Unlike other genre films during this lackluster time at the box office, Paramount’s Smile isn’t even beginning to frown this weekend. Paramount officially reports this morning, after we heard last night that the Parker Finn directed/written horror pic had a very strong Saturday of $8.6 million. That’s now +4% from Friday and previews’ $8.2M, which will soar Smile to a $22M opening. Worldwide, Smile is exuberant at $36.5M. The pic only cost a reported $17M before P&A. Note, this is the first $20M+ opening at the domestic box office since Sony’s Bullet Train debuted to $30m during the first weekend of August.
How does a B- CinemaScore movie like Smile overindex on Saturday night, when a starry film like Don’t Worry Darling, with the same grade, did not in its opening? One is a horror movie with a clearly defined demographic of 18-34 (68% turnout) and multicultural audiences (40% Caucasian, 32% Hispanic and Latino, 16% Black, 7% Asian and 5% other), and Paramount never lost sight of that in their marketing.
The Olivia Wilde-directed film was an arthouse movie conceived for upscale adults, but wound up attracting younger females (the Harry Styles fans), and neither crowd yielded enough heat coming out of the theater to propel the film’s demand. Still, thank God for Styles, or else Don’t Worry Darling would never have opened to $19.3M. Warners is reporting the second weekend for Don’t Worry Darling at $7.3M, -62%, with a running total of $32.8M. Worldwide the pic stands at $54.7M.
“It’s hard to open original IP in this marketplace. But we created a mystique around Smile and ran a clever campaign,” beamed Paramount Domestic Theatrical Distribution Boss Chris Aronson, “This is a very good start for Parker Finn; there is a style to this movie that is clever and smart.”
Paramount leaned in heavily with the digital spend, we understand, and aired TV spots during sporting events. The pic trailered in-theaters on such movies as Bullet Train, Black Phone, Beast and Barbarian in recent months. RelishMix noticed that TikTok views were driving engagement at 42M, plus YouTube views at 39M, prior to the weekend, fueling the pic’s social media universe to 110.2M across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. That figure is above the horror averages measured by the analytics company. One zany stunt the studio pulled to raise awareness for the film was to have people infiltrate MLB games. Paramount placed these individuals in the crowd, and had them smile throughout the entire game directly into broadcast cameras. Really.
Comscore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak says that those who decided to buy tickets to Smile: 41% came because it was a horror movie, 27% came with a friend who wanted to see it, while 25% heard it was ‘good’. For those polled by PostTrak, the most effective pieces of marketing for Smile were the in-theater trailer (15%), the YouTube trailer (14%) and social media personality endorsements of the film (17%).
What did we learn this weekend at the box office? It pays to go theatrical, not streaming. Kudos once again to Paramount Motion Pictures boss Brian Robbins for not sending this one to Paramount+.
According to PostTrak, those who saw Smile: 24% saw it with a date, 19% saw it with 2 to 4 friends, while 16% went with a friend.
The overindexing of Smile puts total weekend ticket sales at around $64.2M. But the sad state of affairs remains that compared to the same weekend in 2019, when DreamWorks Animation’s Abominable opened –coincidentally at the same level as Smile with $20.6M, and all films grossed, $94.5M– there’s $30.3M missing in the current domestic theatrical marketplace. Yes, sure, there’s a lack of supply of big pics, and 2019 then had It Chapter Two in its 4th weekend, ranking 4th with $10.2M. However, the holdovers of older adult and upscale fare was immensely stronger, and underscores how we continue to lack the drive and interest from that demographic. Three years ago, in second place, we had Downton Abbey‘s second sesh making $14.3M, -54%; the third weekend of Jennifer Lopez’s crime caper movie Hustlers earning a beefy $11.3M (-32%), and the $10M second weekend of 20th Century Studios/Regency/Disney’s Ad Astra (which we gave a hard time to back then over its $100M cost and arthouse sensibility; by today’s standards the slow sci-fi pic looks like a blockbuster) in No. 5. The point is, we’re still not back, even with the lack of movies.
Still, let’s give it up for the major studios committing to the big screen at this point in time: If you think about it — Woman King, Bros, Don’t Worry Darling, Smile — these are all very original movies, and extremely ambitious. All of them were greenlit during the pandemic. See any one of them and, you’ll agree, they deserve a theatrical treatment, and that will carry their legacy through in home ancillaries. Even though Universal’s Bros tanked with a $4.8M opening (after a $1.74M Saturday, -5% from Friday+previews’ $1.84M), the pic will only make Peacock that more attractive and have more leverage on a streaming menu amid the noise of several titles than had it went straight to the service.
Said Universal domestic distribution boss Jim Orr about Bros, “All of us at Universal are incredibly proud of Bros. Billy Eichner, Nick Stoller, and Judd Apatow have crafted the funniest film of the year, as evidenced by our very enthusiastic audience and critical reaction scores, which will no doubt lead to great word of mouth as Bros continues to find its audience in the coming weeks. “
While box office for most of these titles isn’t as robust as it was pre-pandemic, it means originality will have to come at a very low cost for such projects moving forward (not that any of them cost north of $50M before P&A), but it puts a strain on P&L. Streamers can easily outbid the motion picture studios for the packages of such original movies, however, in regards to pure word of mouth, will we be talking about Netflix’s Blonde three weeks from now? The discourse for The Woman King continues, and that’s a movie that demands to be seen on a big screen, not a mobile phone (the pic made $7M in weekend 3, -36% with a running total of $46.7M). In the end, it’s up to filmmakers and producers where they want their movie to be seen: in homes, possibly lost on a streaming menu, or with a loudspeaker multi-million global campaign in theaters. Sometimes, that higher budget which the streamers are offering is just too much to resist.
Elsewhere at the box office, Sarigama Cinemas title Ponniyan Selvan: Part One looks to have held to its industry estimate with $4.1M at 500 sites in the No. 6 spot.
Studio reported Sunday numbers for the weekend of Sept. 30-Oct. 2:
1.) Smile (Par) 3,645 theaters, Fri $8.2M, Sat $8.6M, Sun $5.15M, 3-day $22M/Wk 1
2.) Don’t Worry Darling (NL/WB), 4,121 (+8) theaters, Fri $2.35M (-75%), Sat $2.9M, Sun $2M, 3-day $7.3M (-62%)/Total $32.8M/ Wk 2
3.) The Woman King (Sony) 3,504 (-261) theaters Fri $1.75M (-41%), Sat $3.1M, Sun $2.1M, 3-day $7M (-36%)/Total $46.7M/Wk 3
4.) Bros (Uni) 3,350 theaters, Fri $1.84M, Sat $1.74M, Sun $1.22M 3-day $4.8M, Wk 1
5.)Avatar (re) (20th/Dis) 1,860 theaters, Fri $1.16M (-65%), Sat $2.2M, Sun $1.3M, 3-day $4.696M (-62%), Total $779.09M (re-issue running total through ten days is $18.5M)/Wk 2 of re-issue
6.) Ponniyan Selvan: Part One (Sar) 500 locations, Fri $2.1M, Sat $1.1M, Sun $818K, 3-day $4.1M/Wk 1
7.) Barbarian (20th/Dis) 2,720 theaters (-145), Fri $809K (-42%), Sat $1.25M, Sun $754K, 3-day $2.8M (-42%)/Total $33.1M/Wk 4
8.) Bullet Train (Sony) 1,931 (+24) theaters, Fri $370K, Sat $630K, Sun $400K, 3-day $1.4M (-23%)/, Total $101.3M/Wk 9
9.) DC League of Super-Pets (WB) 1,924 (-427) theaters, Fri $250K (-31%), Sat $620K, Sun $435K, 3-day $1.3M (-25%)/Total $91.7M Wk 10
10.) Top Gun: Maverick (Par) 1,561 (-464) theaters, Fri $335K (-27%), Sat $575K, Sun $320K 3-day $1.23M (-24%), Total $713.4M/Wk 19