The suggestion that Taylor Swift’s concert film could be the highest-grossing film from September to the end of the year is looking more solid by the week. Last week’s The Marvels limped out of the gate and hit an even bigger wall this weekend. Part of that was due to another franchise getting its opportunity to draw its fans, though even last week’s disappointment has momentary bragging rights over that one. On the bright side, there is a real chance that three of this week’s four wide releases could still find themselves in profit.
It’s been eight years since The Hunger Games quadrilogy ended. Author Suzanne Collins then took her fans back 60+ years for a prequel and director Francis Lawrence returned to helm The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes for Lionsgate. The original Jennifer Lawrence-led series saw each of its films open to over $100 million with the first two films grossing over $400 million domestic and a collective gross of $2.96 billion for the whole series. The prequel this weekend opened to $44 million, less than The Marvels’ start of $46.1 million. That film is facing its own numbers crunch, and while Ballad’s numbers certainly feel like a disappointment, it’s not nearly in the same boat.
Its $100 million budget is the second-lowest of the franchise since the original’s bargain cost of $78 million. That will go a long way into ensuring the film will at least come out on the profit side for Lionsgate. The Marvels may be on the verge of setting a new low watermark for November releases, but the Games, in its three-day infancy, at least still has the odds in its favor that it is headed for a $100+ million gross in North America. Even if the film does just half of what the original film did internationally, it could be just enough to clear another franchise victory for the studio this year after John Wick: Chapter 4 and Saw X (the less said about Expendables 4 the better).
Taika Waititi’s Next Goal Wins was initially completed in January 2020. Since then, he filmed and released Thor: Love and Thunder and completed reshoots on this film, which included replacing Armie Hammer with Will Arnett when the former was “unavailable” after public accusations against him came to light. Now, roughly four years after the film initially started production, Searchlight Pictures chose to go wide with it in 2,240 theaters, and it grossed just $2.5 million. That is lower than their mid-pandemic wide releases of The Night House ($2.85 million) and could end up lower than Nightmare Alley ($2.48 million) when final tallies come out Monday. Even when they were Fox Searchlight, only one other film launched in over 2,000 theaters did worse than Next Goal Wins and Nightmare Alley: the Will Ferrell/Julia Louis-Dreyfus remake of Force Majeure, Downhill ($1.62 million).
A film that seemingly could have broken through to take the No. 1 spot this week was the animated Trolls Band Together. Don’t laugh; you may remember even Happy Feet bested the return of James Bond in Casino Royale back in 2006 on this very weekend. The first Trolls was a little surprise hit, opening back in November 2016 to $46.5 million (bigger than both The Marvels and Snaky Songbirds). When the sequel, Trolls World Tour, was set to come out, a pandemic hit and Universal made the now historic decision to be the first studio to take one of their planned releases that year and immediately release it on streaming for families at home to enjoy and stay safe. Remember, AMC and Regal threw a fit suggesting they would no longer play Universal’s films (theaters were closed during this fit, mind you) until they came to an agreement about theatrical windows that July.
Business spats aside, the VOD release grossed over $40 million in its first weekend and nearly $100 million in three weeks. How excited were families to get their kids back to theaters to see the new Trolls film? Well, it sold $30.6 million worth of tickets. Not bad. Not impressive either, but not bad. It’s an OK number for the $95 million-budgeted film that had already made nearly $49 million internationally before North American theaters opened their doors to it (and is up to $76 million now). Animated films opening in November to $23 million or more have had a floor at least of $82 million, and only six failed to reach $100 million: Beowulf, Penguins of Madagascar, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, Pokemon: The First Movie, Space Jam, and (in November 2021, mid-pandemic) Encanto. Trolls Band Together faces quick competition next week with Disney’s Wish. Though early critical response to that film has been less than enthusiastic with a 58% on the Tomatometer, Trolls currently isn’t doing much better at 59%.
So now we come to The Marvels. Let’s not bury the lede here. The film fell 77.9% in its second week down to $10.2 million and now carries a 10-day domestic gross of $65 million, one of the biggest drops ever for a release of that magnitude. Here are the five lowest 10-day totals amongst films in the MCU:
Eternals ($118.1 million), Captain America: The First Avenger ($117.4), Ant-Man ($106.2), The Incredible Hulk ($97.0), The Marvels ($65.0)
When it comes to breaking down these numbers and the once-unheard-of possibility that this film could fail to make $100 million, there were a lot of flip-the-coin scenarios, especially with the Thanksgiving holiday on the horizon, which often gives even the forgotten films a legit boost. But let’s make it simple and just look at the trends this year. The closest 10-day gross combined with a second weekend match to The Marvels in 2023 is The Equalizer 3, which fell to $12 million and had a $61 million 10-day gross. The Marvels only has $4 million more after 10 days and Denzel’s film finished with $92.3 million.
Even the Thanksgiving holiday now seems unlikely to help save The Marvels avoid that embarrassment. Remember the catastrophic cliff dive that DC’s The Flash took this summer when it had made $87 million in 10 days and only finished with $108 million? The Marvels will not even achieve that number. At this point, its best focus may be in trying to become a later generation revival title on Disney Plus. The Marvels will want to have no less than $74 million in the bank by next Sunday if it is to have about any chance to reach $100 million. Then again, if its weekend gross falls below $8 million, we can just about call that this will be the first MCU film not to hit that mark. Plus, with a cost reportedly of at least $270 million and a global total at just $161 million, this could end up being the biggest bomb of 2023.
Depending on the final totals this weekend, horror fans could ultimately beat the MCU this weekend as estimates also have Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving at $10.2 million. R-rated horror has benefited by name recognition this year with Scream VI, The Nun II, The Exorcist: Believer, Evil Dead Rise, and Saw X. But even A24’s Sundance pickup Talk To Me opened to $10.4 million back in July. Meanwhile, The Pope’s Exorcist, Renfield, and The Last Voyage of the Demeter all opened to under $10 million. Last year The Menu grossed over $38 million and is the highest-grossing horror film released in November since 2003’s Gothika. Then again, when else are you going to release a film called Thanksgiving? The $15 million budgeted film could still find itself in profit.
Five Nights at Freddy’s avoided the holiday horror curse by opening in October, and its numbers speak for themselves. Even down to $3.5 million in its fourth weekend, the film has grossed over $132 million. That’s the 11th-best 24-day total for a film released in October as it hopes to stretch itself to just over $140 million domestic plus another $139 million internationally. Another October release grossing about half that is the real-life horror of Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, which added another $1.9 million to its total this week bringing its total to $63.5 million. The $200 million-budgeted film has grossed $140 million worldwide.
Back to A24. Their release of Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla grossed another $2.3 million, bringing its total to just below $17 million. That puts it right on the verge of passing The Green Knight, The Whale, and The Farewell to become the 11th highest-grossing film in the company’s history. Another $4 million and The Disaster Artist will fall off their top 10 list. Priscilla is now Coppola’s second highest-grossing film ever, passing Marie Antoinette and only behind Lost In Translation. Meanwhile, they expanded last week’s release of Dream Scenario to 25 theaters, and it grossed $276,000. That brings the Nicolas Cage comedy up to $609,000 in its first 10 days as it awaits further expansion over Thanksgiving and then wider on Dec. 1. Focus currently has Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers in 1,478 theaters, an expansion from 778 theaters last week. It grossed another $2.7 million to bring its total to $8.3 million. Once again, Payne has not had a film gross under $15 million since his second film, Election, back in 1999. Hopefully Focus will make a big push starting with the holiday expansion and the beginning of awards season to get audiences into theaters to enjoy this one.
Bringing everything back full circle, we’re left with the realization that there may only be three films left on the 2023 schedule that might challenge Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour for the Fall/Holiday season crown. At present, Swift’s concert film has grossed $175 million. If families turn to Wish to be their de facto holiday experience, then maybe. But even Pixar’s Elemental couldn’t match that feat, and reviews suggest Wish is no Moana. Could Wonka do better than its early tracking suggests? The holiday season is full of films that stretch seemingly non-starter openings into large grosses. Does that leave room for The Color Purple to break out the way The Greatest Showman did, taking an $8.8 million start into over $174 million (enough to tackle Swift)? That was actually a once-in-a-blue moon kind of all-timer event, and adult audiences, while still in a pandemic limbo, would not even turn up for West Side Story, the musical that Steven Spielberg helmed. What are the chances they’ll flock to one based on another adaptation that he directed? Time will tell, and we’ll have the numbers for you right here.
[box office figures via Box Office Mojo]
Thumbnail image by Murray Close/©Lionsgate