At first glance, it wasn’t looking like the most exciting weekend at the box office for audiences. Their choices included a formula comedy with an ’80s-feeling plot (though one with plenty of star power and a director on a roll behind it), an amiable family programmer that looks a lot like Ice Age but isn’t, and a horror film releasing a month before Halloween that hasn’t exactly wowed critics. And yet, audiences showed up.
Kevin Hart’s last four (live-action narrative) films have opened between $33 and $37 million, and the star has not had a film in which he is a lead or co-lead open to less than $20 million since 2004’s Soul Plane. That mightily impressive run continued with Night School’s $28 million opening this weekend. And it’s not just good news for Hart. This is also the fourth straight $20 million–plus opening for director Malcolm D. Lee on a string that includes The Best Man Holiday, Barbershop: The Next Cut, and last year’s $115 million smash, Girls Trip, which launched Night School co-star, Tiffany Haddish, into the spotlight. Night School‘s 30% Tomatometer score is not quite Hart’s lowest – it beats out Think Like A Man Too (23%), Ride Along (19%), and Ride Along 2 (13%). Nor is it Lee’s lowest-scoring movie – it beats his Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins (23%) and Scary Movie 5 (4%).
September releases with similar openings to Night School, and which also featured African-American leads, include The Perfect Guy (with a Tomatometer of 18% and opening weekend of $25.8 million) and No Good Deed (11% / $24.2 million), as well as the better received Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself (63% / $23.4 million). Those three films managed low final multiples of 2.202, 2.166, and 2.206. On the other hand, 2002’s Certified Fresh Barbershop was a breakout hit after a start of $20.6 million, and went on to make over $75 million domestically. The average multiple of Central Intelligence, Ride Along 2, and Get Hard came to 2.94, which is likely to give Night School a first estimate range for its total earnings of between $72 and $82 million.
Warner Bros.’ animated Smallfoot (69% on the Tomatometer) may have finished in a strong-seeming second place, but any plans for a sequel might still be put on ice. The film’s $23 million estimated opening is actually one of the lowest openings ever for a film released in more than 4,000 theaters. It’s not as bad as The Nut Job 2’s opening numbers: that movie is still the all-time champion with just $8.3 million from more that 4,000 screens. But the new movie does join the not-so-illustrious company of The Lego Ninjago Movie ($20.4 million), The Emoji Movie ($24.5), and The Predator ($24.6). There have been other animated features to open in late September with similar numbers to Smallfoot’s start, but it’s hard to use them as a gauge for the film’s likely final total as their final numbers are all over the map: Open Season opened with $23.6 million and finished with $85.1 million; Storks opened with $21.3 million and finished with $72.6 million; and The Lego Ninjago Movie opened with $20.4 and finished with $59.2.
Also this weekend we have Lionsgate’s Hell Fest. The movie has a Tomatometer score of 37% and opened to just $5 million, with a per-theater-average of $2,209. That is the worst per-theater-average for a wide-release horror film since last year’s Entertainment Studio’s Friend Request made $2 million in 2,573 theaters for a $773 PTA.
Last week’s top-earning film, The House With A Clock In Its Walls, fell 53% to third place, earning $12.5 million and putting it on a similar path to September releases like The Visit and Black Mass. That places its estimated total between $65 and $70 million at this stage (though as a family-friendly offering, it could exceed those expectations). The movie would need roughly another $50 million to turn a profit for Warner Bros.; it has made $9 million internationally so far. The WB duo of The Nun and Crazy Rich Asians continues to bring in money for the studio, so far earning $330 and $218 million worldwide, respectively. The Nun’s $330 million total so far makes it the biggest international earner of the Conjuring franchise, beating out The Conjuring 2, which earned $320 globally.
Meanwhile, two movies that arrived in theaters on September 14 are following very different paths. The Predator led that weekend but has dropped massively over the past two weeks. Shane Black’s $88 million production may barely beat 2010’s Predators domestically and, unless the international totals pick up, it is going to be Fox’s biggest loser since 2016’s Assassin’s Creed. On the other hand, Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor, which came in third on that first weekend, is set to outgross The Predator, possibly by next weekend.
Outside of the top 10, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9 fell 62% and has grossed just $5.1 million. At this rate, it may earn less than his 1988 breakout debut, Roger & Me ($6.7 million). At the other end of the political spectrum, Dinesh D’Souza’s Death of a Nation has grossed $5.8 million this year.
In limited release, Pinnacle’s Little Women (35% on the Tomatometer) grossed $747,000 in 643 theaters. Neon’s Monsters and Men (83% on the Tomatometer) made $130,979 in just 18 theaters while the distributor’s first wide release, Assassination Nation, dropped 80.7% (and 368 theaters) from last weekend to make $202,817. Finally, Fox Searchlight launched David Lowery’s The Old Man and the Gun (Certified Fresh at 88%), starring Robert Redford in his maybe/maybe-not swan song from acting, and it grossed an estimated $150,000 in just five theaters. Searchlight expands its release next weekend.
At the close of last September, Doug Liman’s acclaimed American Made, with Tom Cruise, was beat out by Kingsman: The Golden Circle in its second week and It in its fourth. The top three movies were separated by just $159,175, but more than $10 million separated American Made from the remake of Flatliners which finished in fifth. The top 10 films grossed $80.2 million and averaged 51.1% on the Tomatometer (Til Death Do Us Part does not have enough reviews for a score, and was not included in the percentage). This weekend’s films grossed an estimated $92.6 million and averaged just 50.9% on the Tomatometer.
A powerhouse showdown is coming to the box office next weekend – expect one film to be a surefire winner for the weekend, but don’t be surprised if the other ultimately outgrosses it. Sony is going in strong with Spider-Man villain spinoff, Venom, starring Tom Hardy. Currently projected to earn more than $60 million for the weekend, the film’s reviews go live on Tuesday – if they’re strong, that number could go up. If they’re not…well. Then there is Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born with Lady Gaga. Coming off of rave reviews from film festivals, the movie is expected to be a hit with audiences, and potentially with Oscar voters.
[box office figures via Box Office Mojo]