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.