Any review of this weekend’s box office must consider that Christmas Eve fell on the worst possible day of the week, Saturday, the top moviegoing day of the week. Christmas Eve usually holds down grosses by 25%-30%, as families begin to gather in the evening and many theatres close early. Moreover, large portions of the U.S. were under a winter storm advisory for much of the weekend. We will try to provide a fair and balanced assessment of the results while factoring in these unusual factors.
As expected, AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER, in its second weekend, led all movies with $56M for the three days, which included Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This represents a sizeable drop of 58% from last week’s successful opening of James Cameron’s Sci-Fi epic.
Grosses for the original AVATAR actually went up 7% in its second weekend when it opened in 2009. The second weekend for last year’s box office hero, SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, began on Christmas Eve, which fell on a Friday, and bad weather’s impact was much more limited. Even so, SPIDEY dropped 67% in week two, so by comparison, AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER held up well while struggling with much more adverse circumstances.
Normally, a drop of 58% indicates declining interest and portends slow ticket sales from that point forward, but we’re tempted to give AVATAR 2 a pass this year and expect it to do well for many weeks. Last year, SPIDEY rebounded nicely from its drop on Christmas weekend and went on to wow audiences and delight exhibitors to the tune of $814M in the U.S. and Canadian markets. With its first week gross of $198M, AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER outpaced 2009 original by 145%, though it registered only 51% of SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME’s opening week.
Universal and Dreamwork’s animated sequel PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH opened in second place with $11.4M for the weekend and $18.3M for the five days starting Wednesday. The original PUSS IN BOOTS also opened on a Wednesday, 10/27/2011, and generated $34M for its opening weekend and $42M for the five days beginning on Wednesday.
The original PUSS grossed $154M for its total run in theatres. This year’s PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH appears to have started very slowly by comparison, even after factoring in the impact of the Saturday holiday and bad weather. That being said, the spinoff from the SHREK lineage is far from tapped out, especially since the holiday week ahead is the best weekday moviegoing frame of the year. We’ll watch closely to see if PUSS rebounds.
Sony’s WHITNEY HOUSTON: I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY came in third place with a debut of $5.3M. While reviewers lined up against the film by giving it a 47% critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes, moviegoers sang along merrily with a 97% audience score. Even after considering the weekend’s limiting factors, the Whitney Houston biopic is starting slowly.
It could struggle to sell enough tickets to earn back its $45M production budget. On the bright side, the recent slate of high-profile musical biopics, including BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (Freddie Mercury), ROCKETMAN (Elton John), and ELVIS, have all started off slowly but have gone on to deliver solid results. Here’s hoping that Whitney rises to the occasion as well.
Fourth place went to Paramount’s BABYLON with $3.5M in its opening weekend. Damien Chazelle’s historical drama romanticizes the debauchery of Hollywood in its early days and features an A-list cast led by Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt. Chazelle struck a chord in 2016 with LA LA LAND, but BABYLON turned out to be too provocative for general audiences. The MPA gave it an R rating for “strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity, bloody violence, drug use, and pervasive language.” Yikes! It remains to be seen if the tone will resonate with holiday audiences.
A lackluster opening indicates that it will struggle from this point forward and wind up as a box office bust, after its backers invested $80M in its production. Critics are sour about the film, with a 55% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while audiences are only slightly better with their 75% rating. BABYLON might have had a stronger start if it had opened earlier in the year when it could have taken advantage of a window during which there was no other high-end competition.
VIOLENT NIGHT finished in fifth place with $3.14M, followed closely by BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER which grossed $3.02M. The box office for all pictures this weekend was a meager $86M compared to last year’s $141M during the same weekend. The shortfall cannot be explained entirely by the external factors outlined above. These titles will need to hold particularly well, or exhibitors will suffer another disappointing holiday week, as occurred one month ago at Thanksgiving.