Weekend Box Office: 'Night School' Shoots to Head of Class With $28M Debut

Eli Joshua Adé/Universal Studios
'Night School'

New animated pic 'Smallfoot' opens to a solid $23 million, while National Geographic's doc 'Free Solo' soars to record-breaking numbers at the specialty box office ahead of Robert Redford's 'Old Man & the Gun.'

Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish's raucous comedy Night School laughed its way to the top of the box-office chart, beating the overall comedy curse in opening to $28 million from 3,010 theaters.

The film reunites director Malcolm D. Lee, producer Will Packer and Universal, the winning trio behind the 2017 box-office hit Girls Trip, which debuted to $31 million in summer 2017. Thanks to an ethnically diverse audience, Night School scored the best debut for a broad comedy since Girls Trip. Another exception to the comedy slump is Crazy Rich Asians, Jon M. Chu's rom-com that opened to $26.5 million in August on its way to earning nearly $220 million globally.

Heading into the weekend, some tracking services suggested Night School — cementing Haddish's star status after her breakout role in Girls Trip — could clear $31 million in its domestic launch. One hitch may have been generally weak reviews; Night School bears a 31 percent Rotten Tomatoes score, compared to 90 percent for Girls Trip.

Lee's latest comedy, which earned a far better A- CinemaScore from audiences, follows a group of misfits who are forced to attend night school in order to pass their GED exams (Haddish plays their teacher). Rob Riggle, Taran Killam, Romany Malco and Keith David round out the cast. In addition to starring, Hart is among the producers.

Caucasians made up 37 percent of ticket buyers, followed by African-Americans (30 percent), Hispanics (24 percent), Asian (5 percent) and other (4 percent), according to Universal.

Overseas, Night School launched to $5.5 million from its first 19 markets for $33.5 million globally.

“Working with some of the funniest comedic talent in the business today with Kevin and Tiffany, pairing them with two filmmakers at the top of their game in Malcolm and Will, and you have a movie that checks all of the boxes for which audiences clearly turned out," says Universal domestic distribution chief Jim Orr.

Thanks to solid family turnout, Warner Bros.' new animated offering Smallfoot opened in second place with $23 million from 4,131 theaters. The movie, whose voice cast includes Channing Tatum and LeBron James, likewise earned an A- CinemaScore. Nearly half the audience was under the age of 25.

Co-written and directed by Karey Kirkpatrick, Smallfoot follows a group of Yeti who encounter a human (neither can believe the other is real). James Corden, Zendaya, Common, Gina Rodriguez, Danny DeVito and Yara Shahidi also lend their voices. Internationally, Smallfoot took in $14 million from 49 markets for a total bow of $37 million.

Smallfoot no doubt took a bite out of Amblin and Universal's family offering, The House With a Clock in Its Walls, which declined 53 percent in its sophomore outing to $12.5 million. Still, House is no slouch, finishing Sunday with a domestic total of $44.8 million and $65.8 million worldwide.

In its third weekend, Paul Feig and Lionsgate's sleeper hit A Simple Favor, starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, followed at No. 4 domestically with $6.6 million. The black comedy's North American tally stands at $43.1 million through Sunday, and $62.9 million globally.

New Line's horror pic The Nun remained a force to be reckoned in its fourth weekend, rounding out the top five with $5.4 million for a domestic cume of $109 million. The pic also topped a quiet weekend overseas with $16.2 million from 80 markets for a foreign sum of $221 million and $330 million worldwide, the best showing of any film in the Conjuring universe.

CBS Films and Gregory Plotkin's modestly budgeted slasher film Hell Fest, distributed by Lionsgate, opened in sixth place with $5.1 million from 2,297 theaters, on par with expectations. The pic stars Amy Forsyth, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Reign Edwards and Tony Todd and centers on a group of teens who are pursued by a killer at a horror-themed amusement park on Halloween. Audiences gave the film a C CinemaScore, not unusual for the genre.

The fourth new movie opening nationwide, albeit in far fewer locations, was Little Women, the seventh big-screen adaptation of the iconic novel about the March sisters. The indie pic, from distributor Pinnacle Peak and playing in 643 cinemas, tanked with roughly $747,000. Sarah Davenport, Allie Jennings, Lucas Grabeel, Ian Bohen and Lea Thompson star.

With awards season getting underway, a flurry of films opened at the specialty box office, including National Geographic's critically acclaimed documentary Free Solo, which scored the best screen average of the year to date, $75,201. If estimates hold, it will boast the best opening average ever for a documentary, topping 2006's An Inconvenient Truth ($70,333).

Free Solo, launching in four theaters and fueled by a 100 percent Rotten Tomatoes score, follows professional climber Alex Honnold's quest to free-climb Yosemite's El Capitan and is the latest title to participate in the doc boom at the box office.

"In a year when audiences are recognizing the power of seeing docs on the big screen, it's so gratifying to see Free Solo embraced as the thrilling theatrical experience it is," says National Geographic Global Networks CEO Courtney Monroe.

One exception to the doc upswing is Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 11/9, which bowed nationwide last weekend to just $3 million. In its second weekend, Fahrenheit 11/9 tumbled 63 percent to $1.1 million from 1,719 theaters for a domestic total of $5.2 million. Moore's latest film is one of the few docs to ever open wide, a risky move that isn't paying off.

Opting to launch nationwide was even more problematic for Dan Fogleman's Life Itself, which plummeted more than 65 percent in its second outing to $770,085 for a 10-day domestic total of $3.8 million, and Assassination Nation, which declined more than 80 percent in its second weekend to $202,827 for a total of $1.7 million. The two films, along with Fahrenheit 11/9, all made stops on the recent fall festival circuit.

Elsewhere at the specialty box office, Fox Searchlight's The Old Man & the Gun, the last film Robert Redford says he will star in, posted a respectable screen average of $30,000 as it debuted in five locations. The crime drama, directed by David Lowery and co-starring Sissy Spacek and Casey Affleck, tells the gritty tale of compulsive real-life bank robber Forrest Tucker, who escaped from prison 16 times over the course of a long career that ended when he was in his late 70s. Danny Glover, Tika Sumpter, Isiah Whitlock Jr., John David Washington, Tom Waits and Elisabeth Moss co-star.

"We opened in a group of theaters that are supported by different demos, so it is very encouraging to see audiences in both the Landmark in West L.A. as well as the Regal Union Square [in Manhattan] coming to see the film," says Searchlight's Frank Rodriguez.

Washington pulled double duty this weekend, between Old Man & the Gun and Neon's Monsters and Men, helmed by first-time feature director Reinaldo Marcus Green. The police shooting drama, launching in 18 locations, posted a screen average of $7,277. (MoviePass recently announced it has taken a financial stake in the film.)

Sept. 30, 7:40 a.m. Updated with weekend estimates.