“Justice League” Opens Sub-$100 Mil and Proves More Definitely Isn’t the Merrier. This Weekend at the Box Office.

By Jim Amos | November 19, 2017 2:24 pm PST
Box Office - November 20, 2017

Warner’s DC franchise’s superheroapalooza, “Justice League”, proved that six superheroes are not better than one by debuting with a relatively disappointing USD $96 million. Backed by a lackluster Rotten Tomatoes score of 39 and a just-okay Cinemascore of B+, “Justice League” opened to a lower take than this summer’s “Wonder Woman” (USD $103 million) and well below “Batman V. Superman” (USD $166 million.) Another reason for the subpar opening may very well be that we just had one superhero movie (“Thor: Ragnarok”) open two weeks earlier and it is still doing nearly $22 million this weekend. To quote the old westerns, this town ain’t big ‘nuff for the both of us (cue the “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” music.)

But it’s worth planting this seed in your collective heads. As we like to say here at CJ, the world does not revolve around us. When I say us, I mean the capitalized U.S. Yes, here in the States we are a major territory in the worldwide box office landscape but we are hardly the only one. “Justice League” enjoyed a sterling USD $185 million opening overseas and should go on to gross anywhere between USD $600-700 million worldwide. And isn’t that what we want? We tend to focus on whether a film that opens slightly on either side of $100 million opening, like “Justice League” and “Wonder Woman” did, is a raging success (like WW) or a disappointment (like JL). We should be looking at this two ways.

First, 10 million people got off their couches, put down the Roku remote and went through the doors of our local multiplexes, ringing up strong concession sales and eyeballs for preshow advertising and upcoming trailers. Secondly, the success of worldwide box office directly affects output for domestic releases. The grading curve on whether a film is a success or not comes from worldwide box office, not domestic. Would everyone falling all over themselves this morning proclaiming “Justice League” to be a disappointment, and in the words of one industry trade, “dismal,” prefer if there was a large hole on November 17th? Simply put, would you rather have a $96 million opening the week before Thanksgiving or not? Call me loony but I’d take as many near-USD $100 million debuts as I can. And one last thing, we’re up in the neighborhood of 25% from last year, a fact that is getting buried today under the stories from the Chicken Little School of Journalism.

There. Got that off my chest. And now on to what perhaps is the real story of the week. Although I take some solace in the fact that most in the industry were looking at an opening on Lionsgate’s “Wonder” in the same $9-13 million range that we had it here last Monday I don’t mind saying that the incredible USD $27 million debut really came out of nowhere. I did receive an email from someone in the industry that I truly respect last week telling me I was way off and that school groups would come out en masse. Boy, was he right. Lionsgate did an amazing job at gearing this film, which might otherwise have felt like an old ABC Afterschool Special, to middle schoolers and their parents. It also benefited from an 83 Rotten Tomatoes score and a sensational A+ Cinemascore. Outstanding job, everyone at 27th & Colorado.*

The vocal group The Flamingos famously started off their hit “I Only Have Eyes For You” by crooning, “Are the stars out tonight?” The answer is no. Sony’s animated “The Star” dipped below expectations to the tune of USD $10 million (in looking at individual grosses watch for a final number tomorrow to have a 9 in front of it). As we discussed last week when you try for two distinctly different audiences, in this case the faith based and animated audiences, more often than not you miss each. Not even an A Cinemascore could help this and with “Coco” warming up its pipes look for “The Star” to quickly fade from the sky.

How to know it’s mid November? There’s no better example than if you check out the expansion grosses for both “Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards” this weekend, which grossed USD $2.5 million (238 locations) and USD $1.1 million (53 locations) respectively on limited screens. Both continue their expansions in the coming weeks and both should be in the Best Picture/Best Actress conversation. Watch for the “Lady Bird” wide release this Wednesday. It could really propel the film up the Top 10 depending how wide it goes and how immediately it resonates with moviegoers outside of the major cities.

But then there’s “Roman J. Israel, Esq” which, for some reason, went exclusive this past weekend but could only muster a per location average of USD $16,000. That PLA is cause for mass celebrations and parades down the Canyon of Heroes if you’re in 3,000 locations. However it’s cause for real concern if you’re only in four theatres as this film is now. It expands this coming Wednesday. Godspeed, John Glenn.

In other items of note…

  • Warners has picked up the rights to “Paddington 2”, which is off to a flying start overseas, from the beleaguered Weinstein Company. The film keeps its January 12th release date for now;
  • Congratulations to three of my former co-workers who all are moving on to new opportunities. Bernadette McCabe is moving from Screenvision to MoviePass, Tatiana Alafouzo is headed to Annapurna and Christian Biafora is the new General Sales Manager at Orion. These are three of the hardest working, most knowledgable people in the business and I wish them the best in their new endeavors;
  • I remember seeing “Get Out” over the summer yet for some inexplicable reason I don’t remember the cavalcade of guffaws and uncontrollable belly laughs in it. Does anyone else? I must have missed something because the film is being considered in the Best Picture-Comedy/Musical category at this year’s Golden Globes. Unless they’re considering it a musical in which case I must have been out getting an Icee refill when the Busby Berkeley kaleidoscopic song and dance numbers came on the screen;
  • For those of you who think that movies like “Sharknado 4” have far too many intricate plot twists and deep, hidden existential meanings, we present the best title of the year hands down. Opening this past Friday (in one theater in Los Angeles, and at only 9:55PM to boot) was “Attack of the Killer Donuts”. Yes, it’s everything you could possibly imagine a film entitled “Attack of the Killer Donuts” would be with Boston cremes and glazed crullers rampaging through a small town. This might not be the film that poor C. Thomas Howell wants listed first in his IMDB bio but, hey, it was a paycheck (hopefully). With apologies to Jordan Peele, if you really want to see true comedy check out the film’s trailer.
Box Office Chart - November 17, 2017
(Source: comScore)

Let’s see if there’s any reason to be thankful this coming holiday week.

“Coco” (Pixar/BV)—It’s Thanksgiving, it’s Disney, it’s Pixar, it’s Day of the Dead. Wait, what was that last part again? Pixar dives into the world of the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead for their latest animated effort. In this story, a boy dreams of becoming a musical legend but has to cross through the Land of the Dead first. It feels as if someone mistakenly allowed Tim Burton onto the Pixar lot. Instead of Burton it’s Lee Unkrich in the director’s chair and he previously helmed Pixar’s “Toy Story 3” to momumental success. Voicing the characters are Gael Garcia Bernal as the charming trickster Hector, Benjamin Bratt, Gabriel Iglesias, and Anthony Gonzales.

The Verdict: Lately there have been two distinct categories of Pixar films. In this corner we have the home runs like “Finding Dory” and “Inside Out” which debut to $100 million, give or take. In that corner we have the long singles like “Cars 3” and “Good Dinosaur”. This figures to fall more into the latter category. Latino audiences will understandably eat this up (as evidenced by the gargantuan openings in territories such as, well, Mexico) but it will be interesting to see how this plays in Middle America. Will kids and parents alike see the “Disney/Pixar” logo and go loco for “Coco” (sorry) as they have done with most Pixar titles or will they find the subject matter a bit inaccessible? The reason I ask is because the verdict was split according to the handful of middle-of-the-country exhibitors I’ve spoken to. Still and all, it’s Pixar and it’s Thanksgiving and let’s give thanks that there’s a Pixar film in the marketplace to rack up obscene concession per capitas. One footnote, the film opens Wednesday due to the holiday here in the States. USD $71 million (5 day)

“Roman J. Israel, Esq” (Sony)—Denzel Washington loves to flip-flop between action vehicles (“The Equalizer”, “2 Guns”) and personal, dramatic roles such as “Fences” and the vastly underrated “Flight”. This time around he portrays a cantankerous but driven attorney out to expose judicial and racial injustice. The man at the helm is Dan Gilroy, who directed the exceptional 2014 drama “Nightcrawlers”. The always reliable Colin Farrell co-stars.

The Verdict: Everyone loves Denzel and for that reason we’d love to see this be a critical and box office hit. But the film’s Rotten Tomatoes score is only 55 and this past weekend’s limited engagements were disappointing to say the least. I worry that by the time “Roman J. Israel, Esq” makes its way to Netflix most people will say, “oh, I wanted to see that in the theatre but just didn’t find the time.” USD $11 million (5 day)

“Darkest Hour” (Focus)—Honestly, if Gary Oldman doesn’t win a Best Actor Oscar one of these years I’m going to send back my ripped-up Academy card and sing “My Way” in a coked-out stupor down Hollywood Boulevard in protest. (Watch this “Sid & Nancy” snippet to get that reference.) This could be his year if that pesky Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t crash the party yet again. Oldman plays Winston Churchill during the darkest hours (hence the title) of WWII. One of the greatest actors portraying the greatest statesman in history.

“The Man Who Invented Christmas” (Bleeker Street)—Dan Stevens straps on Victorian garb yet again and plays a writer’s-blocked Charles Dickens in this story of the penning of “A Christmas Carol.” Christopher Plummer plays Scrooge. Evidently he had a break of a couple of hours between the other 46 films he made this year. The man’s 88 years old for the love of Mike, give him a break between movies, okay? Hopefully this opens to decent limited numbers and we can all sit around the holiday dinner table by the fire and say “God bless us, one and all”.

“Call Me By Your Name” (Sony Classics) —There’s a boatload of Oscar buzz surrounding the two lead performances of Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer in this drama set in Northern Italy in 1983 about two lovers facing a myriad of obstacles.

The EVENT CINEMA front is a bit light this holiday week with only the Exhibition on Screen presentation of David Hockney on Tuesday, “Howl’s Moving Castle” starting on Sunday and “Andrea Bocelli: Intimissimi On Ice” on Thursday. I’m hoping someone else is on the ice in this and not Bocelli.

One final note, best wishes and safe travels to everyone here in the States heading to see loved ones this Thanksgiving week. It’s been a very difficult and trying year for us here in the U.S., so please enjoy yourselves for a few days and stay safe.

“Food on a chain gang is scarce and not very nourishing. The men get one hot meal a day: a bowl of steam” – Take the Money and Run (1969)

*Editors Note: For those unfamiliar with Los Angeles’ sprawling street layout, 27th & Colorado is the location of Lionsgate’s U.S. headquarters.

Jim Amos
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