DISNEY’S LATEST ANIMATED TREAT NARROWLY EDGED OUT GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE, WITH HOUSE OF GUCCI AND ETERNALS LEADING THE REST OF THE PACK ON THE WEEKEND OF NOVEMBER 26-28, 2021.
A modicum of normalcy appeared to return to movie theaters this weekend. The numbers were not astronomical but they were steady, spread out, and represented some hope for the future. Films geared towards families rose to the top over the holiday, led by an original Disney animated film and a nostalgic sequel that lets its younger cast members lead. Plus, this was the first weekend since Feb. 21-23, 2020 when four films in the top 10 had already grossed over $100 million. The five-day totals in the top 10 were the lowest since 1998, but if young kids continue to get vaccinated, adults get boosted, and we can stave off the threat of a new overseas variant, we can still come out on other side of this holiday with some positives.
After a string of holiday victories for Lionsgate with their Twilight and Hunger Games sequels, Disney regained its hold on Thanksgiving with #1 films from 2016 to 2019, including Frozen II, Ralph Breaks the Internet, and a pair of animated films with a focus on culture in Coco and Moana. Now Disney has another victory with Encanto Movie, which brought in $27 million over the weekend and $40.3 million since Wednesday. That may not appear to be a large number, but it’s quite an improvement over the five-day starts for The Boss Baby: Family Business ($22 million) and The Addams Family 2 ($19.4 million). By next weekend, Encanto will have surpassed both of their total grosses and become the highest-grossing animated film to date during the pandemic. But – can it reach the milestone the industry would like to see?
That is still very uncertain given the times. Pre-2020, 78.5% of November releases with $37-43 million in the bank in their first five days reached $100 million. Among those 14 films, only three failed to reach nine digits – Immortals, Dumb and Dumber To, and The Muppets. The latter film had a very similar holiday stretch back in 2011, grossing $29.2 million over the weekend and $41.5 million over its first five days. It then dropped a steep 62.1% in its second weekend and was out of the top ten by Christmas Day. Encanto could find itself taken over by Ghostbusters: Afterlife next weekend, but it should find itself hanging around the top ten until at least into the second weekend of January. That doesn’t mean the drops won’t still be sharp as parents decide just how many trips to the theater they are willing to take with their young ones this season, especially with Spider-Man: No Way Home and Sing 2 coming up. But Encanto is still a step forward and even baby ones are welcome.
For months the industry has been looking for any sign of life that adults would come back to theaters for original projects. The highest-grossing “R”-rated films of the year are Halloween Kills, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Candyman, and The Suicide Squad. A little over a month ago, we wondered if The Last Duel could have drawn them in. It did not. Nevertheless, Ridley Scott had another film waiting in the wings, and House of Gucci turned out to have a pretty decent run over the holiday. Earning just over $14 million this weekend and $21.8 million since Wednesday, the Lady Gaga/Adam Driver-led drama is, at the very least, going to crack the $30 million wall that nearly every other non-IP-driven title has failed to break through, save for Free Guy, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Old. Beware that second-weekend drop, however: Among November titles to have between $20-25 million in their first five days, holiday openers including Alexander ($13.6 million weekend), Ninja Assassin ($13.3 million), and Hitman ($13.1 million) all failed to reach $40 million. Can Gucci find enough adult viewership to keep it out of that company?
Not every bit of IP is having a good run this year. The Resident Evil series was never a huge domestic event; only one of the previous six films ever reached $60 million. But the last three were big international successes, grossing $197-286 million overseas alone. North Americans were pretty much done with the franchise when The Final Chapter came out in 2017, opening to a series low $13.6 million and concluding with $26.8 million, another low. Well, Welcome to Raccoon City because the latest film can now claim that title with just $5.3 million over the weekend and only $8.8 million since Wednesday. One constant in this series is that its fans generally show up early. The six previous films all finished with a terrible multiple ranging between 1.97 and 2.26 times their opening weekend. Also consistent are the critics, who rated the films between 21% and 37% (for The Final Chapter); Raccoon City fits right in with a 25% score on the Tomatometer.
The big story of the week is actually Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which has clearly captured a word-of-mouth victory. Fans are discovering that many critics may have been overly harsh on it. Parents have been bringing their families, and the numbers over the holiday are very encouraging. $24.5 million over the weekend and another $35.3 million since Wednesday bring its total to $87.8 million. That puts the film on par with A Quiet Place Part II, which had $88.3 million in its first ten days. Right now it’s headed for over $140 million, and a total over $12 million next weekend could keep Ghostbusters on a pace for $160 million. It is likely to play well into Christmas, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if it grabbed the top spot from Encanto next week either. So don’t pay attention to anyone suggesting the film is a bomb, because the $75 million-budgeted film that people are digging is going to be one of the highest-grossing domestic releases of 2021.
Two more on that list are headed for over $160 million in the Top Ten. Eternals just passed the $150 million mark and is still hoping to find another $25 million to get to that Marvel Universe floor. In its fourth weekend, the film is just $6 million off the pace of F9 ($7.9 million vs. $7.67 million), which finished with $173 million. That means Eternals is likely headed for somewhere around $165 million. It has grossed over $350 million worldwide. Doing much better on that front is No Time To Die, which is just shy of $160 million stateside, but as it passes $740 million globally, it will become the highest-grossing film of the pandemic, surpassing F9’s $739 million.
One milestone that was finally set this week was Warner Bros.’ Dune: Part One passing the $100 million line. The film becomes just the second of the HBO Max 2021 hybrid plan (after Godzilla vs. Kong) to reach those heights, ironically on Turkey Day itself; its 35th day of release. Denis Villeneuve’s first half of Frank Herbert’s novel will return to IMAX this Friday. On the other hand, the strategy did no favors to King Richard, which grossed just $4.8 million over the five-day stretch, bringing its total to $11.4 million. As people take advantage of their streaming service, this is likely to become the eighth film of the plan not to reach $20 million in theaters. Clifford the Big Red Dog, which is also streaming on Paramount Plus, made $7 million since Wednesday and is now over $42 million in 19 days. That is just a bit behind The Addams Family 2 as it heads into pre-Encanto family territory of $50+ million.
Finally, in a remarkable display this weekend, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza grossed an estimated $335,000 despite playing in just four theaters. If that number holds, it will rank as the 14th-best gross for a film released in four venues, putting it in some great company, including films like The Revenant (5th), The Favourite (7th), Moonlight (9th), The Farewell (12th), and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (15th); 11 of the top 15 films were also nominated for Best Picture. Licorice Pizza’s estimated $83,750 is the highest per-theater-average since Uncut Gems ($107,448) opened in December 2019. Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch had the highest per-theater-average of 2021 ($25,939) when it grossed $1.34 million in 52 theaters. Now PTA owns the highest PTA.
Next week, Focus Features will give it another go with the oddball drama, Wolf, featuring George MacKay and Lily-Rose Depp as a pair in a mental institution who believe they are animals. And as institutions go, a big one is about to be shaken up by Paul Verhoeven’s nun drama, Benedetta. We’ll see if it can rank high on the PTA charts.