TAGGED AS: Box Office, movies, news
This week was the calm before the storm at the box office, as everything is just pre-game until James Cameron finally unleashes his long-awaited sequel to Avatar into over 4,000 theaters next week. This weekend is another story. Spoiler Alert got a wide expansion, but newbies Empire of Light and The Whale are in their platform launch. Last week already saw one of the five slowest box office weekends to open December since 1990. This weekend will turn out to be the third slowest of 2022 ($32.7 million), beaten only by the post-Labor Day weekend when Barbarian opened and the final weekend in January, which had a similar vibe with no new films opening in wide release. Theaters will get a boost next week, but they are currently barren.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, as predicted, just spent its fifth straight week at No. 1. It is the first wide release to do that since, well, the first Black Panther film back in 2018. We say wide since IFC’s The Wretched actually led the box office for five straight weeks in May 2020 during the pandemic. Either way, no matter how popular a film is these days. it still needs a bit of help from the industry — i.e. not releasing any competition — to achieve that. Studios may have been gun-shy to launch something pre-Avatar, but just about any film left on the release calendar this weekend could have been moved up and probably bested Wakanda’s $11.1 million. With that, it becomes the 39th film to reach the $400 million milestone domestically and the 20th best total of $409 million after 38 days of release. The $11 million fifth weekend is right in line with both Avengers: Age of Ultron ($11.4 million) and The Dark Knight Rises ($11.01 million), but it is about $3 million behind Batman and $20 million behind where Ultron was. Somewhere around $440-450 million is still very likely, making it one of the 25 highest-grossing films of all time. It has crossed $750 million worldwide, the seventh film to achieve that this year along with fellow Marvels Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness ($955.7 million) and Thor: Love and Thunder ($760.9 million).
Who had Violent Night in their overall top five for the holiday season? Because that is where it just may end up. Avatar and Black Panther will obviously take the top two spots, but Tommy Wirkola’s action comedy is about to pass every other film released since November. A 35% drop to $8.6 million puts its total at $26.6 million after 10 days. That is nearly identical to what Star Trek: Nemesis had back in 2002 when it grossed just $4.4 million in its second weekend and went on to gross $43.2 million. Even if we set that as the low bar for the $20 million-budgeted Universal release, what remaining films this year have a shot to pass $40 million besides Puss In Boots: The Last Wish? A Man Called Otto isn’t going wide until January. Sony may find audiences are still up for music biopics with I Wanna Dance with Somebody. But will audiences be flocking to Damien Chazelle’s nihilistic anti-Hollywood three-hour epic, Babylon? If either one of those last two flop, Violent Night will be one of the top five grossers of the 2022 holiday movie season. Plus, a solid little hit for Universal.
Here is another showdown nobody expected to be this close: Disney’s animated bomb Strange World and Searchlight’s R-rated horror comedy The Menu are separated by less than $1.5 million. The former beat latter again this weekend, $3.6 million to $2.7 million, but Mark Mylod’s foodie satire has held on very well, even if it will likely still be in the red once it leaves theaters.
Of course, it won’t suffer as much of a loss as Strange World, which is at $53.4 million worldwide at the moment and is going to be surpassed next weekend domestically by Bad Santa McClane. The Menu continues to outgross Strange World globally (currently at $57.7 million), but it would need around another $32 million to pay the check. Meanwhile, Sony’s Devotion grossed just under $2 million to bring its domestic total to $16.9 million. It has also made just $552,917 internationally to date spelling further red for the $90 million production.
Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale is benefiting from all the buzz for Brendan Fraser’s frontrunner performance (and maybe some of the controversy as well). In just six theaters this weekend the film grossed $360,000 to capture the second-best per-theater average of the year ($60,000). That number also puts it among the 10 best of A24’s limited launches, a list that includes Eighth Grade, Uncut Gems, Moonlight, Lady Bird, The Farewell, Spring Breakers, The Disaster Artist, First Reformed, and Ex Machina. All but First Reformed expanded to gross at least $13.5 million, and The Whale is likely to continue making headlines well into January when Oscar nominations are announced. Searchlight’s awards hopeful, Empire of Light, arrived with a thud, though. Released in 110 theaters, the Sam Mendes film grossed just $160,000 for a per-theater average of $1,454. That is barely better than when Warner Bros. released Paul Schrader’s Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist back in May 2005 in 110 theaters to the tune of $140,703.
Spoiler Alert did not do nearly as well in its expansion into 781 theaters this weekend. The true story tearjerker starring Jim Parsons grossed only $700,407 for a per-theater average of just $894. Focus may have tried to sneak this in to garner some awards attention or figured “why not?” in a reduced marketplace, but like much of the other adult fare this season, audiences chose to wait. Speaking of which, they won’t have to wait much longer for Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, which is headed to VOD this Tuesday. The Universal awards player grossed another $1.18 million this weekend, bringing the film’s total to $7.3 million, which will be far and away the lowest-grossing film of the famed director’s six-decade career unless it finds a resurgence as awards begin coming into focus. Fathom Events, meanwhile, got a pair of their releases into the top 10. I Heard The Bells dropped 62% from last week, but $750,713 was enough to make the list and drive its total to over $4 million. Fathom also saw Met Opera: The Hours crack the list with $791,374 in 826 theaters, its $958 PTA was higher than Spoiler Alert.
Finally, Black Adam grossed another $1.34 million. Every theatrical loser makes up some ground once their run is done, but make no mistake, whatever this film could earn from home video, streaming, or even merchandising, it still has to make up nearly $100 million. Even if it is lucky enough to do that, does WB and DC really want to take a risk on a sequel when basic math and the law of averages tell us that it is likely to make less? True, $388 million is more than Shazam’s $364 million globally, and Shazam is getting a sequel, but it also cost half as much. Worldwide, Black Adam grossed about half as much as the lowest-grossing Marvel film this year, nearly $300 million less than bomb Justice League, and even less than 2006’s Superman Returns, which also carried a $195 million pricetag. Creative accounting is not going to change the narrative that this film is a theatrical failure.
13 years after James Cameron outperformed his own Titanic at the box office, he finally returns with the sequel, Avatar: The Way Of Water. How much will it open with? Audiences have little else to embrace in theaters right now, but how long will the numbers stay up? Six weeks at No. 1 appears to be its destiny. A billion seems inevitable. How about two billion? Will it be a must-see curiosity or a repeat event? The numbers begin this week.
84% Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
73% Violent Night (2022)
72% Strange World (2022)
88% The Menu (2022)
80% Devotion (2022)
39% Black Adam (2022)
92% The Fabelmans (2022)
Met Opera: The Hours
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85% Spoiler Alert (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 ©Marvel Studios