Box Office Report: “1917” Scores A Victory on the Frontlines

1917 George MacKay in 1917 (Universal Pictures)

Sam Mendes’ critically acclaimed war drama unexpectedly usurps “Rise of Skywalker”‘s throne.

In retrospect, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood seemed to kick off a resurgence for adult-skewing dramas in the theatrical space. That Quentin Tarantino title grossed a fantastic domestic box office total of $141.3 million, and since then we’ve had a slew of titles that prove that smaller-scale original movies for grown-ups can still make plenty of cash in the theatrical space. Hustlers, Parasite, Ford v. Ferrari, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Uncut Gems and Knives Out have been the prominent example of this trend. 

Heck, it’s based on a DC comic book, but one could even make the argument that Joker is part of this trend showing that more than just tentpole blockbusters can make big bank in the modern age of cinema. Also worth noting that this resurgence has happened over a period of time where Disney has only had one major live-action tentpole (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) in the marketplace. Whereas from the second weekend of March 2019 until the middle of July 2019 titles connected to Disney were released back-to-back, in the process dominating the marketplace and discourse, the lack of a barrage of live-action Disney tentpole means there’s been a lot more room for appealing adult-skewing titles to thrive in the last six months.

The newest example of this trend of adult-skewing movies thriving was 1917, which exploded onto the scene with an impressive $36.5 million wide release opening weekend. That’s only 3% behind the wide release opening weekend of Lone Survivor, another war movie from Universal that went into wide release in early January. No surprise to see that 1917 excelled at the domestic box office, as this movie’s marketing was super-distinctive and had an immediately interesting story hook (underdog World War I soldiers have to complete a seemingly impossible mission). The WWI setting and prolonged single take filming method further helped the movie to stand out from typical war movies.

All of those elements already set up 1917 for success, but Universal/DreamWorks executives must have been doing cartwheels during the Golden Globes last weekend when 1917 won Best Director and Best Picture-Drama. Just five days before its wide release launch, the movie got a massive publicity boost through those award wins, and an inevitable slew of Oscar nominations tomorrow morning will likely only aid it further next weekend. Lone Survivor managed to crack $125 million domestically, with a likely heavy presence at this year’s Oscars, there’s a solid chance 1917 could go noticeably higher than that in its domestic box office run. Chalk up another winner for theatrical adult dramas!

In second place, we find the box office victor of the last three weekends, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which fell 56% from last weekend for a fourth-weekend gross of $15 million. That’s only slightly larger than the 54% fourth-weekend decline of The Last Jedi, but 36% behind that movies $23.7 million fourth-weekend haul. Rise of Skywalker has now amassed $478.1 million domestically. Next was Jumanji: The Next Level, which dropped 47% from last weekend for a fifth-weekend gross of $14 million and an impressive domestic haul of $257.1 million.

Next up we have two of other wide release newcomers. However, as of this writing, they’re estimated to have tied. That’ll get cleared up once the box office actuals come in, but right now Just Mercy and Like a Boss are both estimated to have grossed $10 million on their respective opening weekends. Starting with Just Mercy, the films $10 million wide release bow (after two weeks of limited release play) is fine. It’s not an outstanding debut for a courtroom drama (The Judge opened 30% better with a $13.1 million bow, for instance), but after Warner Bros. saw so many adult dramas outright wipe out in the last four months of 2019, Just Mercy making $10 million over its opening weekend, in the process outgrossing the entire domestic run of the studios Motherless Brooklyn, will do the studio just fine.

The news is a little more troublesome for Like a Boss and its own $10 million debut. Thankfully, this comedy only cost $29 million to make, so Paramount won’t be losing a ton of cash on it. However, it’s a weak start for a major studio comedy released in 3,078 locations, as well as a much lower than usual start for stars Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne. The marketing for Like a Boss just didn’t strike a chord with moviegoers and that meant it got outgrossed by the fifth-weekend haul of comedy holdover Jumanji: The Next Level.

Many of the holdovers this weekend had severe 50+% drops thanks to the holiday season being firmly over as well as older titles losing their screens to make room for a quarter of new wide releases. One of the few exceptions was Little Women, which dropped only 44% this weekend to add $7.6 million to its domestic gross that now stands at $74 million. 

We now come to our last new wide release of the weekend, Underwater. This title, unfortunately, continued the box office cold streak all Disney/Fox titles that aren’t titled Jojo Rabbit or Ford v. Ferrari have been stuck on. Opening to only $7 million this weekend, Underwater came in considerably behind most other January horror movies. Even The Bye Bye Man managed to open to $13 million over the second weekend of January 2017. Though it received much better than usual critical marks for a January horror title, Underwater’s marketing kept leaning too heavily on the Alien movies and that derivative nature deterred it from standing out among the numerous horror titles dropping in January 2019.

Frozen II had a sharp 51% drop this weekend, but it still managed to add another $5.76 to a domestic gross that now stands at a staggering $459.3 million. Holding best among holdovers this weekend was Knives Out. In fact, that Rian Johnson whodunit had the best weekend-to-weekend hold in the top ten by dipping just 36%. Taking in another $5.7 million, Knives Out has now grossed $139.6 million and looks poised to crack $150 million domestically. The same kind words cannot be said of Spies In Disguise, which fell 51% for a third-weekend gross of $5.1 million. With a nineteen-day domestic haul of just $54.6 million, Spies is on track to be the second-lowest grossing Blue Sky Studios release of all-time, only behind Ice Age: Collision Course.

The Grudge fell a terrifying 69% from its opening weekend, giving it another $3.5 million for a meager domestic cume of $17.9 million. That ties it with the estimated $3.5 million third-weekend gross of Uncut Gems. That crime thriller fell 54% from last weekend for a domestic gross of $43.4 million, more than enough cash to resurface somebody’s swimming pool. Meanwhile, Bombshell fell a whopping 63% from last weekend, giving it a fourth-weekend gross of $1.5 million and an underwhelming domestic haul of $27.9 million.

Hot off a Golden Globes win for Best Foreign Language film, Parasite expanded back into 345 locations and grossed $966,000 for a per-theater average of $2,800. This Bong Joon-ho feature has already grossed an impressive $25.3 million domestically and has plenty of room to grow depending on how many Oscar nominations it scores tomorrow morning. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Cats was obliterated this weekend with an 80% fourth-weekend decline. Taking in only $520,000 this frame, Cats has grossed just $26.3 million domestically.

Chhapaak opened to $302,000 this weekend from 100 locations for a per-theater average of $3,020. Les Miserables made its domestic theatrical debut this weekend and grossed $24,414 from 4 locations for a per-theater average of $6,104. Finally, it looks like Clemency has run out of gas at the domestic box office, it expanded into 10 locations this weekend but dropped a steep 55% from last weekend. Grossing $13,450 this weekend, Clemency only mustered up a $1,345 per-theater average and a domestic total of just $101,847.

The top ten titles this weekend grossed $116.8 million, a 21% increase from this same weekend last year when The Upside topped the domestic box office.

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