From ‘Us’ to Busts: 5 Lessons Learned From a Bonkers Box Office Weekend
It’s been a strange few months at the box office: After a record-setting 2018, Hollywood spent the early part of this year nervously watching the numbers drop, and enduring the crash-and-burn releases of such franchise entries as The Lego Movie 2 and Happy Death Day 2 U, both of which underperformed. But a run of recent hits, including Us and Captain Marvel, have not only brought back audiences, they’ve also challenged some of the running conventional wisdom. Here are some key takeaways from a year that’s been deviating from the norm.
1. Halloween is now a year-round holiday.
In February 2017, writer-director Jordan Peele’s social-issue shocker Get Out opened at more than $33 million—a remarkable figure for a mid-winter fright-flick. A little more than a year later, in April 2017, the buzz surrounding A Quiet Place helped that slow-burn horror story stay in the box-office top ten for nearly two months. Now we’re living in the Us-weekly era: Peele’s latest conversation-starter has already burned past the $100 million mark in the U.S., making about $33 million this past weekend alone, and all but guaranteeing that the modestly budgeted film—which cost a reported $20 million—will end up as one of the year’s biggest hits. Some of that Us tally, of course, comes from moviegoers who are so tethered to the film’s twists and layered clues that they’re already rushing out to see it again. But the film’s success also proves that the late-winter months have become a reliable hunting ground (or is it haunting ground?) for the kind of high-minded, franchise-free scary movies that usually do best in the summer and fall. Look for more upscale-shockers to populate February, March, and April in the years to come.
2. Faith-based films aren’t dead.
Christian-aimed films have long beguiled the mainstream: Every few months, a seemingly out-of-nowhere faith-based movie enjoys a substantial opening weekend, leading to all sorts of head-scratching responses and trend-spotting articles. But this weekend’s $6.1 million showing for the anti-abortion drama Unplanned was unexpected for several reasons: Not only was the film slapped with an R-rating, ostensibly shutting out younger viewers, but ads for the movie were reportedly rejected by several key cable networks (it also didn’t help that its official Twitter account was briefly and inexplicably suspended over the weekend). And while the film’s studio, Pure Flix, has enjoyed such hits as 2016’s God’s Not Dead 2, the company’s more recent films have struggled to make it past the $5 million mark (last year’s Indivisible was one of the lowest-grossing releases in Pure Flix’s history). Unplanned benefited from a largely grassroots marketing campaign, and was bolstered by theaters in the Midwest and South, where it performed especially well: According to The Hollywood Reporter, the movie’s highest-grossing run came courtesy of an AMC in Dallas-Fort Worth. With more theaters slated to add the film on April 5, as Lent is underway, expect the quietly controversial Unplanned to become one of the year’s quieter success stories.
3. Captain Marvel is cooler than Spider-Man AND Thor.
Despite what a few trolls might have hoped, Captain Marvel was always destined to be a superstar: Not only does the ’90s-set film star the well-liked Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson, but the movie serves as a crucial build-up to this month’s Avengers: Endgame. Yet you’d have to possess Thanos-like powers to have predicted that, thanks to this last weekend, the movie would now be soaring toward a gross of $1 billion worldwide. That’s a benchmark that eluded such recent Marvel hits as Spider-Man: Far From Home as Thor: Ragnarok. At this rate, Captain Marvel is likely to end up as one of the biggest smashes in Marvel history—which, given that the character was largely an unknown to mainstream moviegoers, makes its success a Flerken miracle. That bodes well for the studio, which has in-the-works films on such new-to-the-screen characters as Shang-Chi and Eternals.
4. Even a Disney movie can fall on deaf ears.
With its $45 million haul and first-place showing, Disney’s recent remake of Dumbo is hardly donezo. But the movie does mark a rare misfire for the studio, which has turned past animated classics such as Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, and Cinderella into hits. (It’s also a ding for director Tim Burton, whose Alice in Wonderland remake was a billion-dollar international hit in 2010). Perhaps the movie, which cost an estimated $170 million, didn’t connect with younger audiences who hadn’t seen the charming 1941 original; perhaps adults were nervous about taking kids to see one of the most famously depressing Disney stories ever made. And while Dumbo‘s modest showing will likely make some studio execs nervous, don’t you cry for Disney: This July will see the release of its new Lion King adaptation, which is widely expected to rule the summer.
5. A months-old movie can still be a box-office champion.
Though its run is now finally winding down, Bohemian Rhapsody—the Oscar-winning Queen biopic that’s been available to rent since early February—has enjoyed a remarkable five-month run in theaters, helping it make more than $200 million in the U.S. alone. Such prolonged sprees are rare nowadays, but Bohemian has been a boon to theater-owners, as fans spent the winter showing up for their second or third viewings (one Los Angeles couple saw it upwards of 20 times.) It proves that, even in an era when movies show up on iTunes or Amazon with lighting speed, a catchy film can still manage to go on and on and on…