Alien invasion thriller “Arrival” capitalized on strong reviews to score an impressive debut, while Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” topped the box office for the second consecutive weekend.
The superhero adventure picked up $43 million to bring its domestic total to $153 million. DreamWorks Animation’s “Trolls” came in second, earning $35 million to bring its stateside haul to $94 million after two weeks of release.
The mixture of strong holdovers and compelling new releases goosed box office receipts, while offering a sense of respite after a bruising presidential election that saw Donald Trump upset Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House.
“Escapism seemed to be the order of the day,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “I think people wanted to step outside of the world of politics and get back to some semblance of normalcy.”
Ticket sales also benefited from the Veteran’s Day holiday, which gave school children and many adults an extra day off and pushed revenues up 80% on Friday.
“Arrival” took third place, easily outpacing pre-release tracking with a debut of $24 million. Heading into the weekend, the film was expected to launch to $16 million. The film’s audience was 52% male and 85% over the age of 25. “Arrival” has been a fixture of major film festivals in Toronto and Telluride, which helped build awareness heading into its premiere.
“The critics have been raving about this thing for months,” said Kyle Davies, Paramount’s distribution head. “Sometimes the best advertisement for the movie is the movie itself.”
“Arrival” was directed by Denis Villeneuve, a filmmaker who has built a steady following with the likes of “Prisoners” and “Sicario.” It focuses on a linguist (Amy Adams) who is recruited to try to communicate with alien visitors. Paramount picked up domestic rights to the film for $20 million. FilmNation, Lava Bear, and 21 Laps financed the $47 million production.
“Arrival’s” strong box office result is a shot in the arm for Paramount, which has weathered a string of flops such as “Zoolander 2,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” and “Ben-Hur.” The instability starts at the top. Viacom, Paramount’s corporate parent, was engulfed in an internecine war for much of the past year, as Shari Redstone, the daughter of founder Sumner Redstone, successfully worked to oust Philippe Dauman from his perch as the company’s CEO. Now Paramount chief Brad Grey is trying to convince Shari Redstone that he has the vision to lead the company out of its doldrums, and has pointed to films like “Arrival” as proof that the studio’s slate is improving.
Universal’s “Almost Christmas” debuted to a solid $15.6 million across 2,376 locations for a fourth place finish. The comedy about a dysfunctional family gathering for the holidays after their mother dies was economical to produce and carries a $17 million budget. It stars Danny Glover, Gabrielle Union, Kimberly Elise, and Jessie Usher. The audience for “Almost Christmas” was 56% female and 60% over the age of 25, with African-Americans making up 71% of ticket buyers.
“It’s highly relatable,” said Nick Carpou, Universal’s domestic distribution chief. “The message about families and reunions, and sharing the good and the bad with each other, and how that makes us stronger, appeals to a lot of people.”
Lionsgate’s “Hacksaw Ridge” rounded out the top five, earning $10.8 million to bring the war drama’s total to $32.3 million. The film appeared to get a lift from Veteran’s Day crowds looking for some patriotic entertainment.
Among the weekend’s other wide releases, EuropaCorp’s “Shut In” stumbled out of the gate, kicking off to a paltry $3.7 million from 2,058 locations. The film cost $10 million to produce.
Sony bowed “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” on two screens where it made $120,300. The Iraq War drama is shot at an accelerated frame rate, but few theaters will be able to exhibit the film at that speed. The limited release did exhibit the picture in the immersive format that director Ang Lee has pushed theaters to incorporate. At both locations, it was screened in 4K, 3D, and at 120 frames per second. “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” will expand next weekend onto more than 800 theaters. The film was expected to be an awards contender, but its prospects have diminished in the wake of weak reviews.
In limited release, Sony Pictures Classics debuted “Elle” on two screens where it earned $56,012. The thriller stars Isabelle Huppert as a woman who plots revenge against the man who raped her.
“Moonlight,” the critically acclaimed Oscar hopeful about a black man dealing with his sexuality, continued to impress. The drama from A24 earned $1.4 million from 176 screens to push its total to $4.8 million.
Overall, ticket sales were up more than 45% from the same period a year ago. Next weekend brings the release of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” a spinoff of the Harry Potter franchise that carries high expectations and should have the muggles out in force.