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Warner Bros.’ Aquaman splashed down at the U.S. box office with $67.4 million from 4,125 theaters, easily winning the pre-Christmas session. Including paid sneaks, the tentpole pic’s early domestic total stands at $72.1 million.
Meanwhile, 2018 domestic box office revenue looked to hit a new record on Sunday, surpassing the $11.383 billion amassed in 2016. At this pace, revenue could end up at $11.8 billion through Dec. 31.
The opening power of Aquaman, Mary Poppins Returns and Transformers spinoff Bumblebee over the weekend nearly made up for there being no Star Wars film this year. Revenue was almost on par with the same frame last year, when Star Wars: The Last Jedi ruled. All three films, however, came in slightly behind tracking.
There’s still plenty of time to make up the difference, however, as Christmas is unlike any other time of year at the box office. The weekend before the holiday can be somewhat slow as consumers focus on holiday preparations. Traffic at the multiplex will pick up in earnest on the afternoon of Dec. 25 and stay at peak levels through New Year’s Day.
Following what looked to be a close race, Disney’s musical Mary Poppins Returns flew high enough to beat Paramount’s Bumblebee with a weekend gross of $22.2 million from 4,090 theaters for a five-day debut of $31 million (the sequel opened Wednesday).
Bumblebee, facing tough competition from Aquaman, followed with $21 million from 3,550 locations. Both tentpoles appealed to a notably diverse audience.
Directed by James Wan, Aquaman stars Jason Momoa in the titular role alongside Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson and Dolph Lundgren. The male-fueled pic, which cost at least $200 million to produce, has now amassed $410.7 million, including another $67.4 million over the weekend, for a global cume of $482.8 million. The DC superhero tentpole is doing big business in Imax theaters — in the U.S. alone, the premium exhibitor accounted for $10 million.
“This is a tremendous victory,” says Jeff Goldstein, Warners president of distribution. “The fact that were able to get to this big number when people are tied up with holiday preparations is significant.”
Mary Poppins Returns hopes to emulate other musicals in terms of enjoying a long run at the box office, versus a big opening, such as The Greatest Showman last year. “We weren’t aiming to hit the high note right out the gate. We wanted it build and are looking for great word of mouth,” says Disney’s distribution chief Cathleen Taff.
The follow-up to the classic 1964 film stars Emily Blunt as the iconic nanny, alongside Lin-Manuel Miranda, Emily Mortimer, Ben Whishaw and Angela Lansbury. Dick Van Dyke, who starred opposite Julie Andrews in the original pic, makes a cameo appearance in the film, which cost $130 million to produce. Nearly 20 percent of Friday’s audience was under the age of 17, while females made up more than 60 percent of ticket buyers.
Internationally, Mary Poppins Returns earned $20.3 million from its first 17 markets — including $9.4 million in the U.K. — for a worldwide opening of $52.1 million.
Directed by Travis Knight, Bumblebee is an origin story starring Hailee Steinfeld. The $137 million film boasted the best Rotten Tomatoes score — 94 percent — of any movie opening nationwide over the weekend. At the same time, it was forced to vie with Aquaman for male attention. Overseas, the pic opened to $31.1 million for a global debut of $52.1 million.
“We’re starting a play period where people go to the movies go to the movies multiple times,” says Paramount distribution chief Kyle Davies. “There are lots of movies under the Christmas tree.”
Aquaman, Mary Poppins and Bumblebee all received A- CinemaScores.
Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse placed No. 4 in its second weekend, declining 54 percent to an estimated $16.5 million for a 10-day total of $65 million.
Warners and Clint Eastwood’s The Mule rounded out the top five in its second outing, dipping 47 percent to $9.3 million for a domestic total of $35 million.
Illumination and Universal’s The Grinch remained a strong player in its seventh weekend, coming in No. 6 with $8.2 million for a domestic total of $253.2 million. Overseas, it earned $23.7 million from 62 markets for a global tally of $422.5 million.
STXfilms’ holiday romantic comedy Second Act, starring Jennifer Lopez, opened at No. 7 with $6.5 million from 2,602 cinemas, somewhat behind tracking. The film, costing a modest $16 million to make, has been snubbed by many critics and received mediocre exit scores on Comscore. It fared somewhat better in terms of its CinemaScore grade, earning a B+.
The team behind Second Act believes it will pick up once Christmas is over (a common refrain for almost every new film).
Universal and DreamWorks’ Welcome to Marwen — the fifth new film of the weekend — got wiped out in its debut. Directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Steve Carell, the dramedy bowed to a dismal $2.4 million from 1,911 locations. The pic tied with Paramount’s Action Point to mark the lowest nationwide opening of the year for a major Hollywood studio release.
Marwen comes on the heels of another box-office dud, Mortal Engines, from Universal and MRC. The big-budget tentpole tumbled 77 percent in its second weekend to $1.7 million for a domestic total of just $11.9 million and a global cume of $54.3 million. (MRC is a division of Valence Media, which also owns The Hollywood Reporter.)
At the specialty box office, Amazon Studios and Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War bowed in three theaters for a theater average of $18,575, a solid showing for a foreign-language entry.
In its sophomore outing, Annapurna and Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk scored the top location average of any film — $111,902 — from five cinemas.
Among other awards contenders, Focus Features’ Mary Queen of Scots rose to No. 10 in its third weekend upon expanding into 795 theaters. The film earned $2.2 million for an early domestic total of $3.5 million.
Another royal drama, The Favourite, also expanded nationwide. The Fox Searchlight release earned $2 million in its fifth weekend from 790 theaters for a domestic total of $10 million.
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