Weekend Box Office: 'First Man' Trails 'Star Is Born,' 'Venom' With Sluggish $16.5M Launch

Courtesy of Universal Studios
'First Man'

'Venom' easily stayed atop the chart in its second outing with $35.7 million, while 'A Star Is Born' pulls in another $28 million.

Universal's critically acclaimed astronaut drama First Man faltered in its box-office blastoff, grossing $16.5 million from 3,640 theaters to come in well behind holdovers Venom and A Star Is Born. The hope now is that the adult-skewing film will be buoyed by a slow burn throughout awards season.

Conversely, Sony's Venom, which stayed No. 1 as it crossed $378 million globally, and Warner Bros.' A Star Is Born continued to rock the October box office in their sophomore outings with an estimated domestic payload of $35.7 million and $28 million, respectively. Venom fell less than expected at 56 percent, while Star Is Born dipped 35 percent.

Reuniting Oscar-winning filmmaker Damien Chazelle with his La La Land star Ryan Gosling, First Man is a visceral retelling of Neil Armstrong's journey to the moon in 1969. Heading into the weekend, the biographical drama was tracking to open in the $18 million-$20 million range (some services had it slightly higher). Audiences liked the film less than critics, giving it a B+ CinemaScore.

"Our core audience, adult males, don’t necessarily run out on opening weekend," says Jim Orr, Universal's president of domestic distribution, noting that males made up 56 percent of ticket buyers, while more than half of the audience was over the age of 35. "We'll have a great run for weeks and months to come."

Internationally, First Man took in $8.6 million from its first 22 markets, led by the U.K. ($3.1 million), where it placed behind A Star Is Born ($3.8 million). That puts its global launch at $25.1 million. 

During the publicity tour for First Man, there was a dust-up over Chazelle's decision not to show the famous image of Armstrong planting the American flag.

Comparisons to La La Land (2016) or Chazelle's Whiplash (2014) are tough, since both of those movies debuted first in select cinemas. First Man, costing a gross $70 million to produce (and $60 million net), co-stars Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll and Lukas Haas.

One comparison Universal is using internally is Ben Affleck's Oscar-winning Argo, which started off with $19.5 million in October 2012, and 2015's Bridge of Spies ($15.4 million). First Man is expected to be more of an adult-skewing title than the space epics Gravity (2013) or The Martian (2015), which likewise launched in October, opening to $55.8 million and $54.3 million, respectively.

Venom, which also stayed atop the foreign chart with $69.7 million from 54 markets, is a huge win for Sony film chief Tom Rothman. Through Sunday, the pic has grossed $142.8 million in North America and $235.3 million offshore for a $378.1 million total. Starring Tom Hardy as the Marvel antihero, the $100 million movie is luring fanboys of all ages, as well as their families.

Directed by and starring Bradley Cooper opposite Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born is also a major success at the domestic box office, finishing Sunday with a total $94.2 million. The remake is singing less loudly overseas, where it grossed $20.2 million in its second weekend for a foreign total of $41.2 million and $135.4 million globally.

There's no doubt that the combined power of Venom and Star Is Born made life tough for First Man, which opened in third place, not far ahead of Sony's new family pic Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, which debuted to $16.2 million from 3,521 locations.

20th Century Fox's period thriller Bad Times at the El Royale, another new title on the crowded marquee, started off with a disappointing $7.2 million from 2,808 locations to land at No. 6, despite relatively strong reviews and a star-studded cast including Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, Cynthia Erivo, Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm and Nick Offerman. Offshore, the pic launched to $4 million from 36 markets.

El Royale earned a B- CinemaScore, while Goosebumps 2 received a B.

Targeting conservative moviegoers, Gosnell: The Trial of America's Biggest Serial Killer opened in 675 theaters after years of delays. From GVN Releasing, the movie stars Dean Cain as the lead detective who pursued the case of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion doctor who is serving a life sentence for the murder of three infants and the involuntary manslaughter of one of his adult patients.

Gosnell, which came in at No. 12, earned an estimated $1.1 million for a screen average of $1,678.

Among holdovers, Warner Bros.' animated film Smallfoot rounded out the top five with $9.3 million for a domestic cume of $57.6 million and $110.2 million globally.

A slew of movies rolled out in select theaters at the specialty box office, including Amazon Studios' father-son drama Beautiful Boy, starring Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet; Sony Pictures Classics' The Happy Prince, directed by and starring Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde; and Roadside Attractions' The Oath, toplined by Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz;

Beautiful Boy, playing in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles, is reporting an impressive screen average of $55,359.

Like First Man and A Star Is Born, Beautiful Boy made the rounds at the fall film festivals in hopes of whipping up awards attention. Ditto for Paul Greengrass' terrorist drama 22 July, which opened date-and-date on Wednesday on Netflix and in a smattering of theaters. Netflix doesn't report grosses.

Happy Prince posted a screen average of $5,033 from eight locations, while The Oath, debuting in 10 cinemas, reported a screen average of $2,937.

Among specialty holdovers, Fox 2000's critically acclaimed The Hate U Give expanded into total of 248 theaters, earning a strong $1.8 million for an early total of $2.5 million.

Oct. 12, 12:40 p.m. Updated with revised weekend projections.
Oct. 13, 7:30 a.m. Updated with revised weekend projections.
Oct. 14, 7:30 a.m. Updated with estimated weekend grosses.