The box office got a little upswing this weekend. Not much – $42.9 million across the top 10 is still the sixth-lowest September weekend since 2000 as theaters are still settling into a pre-Black Adam world for another month. But hold on just a second. A little ray of sunshine did peek through the clouds this weekend, just the kind of numbers that films aimed at adults have been looking for since pandemic woes and streaming options turned them into near unicorns. It’s going to take more than just one, but the No. 1 film this weekend may bring some hope that this could be a good, truly old-fashioned autumn season until the last of the blockbusters come around the holidays.
Gina Prince Bythewood’s The Woman King was grandly received at the Toronto Film Festival last week. Currently Certified Fresh at 94%, the historical action epic is just the 10th wide release of the year to register over 90% on the Tomatometer (and three of those are anime films). Earning $1.7 million in previews on Thursday, there was some low-balling that the final number for the weekend was going to come in between $13-16 million. Pre-pandemic, the lowest opening weekend for a film with $1 million in Thursday receipts was Rambo: Last Blood with $18.8 million followed closely by Ad Astra’s $19 million. The bulk of numbers in that range before 2020 hovered in the $25 million range. Alas, numbers aren’t all that they used to be, but a final estimate coming in with $19 million is a positive.
The average gross of a September release making between $16-20 million is a decent $55.5 million, boosted slightly by the only film in that range to reach $100 million, The First Wives Club. The Woman King’s $50 million budget would like something a bit higher than that, as it may not be helped much by international returns. Only 6 of the 25 films on that September list reached $60 million. Yet given the nature of the upcoming schedule, The Woman King appears likely to be a member of the top 10 through the end of October, especially given its A+ Cinemascore. (Top Gun: Maverick is the only other “A+” of 2022.) That grade is also not uncommon for films with primarily African-American casts, and word-of-mouth has often translated to multiples well over three times their opening weekend. It may not be enough to cover the film’s budget, but it could still be a success story in other ways.
A number of films fall into this category this weekend. Probably none greater than Confess, Fletch, which seemed to be forgotten about by Paramount and Miramax. The hybrid release was available on VOD but also in 516 theaters and grossed just $260,000 for a per-theater average of $503. Compare that to the same studio’s hybrid release a few weeks ago of Orphan: First Kill, which was available on Paramount Plus for free but also in 498 theaters where it opened to $1.7 million. Not doing any better was IFC’s release of Sundance favorite God’s Country, with Thandiwe Newton. The studio went wide into 785 theaters and only saw $300,000 in returns for a mere $382 PTA. Their wide release of another film from this year’s Sundance, the horror film Watcher, opened in 764 theaters to $826,775. Even worse this weekend was Focus’ The Silent Twins with Letitia Wright, which grossed $102,000 in 279 theaters for a PTA of $366.
Last week’s No. 1 horror film is also this week’s No. 1 horror film, even if it dropped to second place. Zach Cregger’s surprisingly acclaimed Barbarian (one of those plus-ninety-percenters referenced earlier) dropped just 40% down to $6.3 million, coming up just short of $21 million. That’s not Nope, The Black Phone, or Scream money, but it’s still good enough to be the sixth-highest-grossing horror film of the year and should soon surpass The Invitation, which made $1.7 million this weekend, getting itself just over $21.5 million. Beast got itself over $30 million earlier this week. Barbarian is about a million ahead of the pace (weekend and 10-day gross) of the Jason Statham film Crank, which finished with $27.8 million. Again, it’s not huge money, but an early September horror film getting itself over $30 million on a $10.5 million budget is a win for both 20th Century Studios and theaters.
Speaking of acclaimed horror films, Ti West and Mia Goth’s once-secret prequel to X, Pearl, opened this weekend. X is another of those +90% wide releases with critics this year that opened in March to $4.2 million and finished with $11.7 million. Its technicolor-drenched character study origin tale opened to $3.1 million with 86% support from critics and a B- Cinemascore. X was not surveyed for audiences, but that is a higher score than Barbarian’s C+. On top of that, the budget was a mere $1 million, so this should be a win all around.
Also opening this weekend was See How They Run, a comic murder mystery with Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan. Searchlight Pictures kept this away from the Hulu barn and got it into theaters, just their ninth since adopting the new Disney-owned name, and the opening is a bit better than their recent 2,000+ theater launches. $3.1 million is lower than last year’s Antlers ($4.2 million) but higher than The Night House ($2.8 million) and Nightmare Alley ($2.4 million). Then again, none of those numbers compare to Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, which opened to $1.3 million in just 52 theaters.
Bullet Train does appear determined to get itself over $100 million. Earning another $2.5 million this weekend, its total stands at $96.4 million, and with over $213 million worldwide, it looks like it will be a minor hit for Sony. DC League of Super Pets has a smaller goal in its sights as it heads towards $90 million with another $2.2 million this weekend. That has nothing on Minions: The Rise of Gru, which had its 12th straight week in the top 10 with $1.3 million, bringing its total to over $364 million, tiptoeing its way to potentially dethroning The Secret Life of Pets as Illumination’s highest-grossing domestic release ever – it has less than $5 million left to go to achieve that. Top Gun: Maverick still has another $50 million to go to be the fourth-highest domestic grosser ever, which is unlikely. The owner of that position is going to push even further ahead when it re-opens in theaters next weekend.
Finally in limited release, Brett Morgen’s David Bowie documentary Moonage Daydream entered the top 10 with $1.2 million in 170 locations (including IMAX theaters). It expands into 600 theaters next week. In an even more limited release, Kevin Smith’s Clerks III, which is enjoying a brief release through Fathom Events in 800 locations, is going to surpass $2 million since its release on Tuesday.
Next week the film that gossipers can’t stop talking about finally opens. Warner Bros.’ confidence in Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling appeared to be a miscalculation, as it currently sports a pre-release 36% Tomatometer score thanks to reviews at the Venice Film Festival and an early embargo. Nevertheless, curiosity will still likely get the best of the moviegoing public and grab the No. 1 spot next weekend. Also, if audiences need a refresher on one of the biggest films of all-time, James Cameron’s original Avatar is the next re-release in line in preparation for the long-delayed unveiling of its first sequel, The Way of Water, in December.
[box office figures via Box Office Mojo]
Thumbnail image by ©20th Century Studios