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Only 2 percent of moviegoers turning up to see Ridley Scott’s A-list The Last Duel on opening weekend were 17 or younger, while just 17 percent were between the ages 18 and 24. Conversely, more than 80 percent of ticket buyers were 25 years old and up.
The historical drama, set in Medieval France, limped to $4.8 million domestically behind already muted expectations, a career-worst debut for the well-respected Scott. The movie’s plight underscores Hollywood’s battle to win back customers 35 and older, who, before the pandemic, were among the most frequent moviegoers and would fuel a title such as The Last Duel. No longer.
Period pics are a risky genre, and Scott’s latest feature would have faced challenges even in normal times despite major star power — Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer and Ben Affleck — and generally good reviews. Heading into opening weekend, 20th Century Studios and Disney had hoped for $8 million to $10 million.
To date, the box office recovery in the U.S. has been powered by younger patrons flocking to see a relatively steady diet of superhero movies and horror pics, upending the notion that this demo couldn’t care less about the theatrical experience. Halloween Kills, which opened opposite The Last Duel, racked up a huge $50.4 million despite a dual release on Peacock. As a way of comparison, 12 percent of Halloween‘s audience was under 13, while 35 percent were aged 17 to 24.
A parade of big-budget movies hitting cinemas this fall and winter — historically a time for adult-skewing fare — need the 25-plus set to return in force, and especially the 35-plus crowd. The first to go was No Time to Die, which MGM and Eon opened over the Oct. 8-10 weekend after numerous delays due to the pandemic (Bond films have always skewed older).
No Time to Die launched to a solid $56 million domestically. While many in Hollywood had hoped it would earn more, it did succeed in luring older demos, with 25 percent of ticket buyers saying it was the first time they’d been back to the cinema since the pandemic began.
Box office pundits credit No Time to Die for sticking to its latest release date. “Bond took one for the team,” says Ethan Titleman, senior vp at leading entertainment research film NRG. “We need more films to take a chance.” Titleman and others won’t mention other tentpoles by name, but one title that recently decided to once again delay its release because of the ongoing pandemic is Top Gun: Maverick.
No Time to Die fell an estimated 57 percent in its second outing to a solid-but-not-spectacular $24.3 million and a 10-day domestic total of $99.1 million. And it continues to ring up impressive numbers overseas, as Bond films tend to do, earning another $54 million this weekend for a foreign tally of $348.3 million and $447.4 million worldwide (and that’s without China, where it lands Oct. 29).
“Someone had to go first. We stood tall and the movie is doing well. Once people start coming back, they will keep coming back,” says Erik Lomis, distribution president at United Artists Releasing, which is handling No Time to Die in North America on behalf of MGM and Eon.
Or, as one studio executive says, “The business can’t rely on Marvel characters alone.”
Whether No Time to Die, which cost $250 million-$300 million to make before marketing, can break even remains to be seen. The latest Bond film is skewing a bit older than Spectre and Skyfall in North America, attributed in part to competition from Sony’s hit superhero sequel Venom: Let There Be Carnage.
The next big test for older demos is Denis Villeneuve’s acclaimed sci-fi tentpole Dune, which Warner Bros. and Legendary open domestically on Oct. 22. There are caveats, including the fact that Dune is debuting simultaneously on HBO Max. Also, the film features a younger lead in Timothée Chalamet (the cast also includes Zendaya).
Overseas, Dune has already amassed $129 million in ticket sales.
“If a movie can’t get all quadrants, it’s like a table with three legs,” says Comscore’s Paul Dergarabedian.
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