half of what his lowest-opening wide release – Killing Me Softly ($6.8 million) – began with on Nov. 30, 2012.
Rob Marshall’s Chicago opened to $2 million back in 2002… in only 77 theaters. Babylon opened in 3,343 of them. If that estimate holds, that’s a per-theater average of just $1,076. The remake of Firestarter, one of the worst-reviewed films of the year (Rotten at 10%), had a PTA of $1,122 and it was available on Peacock the same day. If Babylon’s actual numbers come in lower, though, it joins very unique company.
In the history of films opening in over 3,000 theaters, there have only been four prior to Babylon to earn a PTA under $1,000: The Rhythm Section ($891), Those Who Wish Me Dead ($888), Copshop ($771) and Reminiscence ($597). Three of those were post-pandemic releases (two of which were also streaming day-and-date on HBO MAX), and The Rhythm Section was also a Paramount release. In other words, this is not a list you want to be on, and Paramount is on it twice. (Of course, they also have what will be the highest-grossing domestic release of the year in Top Gun: Maverick.) Chazelle’s previous three films – Whiplash (Certified Fresh at 94%), La La Land (Certified Fresh at 91%) and First Man (Certified Fresh at 87%) – were also hits with critics, while Babylon is decidedly more mixed at 56%.
A giant hole in the survival of theaters has been the utter lack of family-themed titles. Minions: The Rise of Gru did become the highest-grossing domestic film in the history of Illumination with over $369 million, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 nearly hit $200 million, but Lightyear racked up a disappointing $118 million, and The Bad Guys and DC League of Super-Pets came close with $97 million and $93 million, respectively. In 2019, movies like Toy Story 4 and Aladdin made the list of 11 PG-rated efforts to gross over $100 million (out of a total of 31 that year).
Now along comes Puss In Boots: The Last Wish, whose $12.4 million start over the weekend brings its total to $26.9 million since its debut on Wednesday. That puts it more than half of the way already to what it will need to be the third highest-grossing film of the holiday season behind the Avatar and Black Panther sequels, a task it should achieve with little fuss. The first spinoff film from the Shrek series opened at the end of October in 2011 and grossed $40.5 million in its first six days of release, ultimately going on to $149 million domestic and over $550 million worldwide. Universal is hoping to see a good chunk of both of those numbers on this one, as the sequel (currently Certified Fresh at 95%) is the only big release for families and their young ones right now. There is not another animated family release hitting theaters until April 7, 2023 when The Super Mario Bros. Movie opens.
Also opening this weekend was another showbiz story about a rise and fall, fame and drugs, and that was the recently retitled Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody. It opened to $4.7 million over the weekend, which is not a great number for the two-and-a-half-hour music biopic, especially given recent successes like Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, and Elvis. Then when we look at December releases from 2010 on to open between $4-7 million, only The Hateful Eight earned over $50 million, and only one other film got over $40 million (2010’s Gulliver’s Travels). That said, one new December release that has crossed $40 million is the Santa McClane surprise, Violent Night. The $20 million-budgeted action comedy dropped 966 theaters but grossed $3.5 million over the weekend and is now over $61 million worldwide. A solid little hit for Universal.
Disney films lost the most screens over the holiday weekend, including Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which lost 1,130 theaters while also crossing $800 million globally; domestically, the film made another $3.5 million to drive its total to $427 million. The animated Strange World dropped 1,480 theaters and fell 81% down to just $410,000. It still grossed enough to make the top 10 but will be considered one of the biggest Disney animated flops of all time, along with Lightyear, Mars Needs Moms, and Treasure Planet. Searchlight Pictures’ The Menu also dropped over 1,000 screens and grossed $680,000, bringing its total to $34.18 million domestic through Monday and $67 million worldwide. It passed Jojo Rabbit’s domestic total and will surpass The Favourite this week; those films had global totals of $88 million and $95 million, respectively. The studio’s Empire of Light from Sam Mendes has also started to scale back its limited release, falling back to 350 theaters and making a paltry $83,000; its domestic total is expected to be only $722,000 through Monday.
Sarah Polley’s Women Talking opened in eight theaters and grossed $41,000 over the weekend for a $5,125 per-theater average. Two other films hoping that awards buzz will lead to a greater audience expanded their run over the weekend: A24’s release of Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale now resides in 603 theaters and saw an increase in business to over a million dollars up from $144,755 last week. It has now grossed nearly $2.5 million through Sunday. Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans is on VOD now but nevertheless got an expansion into another 167 theaters (1,122 total), and it grossed another $750,000. It will pass $10 million, making it just the fourth film this year to reach that total without making it into 1,500 theaters, along with RRR, Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris, and Glass Onion, which did it in just one week of theatrical release.
Avatar: The Way of Water will remain at the top of the charts for a third straight week, but it will have to remain above $50 million to start making up some ground on Rogue One. The Star Wars Story had $424 million banked domestically after its third weekend and grossed $89.3 million from Mon-Thurs. There will be no new wide releases next week. Instead we will see how Sony’s A Man Called Otto with Tom Hanks begins its run in limited release before going wider in a couple weeks.
76% Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)
95% Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022)
43% Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody (2022)
56% Babylon (2022)
73% Violent Night (2022)
84% Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
64% The Whale (2022)
92% The Fabelmans (2022)
88% The Menu (2022)
72% Strange World (2022)
Erik Childress can be heard each week evaluating box office on Business First AM with Angela Miles and his Movie Madness Podcast.
[box office figures via Box Office Mojo]
Thumbnail image by ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures