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Box office charts, Or, 'this is why we can't have nice things'

by Nathaniel R

Weekend Box Office (Sept 15th-17th)
W I D E  L I M I T E D
mother! BEACH RATS
1. IT $60 (cum. $218.7) REVIEW
1.🔺BEACH RATS  $320k on 67 screens* REVIEW
2.🔺AMERICAN ASSASSIN $14.8 new 2.  DO IT LIKE AN HOMBRE  $125k  on 226 screens (cum. $2.3)
3.🔺mother! $7.5 new REVIEW
3.🔺BRAD'S STATUS   $100k on 4 screens new REVIEW
4. HOME AGAIN  $5.3 (cum. $17.1)
4. 🔺 COLUMBUS $89k (cum. $637K) on 62 screens


As you've probably heard box office for 2017 is way down, the lowest in several years overall. I've read numerous reports blaming this on Hollywood's overreliance on event movies and franchises and the like but here's a depressing theory: I don't actually think that's the problem...

No I think the problem is that's the only kind of film that mainstream audiences rally for. So of course Hollywood latches on to them and makes more. Audiences just can't be budged when it comes to non pre-branded work. Even when a movie does break out of the doldrums this year to do phenomenal business it's a pre-branded title (It and Wonder Woman for example, both of which exceeded all expectations in terms of gross capability). Yes, word of mouth can still generate small hits. That's especially true at the arthouse where you'll note Sally Hawkins in Maudie is STILL playing and, in its 23rd week, still in the top ten for limited releases. Menashe, an interesting Orthodox Jewish drama, is also playing well to the select city crowds.

5. THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD $3.5 (cum. $70.3)
5. MENASHE $87k (cum. $1.5) on 90 screens REVIEW 
6. ANNABELLE CREATION $2.6 (cum. $99.9)  6.  INGRID GOES WEST $81k on 100 screens (cum. $2.9)
7. WIND RIVER $2.5 (cum. $29.1) REVIEW
7. 🔺 DOLORES  $68K on 18 screens (cum. $151k)
8. LEAP! $2.1 (cum. $18.6)
8. MAUDIE $38k (cum. $6) on 63 screens REVIEW
9. SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING $1.8 (cum. $330.2) REVIEW 9. GOOD TIME $29k (cum. $1.9) on 29 screens REVIEW
10. DUNKIRK $1.3 (cum. $185.1) PODCAST | TOM HARDY 10. CALIFORNIA TYPEWRITER $22k (cum. $128k) on 18 screens

🔺 = new or significant expansion

numbers from box office mojo 


Meanwhile, though, Spider-Man Homecoming is in its 11th weekend and still in the top ten, which is even more weekends than Wonder Woman managed (though Diana trumps Peter in overall gross). 

See, when it comes to mainstream audiences, they stick with the franchises. Even when a movie gets tremendous buzz and audiences who "risk" it love it, it has a cap if it's not a franchise (see Dunkirk and Girls Trip and Get Out and Split and on and on). If you're not a franchise you need massive word of mouth to do between $100 and $200 million at the box office and you're never really going above that. But a film like Annabelle or Pirates: Dead Men Tell No Tales sails to $100+ million merely by existing as part of a series. Even if regular mainstream audiences don't actually like it!

So next time you see an article blaming Hollywood for their lack of ideas, remember that it's actually the audiences who demand the sequels and familiarity. Yes yes, chickens and eggs... because Hollywood did deprive audiences who want more than sequels so often (especially in the summer months) that those audiences stopped being in the moviegoing habit. But the problem we have now is really with the audience themselves because they haven't come back even if people tell them something's great.


Note that American Assassin and Hitman's Bodyguard, the type of generic shoot-em-up movies that get several iterations a year (though they aren't technically franchises) and that no one will remember they saw the following year, both opened stronger than mother! which had a ton of publicity and a bonafide movie star leading it and that everyone will remember they saw even if they hated it.

But it looked... Strange. Unfamiliar.

No, the problem is not that Hollywood makes so many franchises -- audiences open their wallets when they do  (simple supply and demand) -- but that sometimes they often choose poorly in terms of which pre-brands get the greenlight (Baywatch? CHiPs?) which movies get a sequel (The Nut Job 2?). And of course the larger problem which is plaguing the industry this year is that they're sticking with franchises to which the audience has already demonstrated waning interest (Alien & Transformers & Pirates, for example) which is not a position of strength. They're trying again with Terminator, too. That's another franchise where audiences were pretty "meh" about in its last iteration. With all of these long in the tooth franchises they're clearly hoping for a Fast & Furious or James Bond situation where the series suddenly gets more gargantuanly popular than it ever was in the past... but the odds of that happening are so rare you might as well buy a lottery ticket.

At any rate, thank god summer is over and Hollywood shifts their focus a bit away from money-making towards awards-grabbing. At least that forces a bit of variety into movie theaters.

* About the Beach Rats gross. That's the number from Box Office Mojo but I think they've made an error. That looks like it's cumulative gross to me (given its prior performance and the fact that it doubled theater counts this weekend). They're also listing that same number as its cumulative gross though the movie had already made $200,000. So it probably only made $120,000 or so this weekend. Either way that micro Sundance indie is doing well so at the arthouse at least the box office can still be exciting and hard to predict in terms of which films will connect and which won't.

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Reader Comments (30)

I saw Beach Rats, which is excellent. It has the best performance by a young actor, Harris Dickinson, that I have seen in a long time.

Shame about mother!, but you can't sell a bad film to audiences

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

You know, give me 10 "mother!" like films over franchises any day. Saw it and loved parts, shook my head at parts, laughed a lot (in a good if sick way) and walked out talking and feeling and thinking about something.

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom M

Beach Rats was excellent. Watching Dickinson was like watching a documentary. My friend didn't like it. Felt it was showing familiar tropes we don't need to see in 2017.

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

Is it that audiences won't budge or the studios won't budge?. We have seen the extinction of studio backed adult films like The Godfather, Out of Africa or The English Patient (maybe the latter was an indie, can't recall). The studios need to change their programming if they want movie audiences to grow. But maybe it's too late, they want easy cash, and streaming will kill everything anyway. Sad face.

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJono

I'm sure you know this, but it really stinks how inaccessible limited releases are to non-city dwellers. I am someone who would absolutely go see indie films and am not super interested in most franchises. But it's an hour plus drive (one way) to the nearest arthouse theater. It takes something I'm very passionate about - I made the drive for Carol - to justify that added time and cost. I end up not seeing much of anything (although I make a point to place my money with female-fronted projects like Wonder Woman and Ghostbusters). I know I'm just part of the problem, but...it's still hard out there for us rural/suburban cinephiles.

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia.

I saw mother! earlier today. That was really fucked up. It's got a few flaws but I liked it enough that it made me laugh a few times. I also saw Wind River today which is a better film.

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

I'd wager Jennifer Lawrence's comments about Hurricane Irma also plays a part as to why so few people went out to see MOTHER!...

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEmma


Really? I get the sense that mother! wouldn't appeal to hardcore Trump supporters anyway. I mean, Stephen King has been one of the most vocal celebrity critics of Trump (he even blocked King on twitter), and IT has done phenomenal box-office.

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

I was exasperated by Beach Rats. Great performance by Harris Dickinson in the service of a story that is tired and by this point cliche.

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

I share a lot of the same feelings about Beach Rats. It was pretty good. Harris Dickinson was great. I thought I was going to LOVE it, but I only liked it enough. I dare a filmmaker to make a film about gay sexual awakening instead of sexual repression.

I'm pleased by mother! underperforming. I hated it, but I just want to move on from it and not talk about it.

I'm stunned by Maudie doing so well! I finally saw it this week. It was a cute story, not a great film. I know it's a crowd pleaser to many though. I know of someone who has already seen it six times! Sally was, of course, wonderful. (I can definitely see her winning critics prizes for this and The Shape of Water). Ethan Hawke was kinda... bad?

I finally saw Dunkirk, which was pretty good.

The best new film I saw this week, to my surprise, was Patti Cake$.

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

@emma- I don't think "Mother" is a film aimed at the cineplex crow even if they are marketing as a horror film. I did see "It " which is very well produced and has some effective shocks but I was not too scare. The young actors are perfect and they make the movie work. The person who cast the movie should get an Oscar nomination for casting.

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

I finally saw "It" today and even though I was rather familiar with the story, it's still the most scared I have *ever* been in a movie theater!!

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

I hated mother!, but better an artistic failure than another franchise.

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

According to boxoffice.com, Beach Rats grossed $320,778 this weekend for a cume of $568,856.

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterShane

@Aaron - that's a gross over-generalization. If anything I think the fucked-up-ness crazy of mother (and It for that matter) would appeal much more to trump fans than to die-hard Hilary fans.

Regardless, I agree that no ones comments made any dent in box office of either.

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHuh

I saw Beach Rats which I thought was fantastic. Harris Dickinson is sure to be a star. I'm glad its expanding pretty well.

Of course, I also saw mother! and I still don't know what to make of it. That being said, it is unfortunate yet not surprising it is performing poorly. As audiences crave originality, they still go to franchises. Even those that audiences are tired of. So we have a big pot-kettle situation.

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMatt St.Clair

The husband and I saw a late-afternoon showing of Beach Rats today and were underwhelmed for different reasons. The film is well-made and well-acted, but I've seen innumerable gay-themed offerings over the past 20 years which have made the same type of statement, many of them with greater efficacy. There was nothing fresh, different, or exciting about this filmmaker's take, and I was ready for the thing to be over by the time the credits began to roll.

As for this year's low box office, one thing which has started to keep me away with more regularity is the astronomical price of admission. Case in point: paying $11 for today's 4:15 show because matinee during the weekend ends at some ridiculous time -- usually between noon and 2:30 around these parts. If I'm gonna spend $11-16 for a movie, it has to be for something in which I have more than a passing interest. Gone are the days when I go to the theater just to give myself something to do during the weekend.

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

Isn't there a difference between different-bad and different-good? JL-DA pairing was doomed. They spent over $33m on an indulgent art film, and tried to sell it as horror. Audiences are smarter than people give them credit for. Beach Rats was directed by a woman and it's beautifully shot and acted

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarie

"mother!" is so thrilling, funny, mordant, provocative, audacious, and well-directed. I don't *love* all of it, but it's filmmaking worth observing and talking about. Shame on those who rejected it.

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

This was a great but depressing article to read.

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

$11 dollars is cheap for a movie these days- once upon a time in the not too recent past you could see a movie on a huge screen and not have to pay extra- you did not have to pay extra for 3 -D either.
From that clip I guess "Beach Rats" aimed at the Corbin Fisher audience? There was a good sweet romantic gay movie called "Shelter"(2007) about surfer dudes in California- worth a look

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjaragon

There is another reason why those franchises who no one like keep getting sequels -- international gross. Pirates made $621 million internationally and Transformers $475 m. Dunkirk, a film about a world war, only did $323 m. So it is unfortunate to say that the issue is global and seems unlikely to change in the near future. Movies don't get made just for Americans now and the world at large want dumb things that don't need subtitles.

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterkin

Another thing? Movies are often than not group events... either for families or friends. And it's just hard to convince a large group of people to watch the cool new indie film or that polarizing whatever film. I know when I see films with friends it's almost always good reviewed blockbusters because that's what everyone wants to see. Sad, but true.

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

Never attack the public for something they didn't ask for!

September 18, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I think we'll be feeling the repercussions of mother!'s failure for years to come. Sad state of affairs.

September 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

I love, LOVE, love Mother!
That's all.

September 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJija

jaragon, cheap is a relativr concept shaped by a number of variables. In Baltimore $11 for a matinee, despite being on the lower end of the scale, is not cheap, and I'm sure lots of other people feel that way.

September 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

I've been catching up on mid-40's films:

Gentleman's Agreement - could've been boring and heavy-handed about its anti-semitism message but manages to be emotionally interesting even if the characters are a little basic. And wow, was a young Gregory Peck just flat-out gorgeous. Good lord.

Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman - with that title I was expecting something campier but this still entertained. Hayward was great. Between this, A Star is Born and The Little Foxes, I now perk up any time Dorothy Parker is involved with a screenplay but unfortunately the rest of her IMDB credits don't seem as good.

September 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

Saw PATTI CAKE$ which was a delight to watch. Lots of memorable songs, and the acting was stellar all around (also Cathy Moriarty in a rap song!).

Also watched MOTHER! which I found interesting. I loved Michelle Pfeiffer in it and the visuals. It was marred a little bit by some tech difficulties the theater screen was having (green lines, then audio off by a minute, then the film projector reflecting onto the screen) during the previews so I had to go to the manager 2-3 times for them to fix it. Thank goodness they finally fixed everything right when the movie started. But then it made me wonder if it was on purpose, as to mirror the film itself and make me experience all this pressure...

September 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge P.

Troy H- I guess it all depends were you live- in NYC most tickets are 15 and up.

September 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

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