Sully Soars; Other Openers Crash and Burn
By John Hamann
September 11, 2016
Tom Hanks is back, as Sully enjoys his biggest live action opening since Angels and Demons in 2009.
Yes, it feels like Oscar season is early, as Tom Hanks brings an awards-quality film to the early-September marketplace. Sully, the story of the famed pilot Chesley Sullenberger, seems made for award consideration, with director Clint Eastwood on board, and a supporting cast that includes Laura Linney and Aaron Eckhart. Also opening this weekend is When The Bough Breaks, another late-summer Screen Gems release with Morris Chestnut, The Disappointments Room, a horror film with Kate Beckinsale from the nearly dead Relativity Media, and The Wild Life, one of those low-budget animated releases. Sully was going to work; we knew that. The other three? Well, it’s September, and the month can be a graveyard.
Opening at number one this weekend is Sully, the Clint Eastwood-directed Tom Hanks-starrer that kicks off this year’s Oscar season. It feels like Hanks is a month early – both Bridge of Spies and Captain Phillips, two of Hanks' recent triumphs that drew Oscar attention, were released in mid-October. Bridge of Spies opened to $15.4 million, and had an incredible multiplier, finishing with $72.3 million domestic and a worldwide haul worth $165.5 million – all against a $40 million budget. Captain Phillips opened to $25.7 million and also had a great multiplier, finishing with a domestic total of $107 million and a worldwide take of $219 million, against a $55 million budget. Both of those films served their intended audience (the older, more discerning adult) and found the legs usually associated with that demo. With Sully, Hanks is ready to repeat history and maybe get back to Oscar glory.
Sully got started with an impressive $1.4 million on Thursday night – more than expected, and indicated that tracking estimates of a $20 million opening were going to be beaten. Audiences were responding to the marketing, and that really showed in the combined Thursday/Friday number. Sully had a hot opening day gross of $12.2 million, putting it on track for a $30 million plus opening weekend. Not the type of film to open big on Friday and drift the rest of the weekend, the Clint Eastwood film finished the weekend with a very strong $35.5 million, giving Hanks his biggest debut since Angels and Demons, and Eastwood his second biggest opening behind only American Sniper. That puts Sully in the list of top 10 biggest openers for September ever, and gives it a very healthy start over what should be a very long run. Should Sully find the same legs that Bridge of Spies had, it could reach $150 million domestic.
How did Eastwood, Hanks and Warner Bros. find this level of success? Intelligence. By putting Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood together for the first time, in another Eastwood "American Hero" story, the table was already set for success. Add to that good reviews (certified fresh at RottenTomatoes, currently at 84% positive), and a debut on the opening night of the Telluride Film Festival, Sully became a discussion topic before it opened, and caused Thursday night previews to spike. The rollout also likely convinced some younger people to buy tickets, especially on the east coast. Audiences liked what they saw (which is the most important thing for this type of older demo flick), giving Sully an A Cinemascore. It joins both Captain Phillips and Bridge of Spies as Hanks films with A Cinemascores, as it seems like a Tom Hanks renaissance at the box office.