Long-range tracking appeared to favor the shiny new original sci-fi film that genre fans were getting excited about. The closer it got to the release date, though, some finally remembered that late September animated releases have some history of putting up respectable numbers — certainly respectable enough to beat a release by the Disney-owned 20th Century Studios that, outside of a pair of titles, has not impressed with their numbers, and a horror franchise on its third or fourth reboot, depending on where you start. The result was certainly a boost to a box office suffering two of its worst weeks of the year but a setback for “original” material kind of based on a lot of other material.
The animated doggies won the weekend! As suggested in last week’s preview, Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie indeed took the crown from its two challengers. The first film had a $10.2 million start at the tail-end of August back in 2021, the first summer return for theaters since COVID began. It went on to gross $40.1 million despite also being available for streaming at home. The Mighty Movie had no such obstacles and went on to make $23 million this weekend. That may not be Hotel Transylvania or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs money, but it’s better than Storks, Abominable, The Lego Ninjago Movie, and The Boxtrolls, all of which opened on the final weekend of September.
Another notch in Paw Patrol’s collar is that all of those films cost anywhere from $50-85 million, while its own production cost is reported at a mere $30 million. That will go a long way to making this one a success, since none of those films made less than $50 million domestic or $100 million worldwide. Smallfoot in 2018 opened to $23 million, finished with over $83 million and $214 million globally. The Mighty Movie, which made $24.4 million internationally this weekend, could approach similar numbers, given the first film made an additional $100 million outside of North America. The Paw Patrol sequel also has another six weeks of non-animated family content to take away its audience until the new Trolls movie opens up a week before Thanksgiving. Paramount should be very happy with these numbers, and they clearly saw the writing on the wall, because they have already greenlit the third movie.
After the summer of Barbie and Oppenheimer everyone is back to rooting for original films of any kind. Unfortunately those cheers did not translate into tickets for Gareth Edwards’ The Creator, which saw its early tracking numbers for the mid-20s and its score with critics on the Tomatometer fade into reality. It shot out of the gate (as many early enthusiastic reviewers gush after early access) in the mid-80s but has since settled back to a fine if middling 69%. On one hand, $14 million is the studio’s fifth best opening since Disney rebranded Fox into 20th Century Studios, but that isn’t exactly anything to brag about, especially when its highest openings since February 2020 have been Avatar: The Way of Water, Free Guy, The Call of the Wild, and A Haunting In Venice.
Granted, we’re still talking about films as part of the pandemic timeline, but the $4.7 million-$9.9 million openings from The Last Duel to West Side Story in 2021 did not improve much in the $10.5 million to $12.8 million in 2022 from Barbarian to Death on the Nile. Same for 2023, with openings for The Boogeyman ($12.3 million) and A Haunting in Venice ($14.2 million). Barbarian was at least a success with its $4.5 million budget, as was The Way of Water with its $400 million. The Creator may find itself somewhere between $45-55 million domestic, but it’s going to take some healthy international returns to cover its $80 million price tag. Unfortunately, it has made just $18.3 million outside North America so far.
Saw X got off to a solid start on Thursday, making $2 million in its early showings. Better than the $1.7 million of Saw 3-D, the $1.6 million of Jigsaw, and certainly the $750,000 start of Spiral. But at the end of the weekend, the numbers that translated to $22.4 million for the 3-D Saw and $23.2 million for Cocaine Bear after the same $2 million start ended up at $18 million for X. Still, when we’re talking a budget of just $13 million, there is hardly any bad news here. Even critical reception is at a series best at 87%; it’s the first Saw film not only to to be Certified Fresh, but to earn a Fresh Tomatometer score at all. Even the original stands at just 50%. We’ll see if word of mouth catches on, because these films have had a very short shelf life, even back when 2-5 were opening to $30 million apiece. Chapters 4-6 failed to double their opening weekends, and even 3-D and Jigsaw only multiplied their openings by 2.02 and 2.28 respectively. Chris Rock’s Spiral, consequently, had the smallest opening ($5.8 million) and the biggest multiple (3.99) during the pandemic with minimal releases keeping films in theaters. It ultimately finished with $23.2 million, which Saw X will clear by next weekend. None of these films have grossed $50 million domestic since the fifth one, but apart from Spiral, every one of them has been profitable. Saw X will be as well.
The horror film that survived two new sequels and remained No. 1 for three straight weeks fell back to fourth this weekend. The Nun II added $4.6 million to its total, which now stands at $76.7 million. That is over $4 million behind the pace of The Equalizer 3, which had a fourth weekend of $4.7 million. For weeks now we have been pegging Denzel’s film for around $95 million, and for that we now have to put The Nun at closer to $88-90 million than the $85 million we had previously estimated for it. Not bad at all, considering the first film opened big ($53.8 million) and only multiplied that by 2.18. At $90 million The Nun II would have a healthy horror multiple of over 2.75. The Equalizer 3, meanwhile, made $2.7 million this weekend and its total stands just below $86 million.
A sequel not doing as well is Kenneth Branagh’s A Haunting in Venice. Down to sixth this week with $3.8 million, its total is up to $31.6 million. This is about on pace with two other multiple-murder releases in September: American Assassin also had $31.8 million after a $3.3 million third weekend, and the Robert De Niro/Michelle Pfeiffer crime comedy The Family had $31.7 million after a $3.7 million third go. Each finished between $36-37 million, which means A Haunting in Venice is headed somewhere between $37-39 million. The third Poirot film is now at about $90 million globally, which is about 60% of what it needs to turn a profit for (checks notes) 20th Century Studios.
Finally expanding after a few weeks of limited release is Sony’s Dumb Money. After making $2.4 million last week in 616 theaters, the expansion into over 2,800 theaters resulted in just another $3.5 million. This is a big disappointment for a crowd-pleaser that just never found its crowd. Going forward, we will keep an eye on these platform releases, which may be an antiquated notion post-pandemic, amid strikes and the current streaming environment. Talk shows could not raise awareness, and even the most interested patrons may see commercials, notice the film is not playing in their area, and either just forget about it or assume it is coming to streaming soon. Even the best of the limited releases this year (strike or no strike) – apart from Asteroid City, since Wes Anderson films are a unique exception – films like Past Lives, Bottoms, Beau is Afraid, and Theater Camp could not even gross $12 million. After three weeks, Dumb Money has made just $7.3 million.
The origin story of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, The Blind, opened in 1,715 theaters this weekend and grossed $4.1 million for fifth place. The 4K restoration of Jonathan Demme’s Talking Heads concert film, Stop Making Sense, made $1.04 million in its second weekend in 786 theaters, bringing its gross to over $3 million. Both films are less than $10 million behind the total gross of last week’s releases of Expend4bles, which fell 69% down to $2.4 million and has made just over $13 million in 10 days and another $6 million overseas. Expendable for audiences but not from Millennium’s ledger. Greta Gerwig’s Barbie lost over 1,300 theaters this weekend but stuck around for another go in the top 10 with $1.4 million. Its total now stands at over $633 million domestic and $1.43 billion worldwide.
Scared away from its original Friday the 13th release date by Taylor Swift, we have David Gordon Green’s The Exorcist: Believer opening on Friday. Will it open anywhere in the vicinity of Green’s Halloween films ($40-77 million), or will audiences remember that, well, he made the recent Halloween films, whose word-of-mouth trailed off faster each installment? There has not been a $35 million opening since the weekend of Barbie and Oppenheimer.
[box office figures via Box Office Mojo]
Thumbnail image by ©Paramount Pictures