With each passing week, the end of summer is approaching, and fewer people are going to the movies. The Pew Research Center estimates that as of Friday, August 25th, 70% of U.S. public school students are back in class.
In addition to seasonal ebb and flow, there are two additional factors this year that should be considered. First, Hollywood’s labor strikes are holding down the box office. The Hollywood Reporter estimates that the strikes have depressed ticket sales by 15% for all pictures that have opened after July 21st when BARBIE and OPPENHEIMER arrived.
This is a direct result of the actors’ union asking its members to hold off on any promotional efforts for their movies. It’s also been a factor that the writers’ strike has shut down the late-night programs that are prime venues for such promotion. Recent debuts for movies such as STRAYS, BLUE BEETLE, THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER, MEG 2: THE TRENCH, and HAUNTED MANSION have all been sluggish.
The second factor holding down this weekend’s grosses is Sunday’s steeply discounted ticket prices for National Cinema Day. The first NCD was held last year on Saturday, September 3rd, during the Labor Day Weekend. This was seen as a rollicking success, attracting 8.1M moviegoers to the cinema to take advantage of $3 tickets on that one day, during a weekend when there were no significant new releases.
Instead, moviegoers enjoyed watching holdovers from earlier in the summer, with the 2022 favorite TOP GUN: MAVERICK taking back its crown as the top movie of the weekend with a three-day gross of $6.0M and an increase of 27% from the prior weekend.
It is challenging to compare this year’s NCD to last year’s since the ticket price has been increased from $3 to $4, the target day has been shifted from Saturday last year to Sunday this year and the entire event has been moved up one week to a non-holiday weekend.
After two weeks of targeted, sneak-preview screenings, Sony’s GRAN TURISMO: BASED ON A TRUE STORY opened wide to earn $17.3M total and win a close, first place. The movie tells the story of a teenage player of the video game Gran Turismo, whose online skills give him the opportunity to become an actual professional race car driver. It stars Orlando Bloom, David Harbour, Djimon Hounsou, and Archie Madekwe in the lead role of Jann Mardenborough.
The video game Gran Turismo was developed for Sony’s Play Station and simulates the appearance and performance of vehicles that are licensed reproductions of real-world race cars. Since the video game’s debut in 1997, over 90 million copies have been sold, making it the best-selling series under the PlayStation brand.
In an attempt to overcome the lack of availability of its stars to promote the film, Sony delayed the movie’s wide opening by two weeks, during which they held a rolling series of “sneak preview” screenings in order to build fan interest and generate positive word-of-mouth. In fact, the movie began the weekend with a super-charged 99% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, which may represent the opinions of passionate fans who turned out for early screenings.
Historically, the grosses from sneak previews are reported outside of a movie’s standard opening weekend numbers. However, we do not recall any other example of a studio mounting as extensive an effort to leverage early screenings to build interest before a movie’s official wide release.
We estimate that $1.4M was earned during the typical Thursday night screenings and as much as $3.6M from the last two weeks of sneaks. Those two amounts were added to the actual Friday opening day gross of $3.2M, to make for a padded “first day” total of $8.6M. All of this helped GRAN TURISMO earn the checked flag for the weekend overall.
For two decades, advanced shows on Thursday evenings have become the norm for new releases, which has all but eliminated the practice of early sneak previews. We congratulate Sony for their creativity in leaning into sneak previews to build fan interest during this challenging period amidst the actors’ strike. The practice is good for moviegoers and good for exhibitors.
BARBIE maintained its second-place position with $17.1M, a drop of only 19% from last weekend. BARBIE is now at $594.8M and has become the top-grossing domestic movie of the year after passing the $574.3M earned by THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE. It has earned this amount in only 38 days, whereas THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE has had almost five months and is still in the waning days of its theatrical run. Worldwide, BARBIE has crossed $1.3B, is within $60M of SUPER MARIO, and is expected to take the 2023 global box office crown over the next several weeks.
Unfortunately, BLUE BEETLE suffered a steep drop down from its #1 finish last weekend, coming in third this weekend with a gross of $12.8M and a drop of 49%. This closes the door on this BB becoming a staple of future DC movies and extends a difficult stretch for the DC Extended Universe dating back to the release of BLACK ADAM last October.
We predict that BLUE BEETLE will gross $75M domestically, making it the eleventh highest-grossing film of the 14 DC movies that have played in theatres. The current slump of superhero movies from all studios is a real concern for Hollywood, after enjoying 15 years of bountiful returns from the genre. The next chance to reverse this gloomy trend will be Disney and Marvel’s aptly-titled THE MARVELS which arrives on November 10th.
OPPENHEIMER finished fourth and added $9.0M to its total, a drop of 16% from last weekend. Not only is this film the odds-on favorite for awards season, it has also racked up record-setting box office results, having climbed steadily up the ranks of all-time earners among R-rated movies. It is currently in seventh place with $300M, just behind DEADPOOL 2 which wound up with $324.6M. The duo of BARBIE and OPPENHEIMER has earned $895M domestically and $2.0B worldwide.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: MUTANT MAYHEM finished in fifth place with $6.1M and a drop of 29% from last weekend. This title has stood out as the third best-performing movie since the 7/21 opening of BARBIE and OPPENHEIMER. The family feature has worked the final weeks of the summer to earn $98.1M domestic, with the next closest being MEG 2: THE TRENCH which earned $74.4M in that same period.
Sunday’s National Cinema Day appears to have held down Saturday’s box office, as people waited to take advantage of Sunday’s $4 discount tickets. Sunday came in as the number one day of the weekend, which almost never happens. The Sunday boost was evident across the board with all titles other than GRAN TURISMO having their best day of the weekend.
While many took advantage of the discount, the promotion does not appear to have drawn quite as many as last year. Still, most will conclude that this year’s event has been a success, and we expect it to continue to take place in the years ahead.
All movies in theatres earned $94.1M domestic this weekend, compared with $54.0M last year when THE INVITATION led the way with $6.5M in its opening.
WHERE ARE WE AS OF 8/24
After 33 weeks, the year-to-date comparison of the current year to last year stands at 125%. The year-to-date results from 2023 are 86% compared to this point in 2019.