Weekend Box Office: ‘The Woman King’ Tops With Solid $19 Million Debut

Sony and Entertainment One’s The Woman King topped the box office this weekend with a substantial $19 million domestic debut. That includes $6.78 million on Friday (including $1.7 million in Thursday previews) and $7.15 million on Saturday for a solid 2.7x weekend multiplier. Can it find a few bucks in Viola Davis’ couch to push it past $20 million when the final weekend figures come in? I wouldn’t be remotely surprised. We’ve got rave reviews (94% and 7.8/10 on Rotten Tomatoes) and an A+ from Cinemascore, plus a *verified user score* (i.e., you must prove you saw the film) of 99% on Rotten Tomatoes (versus, uh, 6/10 on IMDB). Good faith conversations about historical accuracy notwithstanding, don’t believe the #BoycottTheWomanKing nonsense currently percolating online. The real world came and liked what they saw.

Not to be a cranky crank, but this is a rare example of audiences showing up for the thing they claim to want. It’s no secret that the regular instances of audiences claiming they want non-franchise, adult-skewing, star-driven, inclusive and/or original (or new-to-you) theatricals and then spending their money on everything else (and/or punching their diversity card via periodic superhero movies or nostalgic franchise flicks) has slowly become my villain origin story. From Drew Barrymore’s Whip It in 2009 to Steve McQueen’s Widows and Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s The Darkest Minds in 2018, Hollywood’s minimal (and hilariously overdue) push toward inclusivity ran smack-dab into a moviegoing audience that embraced streaming for casual viewership and began to spend a much more significant portion of their annual moviegoing dollar on a much smaller percentage of event flicks.

But I digress, as this is a day to celebrate, not castigate! Sony successfully sold The Woman King as a demographically specific event movie which still offered plenty of value for anyone old enough to embrace its brutal PG-13 thrills. It had all five elements of a (in pre-Covid times) successful non-franchise, adult-skewing breakout. It had a marquee director, as Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball and Beyond the Lights) is justifiably a big deal to the Black community. It had an all-star ensemble (Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch and John Boyega, among others), an easy elevator pitch (Sony sold the Agojie actioner as “the real-life Black Panther”), solid reviews and the promise of a relatively good time at the movies. It’s serious but not remotely humorless. And, miracle of miracles, audiences damn well showed up.

While an $18.5 million opening weekend isn’t a barnburner, it’s a good start for a well-liked film that Sony expects to leg out over the next month or three. Is it an under-the-radar Oscar contender? Perhaps, especially if it is more financially successful than the rest of the year-end awards season releases. Bohemian Rhapsody became a contender following its $55 million opening weekend in 2018. It is certainly good enough and aspirational enough to qualify, even if I’ll argue it was (smartly) positioned as a commercial, crowdpleasing high-end popcorn flick first and an ‘awards movie’ second. That’s a key to this strong opening. Even if you don’t think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s action drama is unquestionably rock-solid meat-and-potatoes entertainment. It’s an old-fashioned Hollywood programmer with new(er) fangled demographic representation.

The $50 million film needs more than just a solid opening weekend. However, A) I’m expecting long legs and B) the new PVOD revenue stream, which pushed even Robert Eggers’ The Northman into profitability, means that even merely okay theatrical grosses can lead to strong post-theatrical revenue. Sony is hoping for legs on par with Where the Crawdads Sing, which opened with $17 million and legged out to $88 million. That Sony release was the first big female-led/targeted flick since The Lost City ($105 million domestic) and Everything, Everywhere All at Once ($100 million worldwide) in late March. Maybe releasing big movies for/about women in theaters instead of offloading them to streaming is a fun new way to make money. Maybe audiences hungry for such fare won’t just settle for comparatively inclusive superhero movies and fantasy franchises.

A24 opened Ti West’s buzzy and acclaimed Pearl to a halfway decent $3.124 million domestic debut weekend. The low-budget ‘secret’ prequel to X opened on par with the $4.275 million debut of its predecessor past March. That tracks. It’s a sequel, and plenty of moviegoers were just curious the first time and decided one horror romp with Mia Goth’s murderous protagonist was enough for one year. The well-reviewed and well-received (a B- from Cinemascore, which means West is in big trouble as that’s way too high for an A24 horror movie) prequel was shot right after X amid the Covid pandemic. So, A24 got two (make that three with MaXXXine on the way) for the symbolic price of one. My wife wants to see this one, so I’ll catch it tonight or early next week when she can tag along.

Searchlight Pictures opened See How They Run to expectedly small-scale results. The charming but slight 1950’s whodunnit, with a backstage murder taking place amid the cast and crew of an Agatha Christie adaptation, stars Sam Rockwell and a delightfully against-type Saoirse Ronan as the gumshoes and the likes of Adrian Brody, Ruth Wilson and David Oyelowo as the potential victims and suspects. Unfortunately, with a low profile and little buzz, the twisty little flick earned an underwhelming $3.1 million opening weekend. Alas. Meanwhile, Brett Morgen’s buzzy David Bowie documentary Moonage Daydream opened in 170 theaters, many of them IMAX or PLF, for a halfway decent per-theater average. The NEON release earned $1.22 million over the weekend for a $7,176 per-theater average. I’ll catch it in IMAX when time allows later this week.

Kevin Smith’s Clerks III opened in nightly Fathom Event-sponsored theatrical showings. The decently reviewed (66% fresh and 6.2/10 on Rotten Tomatoes) threequel earned around $570,000 over the Fri-Sun portion for a lousy $713 per-theater average. The Lionsgate film will have made $2.114 million since Tuesday. Thandiwe Newton’s God’s Country opened with a $300,000 opening weekend in 785 theaters. IFC put this allegedly quite good rural thriller (seeing it later this week) into a semi-wide release as frankly a glorified mitzvah. Likewise, Paramount opened Jon Hamm’s Confess, Fletch into 516 theaters for a mere $266,000 opening weekend along with a concurrent EST/PVOD release. While well-reviewed, it’s astonishing that a new Fletch movie, which we’ve all read as ‘about to happen’ for 25 years, has now been released almost under cover of darkness. Not all IP is good IP.

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