Remember the dismal Labor Day weekend we had this year? The holiday weekend that flirted with being the worst box-office weekend since 2001? That weekend, The Hitman’s Bodyguard held on to top spot for the third weekend in a row and the box office put up a mere $77 million among all titles.
Last weekend was worse. With Jigsaw leading the way, all titles combined only managed $76 million for the weekend.
That’s the way it has been for much of the year: Boom or bust. Big titles like Hidden Figures, Wonder Woman, Beauty and the Beast, and IT have driven the box office, but they have also sucked up a large percentage of the box-office receipts. Our box office is beginning to look like our economy: All the wealth is concentrated in the top films, while everyone else is competing over the scraps. There are exceptions (Split and Get Out are the two major outliers this year), but more and more, “event films” are the only movies that can drag audiences off their couches, where smaller and mid-budget films are now flourishing on Netflix and in digital sales.
That’s exactly why earlier this year movie studios attempted to shrink the window between theatrical release and the home digital market. Studios are making a larger percentage of their revenue on the home digital market now, so it works to their advantage to make those titles available sooner. One studio that did not want shorter windows, however, was Disney, and the reasons are obvious: With the Star Wars, Pixar, and Marvel franchises, their entire business strategy revolves around huge tentpole films. Disney has released 5 films this year, and they have averaged $250 million at the box office domestic (and that average includes the $13 million from the documentary Born in China). Disney is nearly single-handedly keeping movie theaters in business.
This week’s Thor: Ragnarok was no exception. Heretofore, Thor has been one of the weaker Marvel superheroes in terms of both the box-office and critical success, but that all changed when Marvel decided to shake things up and take a more comedic approach to the sturm und drang that characterized the first two films. They brought in Taika Waititi, even though the highest grossing film he has had to date is Hunt for the Wilderpeople ($5 million). The gamble paid off. Waititi’s Thor is the best-reviewed film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (according to Rotten Tomatoes), and the third film improved upon Thor: Dark World by around $30 in its opening weekend, and nearly doubled the box office receipts of the first Thor film’s opening weekend.
Ragnarok looks like it will open in the $120-$122 million range this weekend, and it deserves every cent of that. It’s entertaining, hilarious, and action-packed, and exactly the kind of movie people are willing to shell out $15 to see in theaters. It’s a damn good time, and audiences agree, giving it an A Cinemascore (the 12th for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the first for a Thor movie).
On the flip side, event films like Ragnarok don’t leave a lot of oxygen left in the box office. This weekend, numbers 2-10 combined earned less than $40 million total, or a third of Thor’s opening weekend. Leading that pack is Bad Mom’s Christmas, the underwhelming sequel to last year’s sleeper success Bad Mom’s. The film will earn around $15 million this weekend, and $20 million since its Wednesday opening, which isn’t bad for a comedy that only cost $28 million to produce. But Bad Moms earned $183 million last year, and this movie will be lucky to break $50 million. Bad reviews didn’t help (31 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but only 15 percent among top critics), and word of mouth is actively working against the film (Cinemascore audiences gave it a tepid B compared to the A of the original film). In fact, the best thing to come out of Bad Mom’s Christmas was the promotional appearance of Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn on Price is Right.
As for the rest of the top 10? All holdovers. Last week’s number one film Jigsaw fell to number three, earning $6 million to bring its 10-day total to $28 million. Number 4 Boo 2! A Madea Halloween has earned $42 million after three weeks. Geostorm made $2.9 million in its third week as it continues to flame out, sitting at $28 million (it is, however, performing better worldwide, where it’s made $150 million, so far).
After a month, Happy Death Day has crossed the $50 million mark. Miles Teller has two films in the top ten, at number seven and nine with Thank You for Your Service ($2.2 million, $7.5 million overall) and Only the Brave ($1.8 million and $15 million overall). Squeezed in between is Blade Runner 2049 which is up to $85 million domestic and $225 million worldwide. Finally, the ten spot is held by Let There Be Light, the Sean Hannity produced faith-based film, which out-earned the George Clooney directed Matt Damon film Suburbicon. Ouch.
November not only means the beginning of the holiday blockbuster season but awards season, as well. In that regard, Woody Harrelson’s LBJ didn’t make much of a dent, earning only $1 million in nearly 600 theaters. However, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird had a whopping $80,000 per screen average in four theaters, which is significantly better than Richard Linklater’s $9,000 per screen average in four theaters for Last Flag Flying.
Next weekend will see the release of Murder on the Orient Express, which will attempt — and probably fail — to unseat Thor: Ragnarok, while Daddy’s Home 2 will complete with Bad Mom’s Christmas for the box-office leftovers. Oscar contender Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri will also open in four theaters. It looks fantastic.