By Kim Hollis
August 30, 2020
Why, hello! Perhaps you'd forgotten that box office reporting could be a real thing that exists. Fair enough. We live in strange times. At the moment, trends seem positive, so let's stay cautiously optimistic!
Movie theaters opened across North America over the past couple of weekends, as studios take this time to test audiences and understand their next steps in this ever-evolving COVID-19 world. Will audiences return or do they have understandable residual concerns about safety? After the Russell Crowe film Unhinged earned $4 million last weekend, the Magic 8-Ball remained fuzzy.
This weekend, Disney decided to test the waters with a film that has gone through a lot of tribulation. Director Josh Boone (The Fault in Our Stars) has had the project in development since 2014, when Fox liked an idea he put forward to them in comic book form. Filming eventually took place in 2017, and then went through reshoots in 2018. Its release date moved from year to year, and then Disney acquired Fox.
The House of Mouse apparently didn't like the film much, though they apparently were happier with a reworked version that tested decently with audiences. They moved the film into 2020 to give it distance from the reviled Dark Phoenix, but then... Coronavirus. The day after Rudy Gobert touched a bunch of media microphones while carrying the virus AND Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced that they had contracted the disease, the world effectively shut down. On March 12, Disney removed The New Mutants from the schedule indefinitely.
Despite some rumor that The New Mutants would go straight-to-Hulu, the studio put it on the schedule for August 28th once there was confirmation that exhibitors such as AMC Theatres and Regal would indeed open, albeit with social distancing measures in place. It would function as the company's canary in the coal mine, while Mulan would instead test out a Disney+ pay-to-view model over Labor Day Weekend. We'll of course report more on the Mulan story in coming weeks, but for now, let's look at The New Mutants.
From August 28th through August 30th, The New Mutants is estimated to have earned $7 million, including $750,000 from Thursday night previews. That's... not encouraging, particularly as the film's Friday box office was reported at $3.1 million. With all that said, the film has a 29 percent rating at Rotten Tomatoes, meaning that perhaps there's not much reason for potential audience members to risk illness. Tracking prior to the virus was around $20 million, and that might be right about in the sweet spot given the horror elements present.
Anyway, Disney is saying they see this debut as an encouraging indicator, which I suspect they would have said whether they believed it or not. With the largest screen count since the pandemic shut down the country in March at 2,412, I think this was a perfectly suitable test subject. The company will glean a bit more in a week.
Second, then, goes to the Russell Crowe thriller or whatever Unhinged, which earned $2.6 million and declined 35 percent from last week. I saw a comment from Exhibitor Relations that intimated people had to be starving for content if they were willing to support Unhinged to the tune of $4 million last weekend, and I have to think that's a true story. I've heard a lot of people comment that they just wanted to go back to theaters, so this statement supports that theory, too. It's not like people have been dying for a Russell Crowe project or anything (though it would be something if he emerged with a Liam Neeson-esque career resurgence).
Only one other film broached the $1 million mark, and that was Bill and Ted Face the Music, which was released simultaneously on video on demand services. All things considered, United Artists assuredly expected more when they planned this project, but $1 million is perfectly okay on just over 1,000 screens. I did choose to watch this film, but I definitely did it at home. I'm not comfortable sitting with unknown people who may or may not follow mask rules at this point, especially as I live in a large college town that is seeing a surge in cases among students.
From here, the news is fairly grim. The Personal History of David Copperfield, an exceedingly well-reviewed film from Armando Ianucci (Veep) and starring Dev Patel, earned just $520,000 from under 1,360 venues. I'd expect this one to appear on streaming services and/or video on demand soon, as it's a well-regarded film that deserves attention.
Fifth and sixth place are films that finish in the $400,000 range. Words on Bathroom Walls, which was released by Roadside Pictures last weekend, earned $450,000, UP 7 percent from the prior frame. The film has earned a bit over $1 million. Generally well-reviewed, this one had a slight budget, and I'd say that the theatrical release is serving as an ad for video on demand. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run, earned $400,000 and has grossed almost $3 million in theatrical release. This is from Canadian theaters only, with a planned CBS All Access release in the United States in early 2021. Paramount has actually already recouped their outlay on this one thanks to the streaming deals in place both in the US and worldwide.
Cut Throat City, a movie about a Katrina-struck New Orleans, earned $160,000 and isn't the best-timed film I've ever seen given the devastation presented by Hurricane Laura (I have a family member whose house was effectively destroyed by this latest storm). It does have a grand total of $500,000 and feels like a film that might have been released to streaming services in normal times. The Eight Hundred, on the other hand, has been MASSIVE in China, with more than $250 million thus far in that country. It deserves better than $105,000 in the US, but I'm happy to see it getting attention here - it was only in 158 venues.
Our final three in the top 11 are Fatima and Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula, which both earned $90,000, and The Tax Collector, which took in $50,000. The latter film is the most significant of the three, as it's actually approaching the $1 million mark. It's a Shia LaBeouf film from the director of Suicide Squad, and it's not supposed to be very good. Fatima is testing the faith-based waters, while Peninsula is a zombie film that maybe is a bit much right now.
Compared to last year, the top films are unsurprisingly down 83 percent. This set of films earned $12.5 million, while last year's group took in $71 million on the strength of Angel Has Fallen and Good Boys. Next weekend brings, Tenet, Christopher Nolan's attempt to save the movie industry, in 3,200 plus venues. It did manage $53 million for its international launch, so maybe he's onto something. We shall see!