A trio of high-profile fall festival films opening nationwide got iced at the weekend box office — Michael Moore's new documentary Fahrenheit 11/9, the edgy teen black comedy Assassination Nation and Dan Fogelman's Life Itself.
The only new movie to do impressive business was a more commercial, Hollywood studio title: Eli Roth's big-screen adaptation of the beloved kids book The House With a Clock in Its Walls. The family-friendly pic, starring Jack Black and Cate Blanchett, debuted to a better-than-expected $26.9 million from 3,592 theaters, easily topping the chart.
From Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and distributed by Universal, the pre-Halloween offering follows a young orphan (Owen Vacarro) who goes to live in his uncle's spooky house, which has a mind of its own. Blanchett plays a witch who lives next door. Overseas, House With a Clock launched to $8.7 million from a smattering of offshore markets for a global start of $35.6 million.
"Our late September date was engineered for the kids and family audience as back-to-school activities start to wind down and moviegoing picks up — if you can deliver the goods," says Jim Orr, Universal's president of domestic distribution, adding that Roth, Blanchett and Black made for a potent combination.
Adds Amblin president and co-CEO Jeff Small, "We fell under the spell of this movie from the moment it was pitched to us and it's clear audiences this weekend have been enchanted as well."
Fahrenheit 11/9 limped to an eighth-place finish in North America with $3.1 million from 1,719 theaters. Prerelease tracking had suggested at least $5 million to $6 million. Moore's satirical anti-Trump film marks the first release from Tom Ortenberg's new company, Briarcliff. (Ortenberg worked with Moore on Fahrenheit 9/11 while stationed at Lionsgate.)
"We're optimistic," says Briarcliff distribution head Steve Bunnell, noting the film's A CinemaScore and strong PostTrak exit scores. "The idea was to have the movie play everywhere before the midterm elections."
In 2004, Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 debuted to a record-breaking $23.9 million from 868 locations. Otherwise, his films, similar to other political or specialized docs, have launched first in select theaters before expanding their footprint in order to capitalize on word of mouth. While it's true Fahrenheit 11/9 posted one of the biggest bows ever for a political doc, it is only the fourth political doc to launch nationwide, making comparisons tough.
One of those four is Death of a Nation, from conservative filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza. The film debuted this summer to $2.4 million from 1,005 locations before topping out at $5.9 million domestically, the worst showing of D'Souza's directorial career despite an overall doc boom at the box office, including such summer hits as Won't You Be My Neighbor? ($22.6 million), RBG ($14 million) and Three Identical Strangers ($12.1 million). The latter three all rolled out slowly.
Life Itself, directed by This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman, came in at just $2.1 million from 2,578 cinemas after getting ravaged by critics (its current Rotten Tomatoes score is 13 percent). Late last year, Amazon Studios doled out north of $10 million for rights to the film.
The multigenerational relationship film stars Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Mandy Patinkin, Olivia Cooke, Laia Costa, Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas. Life Itself, earning an estimated $800,000 on Friday, is set to come in at No. 10.
Sam Levinson's satirical thriller Assassination Nation fared even worse, earning an estimated $1 million from 1,403 theaters. Specialty distributor Neon partnered with the Russo brothers in ponying up a reported $10 million for rights to the no-holds-barred black comedy after it premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival.
A modern-day take on the Salem witch trials, the violent, R-rated revenge pic follows a group of gun-toting teenage girls who must save their small town after a data hack exposes everyone's dirty little secrets. Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, Bella Thorne, Abra, Anika Noni Rose, Colman Domingo, Maude Apatow and Joel McHale star.
"Sam Levinson has created a bold, visionary and ultimately cathartic response to the dumpster fire that is 2018. We're admittedly disappointed more people didn't come out this weekend, but those that did were loud and overwhelmingly positive. It's going to take more time for Assassination Nation to find its audience," says Neon chief Tom Quinn.
The pic screened earlier this month at the Toronto International Film Festival, where Fahrenheit 11/9 and Life Itself also played as awards season got underway.
Heading into the weekend, none of the three films were expected to post big opening numbers, since they are adult-skewing titles that rely on a long, sustained run. Still, all three are coming in on the low end of expectations, if not behind. And the risks of opening nationwide, versus a platform run, include quickly losing theaters.
Fahrenheit 11/9 currently sports a 79 percent Rotten Tomatoes score; Assassination Nation, 68 percent; and House With a Clock, 65 percent.
Among holdovers, Lionsgate's A Simple Favor held nicely in its sophomore outing, grossing $10.4 million to place No. 2 and finish Sunday with a domestic total of $32.6 million. Offshore, the Paul Feig black comedy took in $5.2 million from 36 markets for a foreign total of $10 million and $42.6 million globally.
Warner Bros.' The Nun crossed the $100 million mark domestically in its third weekend after earning another $10.3 million. To boot, the horror pic topped the foreign chart with $35.4 million from 80 markets for a worldwide total of $292.6 million.
In North America, The Nun landed at No. 3, followed by Fox's The Predator, which fell 65 percent in its sophomore session for a domestic total of $40.4 million. The Shane Black-directed reboot grossed another $15.3 million from 80 foreign markets for a tepid international total of $54.5 million and $94.5 million globally.
Box-office sensation Crazy Rich Asians, also from Warners, rounded out the top five domestically with $6.5 million in its sixth weekend for a heady cume of $159 million. Globally, Jon M. Chu's rom-com zoomed past the $200 million mark, thanks to an early foreign total of $47 million.
At the U.S. specialty box office, fall festival offerings Colette, starring Keira Knightley, and The Sisters Brothers, starring John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix, both impressed in their bows. From Bleecker Street, Colette posted a screen average of $39,197 from four theaters, followed by $30,507 for Annapurna's Sisters Brothers.
Among specialty holdovers, Sony Pictures Classics' The Wife, starring Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce, finished the weekend with a pleasing domestic total of $5 million from 468 theaters in its sixth outing.
Sept. 22, 7:52 a.m. Updated with Friday grosses and revised weekend estimates.
Sept. 23, 7:30 a.m. Updated with weekend estimates.