Box Office: 'Spider-Verse' Swings to Heroic $35M; 'The Mule' Trots to Strong $17M
Elsewhere, the Peter Jackson-produced tentpole 'Mortal Engines' bombs; Barry Jenkins' 'If Beale Street Could Talk' shines at the specialty box office.
In another win for Sony's stable of Marvel films, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse swung to $35.4 million in its domestic debut — the best December opening ever for an animated film — laying the course for a strong run over the year-end holidays.
The critically acclaimed film, produced by Philip Lord and Christopher Miller, reveals a shared universe where there can be more than one Spider-Man and introduces Brooklyn teen Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) as the latest hero to wear the mask.
Without a Star Wars movie in the holiday corridor for the first time since 2014, overall revenue for the frame plummeted by 60 percent compared to the same weekend last year, when Star Wars: The Last Jedi launched to $220 million domestically. The dip was expected, and 2018 revenue is still running ahead of last year by nearly 9 percent.
Traditionally, most movies don't score big mid-December openings; rather, they can enjoy especially strong multiples over the Christmas stretch. Spider-Verse, fueled by fanboys and families, scored a coveted A+ CinemaScore — a first for a Spider-Man pic.
"We're positioned nicely to play during the biggest moviegoing week of the year, which begins Dec. 25," says Sony's distribution chief Adrian Smith.
Unique for featuring a superhero who is half Puerto Rican and half African-American, Spider-Verse succeeded in playing to a diverse audience. Caucasians made up 47 percent of ticket buyers, followed by Hispanics (20 percent), African-Americans (17 percent) and Asians/Other (16 percent), according to ComScore.
Spider-Verse, which is vying for awards recognition, also pushes the boundaries in featuring CGI and hand-drawn animation. Costing at least $90 million to make, it follows the success of Sony's Venom and was directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman.
The pic got off to a softer start overseas, where it grossed $21 million from its first 44 markets for a global start of $56.4 million. South Korea led with $3.3 million, while the U.K. turned in $2.9 million. Spider-Verse is facing tough competition internationally from Warner Bros.' Aquaman, which has collected more than $261 million overseas ahead of its Dec. 21 domestic launch.
Warner Bros.' R-rated The Mule, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, also trotted out to a strong debut, earning $17.2 million in North America. That is among the top openings for any film Eastwood has directed. The $50 million crime drama was powered by older moviegoers, with more than half the audience over the age of 50.
The Mule, which placed No. 2 and earned an A- CinemaScore, played especially well in America's heartland and in the South.
"This is all about setting the film up for Christmas Day and after, when adults become available," says Jeff Goldstein, chief of domestic distribution for Warners.
The R-rated movie, which marks the first time Eastwood has appeared onscreen since 2012's Trouble With the Curve, also stars Dianne Wiest, Michael Pena, Andy Garcia, Laurence Fishburne, Alison Eastwood, Taissa Farmiga and Ignacio Serricchio. Bradley Cooper also has a small role in the movie.
The Mule tells the story of Earl Stone (Eastwood), a man in his 80s who is broke, alone and facing the foreclosure of his business when he is offered a job that simply requires him to drive. What he discovers is that he has just signed on as a drug courier for a Mexican cartel. Stone does the job so well that his cargo increases exponentially, and he is assigned a handler.
The weekend's third new nationwide offering, the Peter Jackson-produced tentpole Mortal Engines, bombed with $7.5 million for a fifth-place finish after drawing poor reviews and a B- CinemaScore from audiences.
Costing Universal and MRC at least $100 million to produce, Mortal Engines is a post-apocalyptic steampunk thriller directed by Christian Rivers from an adapted script by Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. Hugo Weaving, Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Jihae and Ronan Raftery star.
"Mortal Engines is a visually captivating, cinematic experience based on IP that may not be immediately recognizable and therefore may take a little time for audiences to discover," said Universal's distribution chief Jim Orr.
The film could be facing losses of $100 million or more for the various financiers, according to sources. Mortal Engines had hoped to make up ground overseas but is faring dismally offshore as well; it earned $11.5 million from 54 markets this weekend for a foreign total of $34.8 million and just $42.3 million globally.
MRC is a division of Valence Media, which also owns The Hollywood Reporter.
Spider-Verse wasn't the only superhero to make noise at the box office. Fox and Ryan Reynolds' Once Upon a Deadpool, a PG-13 cut of Deadpool 2, earned $2.6 million over weekend for a five-day haul of nearly $4 million, a solid showing for what is essentially a rerelease. Overseas, Once Upon a Deadpool earned $1 million from 12 markets.
At the specialty box office, Barry Jenkins' awards hopeful If Beale Street Could Talk flourished in its launch in four theaters, posting a screen average of $54,793, easily the best of the weekend. From Annapurna, Jenkins' follow-up to his Oscar-winning Moonlight played to a younger, diverse audience. The largest segment of the audience (31 percent) was between ages 25 and 34. Caucasians made up 49 percent of ticket buyers, followed by African-Americans at 30 percent, Asians/Other at 13 percent and Hispanics at 8 percent.
From Sony Pictures Classics, the Nadine Labaki drama Capernaum launched in three theaters for a location average of $9,196.
Lars von Trier's controversial The House That Jack Built wasn't so lucky, posting a location average of $1,225 from 33 cinemas.