Friday Box Office: ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ Nabs Stylish $9.4 Million As ‘Avatar’ Earns $3.3 Million

Warner Bros. and New Line’s Don’t Worry Darling (review) topped the domestic box office on Friday with $9.4 million. That’s essentially tied with the $9.26 million opening day gross of Emily Blunt’s The Girl on the Train back in October of 2016. That potboiler earned $24.54 million in its opening weekend on the way to a $75.4 million domestic cume. If Don’t Worry Darling, starring Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine and Olivia Wilde (who, of course, directed the picture) plays likewise (or like A Simple Favor which nabbed $16 million from a $5.9 million Friday in September of 2018), we’re looking at a $24.9 million debut frame. However, presuming modern frontloading, a B- from Cinemascore and the possibility of that first 24 hours being inflated by Harry Styles fans, it might end up closer to $20 million than $25 million.

Either would be fine, since we’re talking about an R-rated, adult-skewing, star-driven, original genre flick that cost over/under $30 million (including Covid-related costs) to produce. After months and months of mostly speculative gossip and mostly unsourced allegations of behind-the-scenes conflicts, Don’t Worry Darling opened exactly how it was always going to perform. No, the handwringing and mostly manufactured controversies (no, Harry Styles didn’t spit on Chris Pine at the Venice premiere) didn’t cause the film to aggressively overperform, but nor did it do any damage to the opening weekend grosses. Once again, for the 7,194th time, these online-centric controversies do not make a substantial difference in terms of real-world reception. If audiences want to see a film, they will show up no matter the outside elements. And if they don’t, no amount of mudslinging in the world will get them into the theater.

Warner Bros. sold a sexy, creepy psychological thriller with hints of erotica and fantastical elements, essentially Stepford Wives meets Truman Show meets Get Out. The two theatrical trailers played with demographically friendly titles like Elvis, Where the Crawdads Sing and Nope and promised hot movie stars being hot amid gorgeous production values and kinky-creepy storytelling. The reviews were mixed-negative to be sure, but I’d argue even the pans mostly assured consumers that they’d get what the marketing was promising. That B- isn’t great for post-debut legs, and the third act is its weakest part. Although it’s also kinda-sorta a horror movie and those always poll weird. Folks who think it’s too scary and those who think it’s not scary enough both bring the scores down. Still, if the film doesn’t hold past those first 72 hours, that’s on the movie, not the backstage shenanigans.

Once again, credit the five elements of a commercially viable non-franchise flick. It had an ensemble cast, a marquee director, an easy-to-explain hook and the promise of escapism. It’s obviously missing ‘good reviews,’ but that’s probably why it’s opening closer to $20 million than $25 million this weekend. Once again, credit WB’s marketing with turning a less-conventional theatrical release into a genuine mainstream hit. They’ve been doing this at least since Magic Mike in 2012, although that film’s $39 million launch now feels like a different world (as does Fox’s $36 million opening for Gone Girl in October of 2014). Since then, WB has scored with the likes of Gravity, The LEGO Movie, American Sniper, It, Dunkirk, A Star Is Born, Crazy Rich Asians, Joker, Dune and Elvis. To quote another WB smash, what happened happened and couldn’t have happened any other way.

The other main ‘new’ release was James Cameron’s Avatar. The all-time global box office champion returned to theaters with a new 4K restoration, complete with some scenes being offered in 48 frames-per-second (as opposed to 24). I didn’t attend the pressers because A) they conflicted with Amsterdam and B) I wanted to take my kids, which I’m doing today at the Universal CityWalk. They’ve seen Avatar twice, once in early 2018 (after visiting ‘Pandora’ at Disney World) and once just two months ago because my seven-year-old couldn’t wait for the proper theatrical 3-D experience. Anyway, the film earned $3.3 million on Friday, setting the stage for an over/under $9 million weekend. That will bring its domestic cume to $769.5 million, and it will mark the biggest opening for a reissue since Jurassic Park 3-D ($18.2 million) in early 2013.

The ‘big question’ is if this global reissue (sans China, where it returned in early 2021 for an additional $55 million) can eventually push the $2.85 billion-grossing flick over $3 billion worldwide. We’ll have a better idea tomorrow when Disney drops the overseas grosses ($11 million global thus far), but this is all marketing for Avatar: The Way of Water. Whatever thoughts I had in December of 2014 about Avatar not having much of a conventional pop culture footprint, A) that’s no longer true and B) the very things it didn’t have (multimedia spin-offs, merchandise, obsessive online fans, etc.) now make the film’s initial success even more aspirational. It was one last original mega-blockbuster before IP and nostalgia became the driving force for theatrical tentpoles, so it now inspires nostalgia for a less nostalgic time. It helps that the film still friggin rocks.

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