In a rare move at the box office, two very different films for different audiences became instant blockbusters over the weekend creating film history.
In a weekend of perfect counterprogramming for Hollywood, the comic-book movie “Venom” shrugged off bad reviews to shatter the October box-office record with an $80 million debut, while Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born” soared to $41.3 million.
With $174.5 million in tickets sold at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to comScore, it was easily the best October weekend ever thanks to two very different films that both outperformed expectations.
“Venom” came in a critically panned, much-doubted foray by Sony Pictures to kick-start a Marvel expansion away from “Spider-Man.” Warner Bros.′ “A Star Is Born” remake rode a wave of hype, Oscar buzz, and acclaim for Cooper’s directorial debut and Lady Gaga’s first leading performance.
One was a very iffy proposition; the other a sure thing. Both worked big time.
“We knew we had a hit,” said Warner Bros. distribution chief Jeffrey Goldstein of “A Star Is Born.” ″We also knew that every time people saw the movie, they felt it, they cried, they loved it. People just like the movie.”
That was more in question for director Ruben Fleischer’s “Venom,” starring Tom Hardy as the antihero who first appeared in 2007′s “Spider-Man 3.” The film earned a dismal 32 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In “Venom,” many expected another studio misfire with “cinematic universe” ambitions.
Yet audiences flocked to “Venom” in record numbers, giving it a B-plus CinemaScore. The previous best October opening was 2013′s “Gravity” with $55.7 million (not adjusted for inflation). Adrian Smith, president of domestic distribution for Sony, said that even though the studio was confident, “I did not see $80 million coming.”
There is still no evidence of superhero fatigue setting in yet.
The most telling number that explained the film’s success, Smith said, was the 89 percent “fresh” audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. “Venom,” which cost about $100 million to make (relatively modest for a superhero film), grossed a total of $205.2 million globally.
Steven O’Dell, Sony’s president of international distribution, said the studio wanted to carve out a new approach for the comic-book adaptation with the PG-13-rated “Venom.”
“This is not a Marvel style; it’s not DC,” O’Dell said. “Tonally, it’s its own unique direction.”
While “Venom” attracted a younger, majority male audience, crowds for “A Star is Born” were more female, at 66 percent, and older, at 68 percent over 35.
Sony urgently needed “Venom” to succeed. The studio, suffering from a dearth of franchises, has identified lesser-known comic book characters as one possible solution. “Venom” was the first such effort — a proof of concept for a larger “tent pole” movie strategy. As part of a deal with Marvel, Sony controls film rights to characters in the Spider-Man family; Venom is one of the web slinger’s greatest foes. (Spider-Man is not in “Venom.”)
One question is how the horror-tinged “Venom” will perform in the weeks ahead. Can it attract repeat viewing? Expand its audience beyond comic book fans? Reviews do not bode well. On the other hand, the masses appeared to disagree with critics: Ticket buyers gave “Venom” a B-plus grade in CinemaScore exit polls, and out of 16,000 Rotten Tomatoes users who voted on the movie, 89 percent said they liked it.
“In our older audience, we had people who hadn’t been to a movie in years,” Goldstein said.
“The box office prospers and expands when there are diverse options,” said Phil Contrino, director of media and research for the National Association of Theater Owners. On Oct. 19, Hollywood is expected to serve up another smash: Analysts say that “Halloween,” with Jamie Lee Curtis returning in a lead role, will arrive to at least $60 million in opening-weekend ticket sales.
Warner Bros., which premiered “A Star Is Born” last month at the Venice Film Festival, previewed the film in special advance screenings in the days ahead of opening, adding an additional $1.3 million in ticket sales. The fifth version of the oft-remade tale, which cost about $40 million to make, had been in development at Warner Bros. for decades, with earlier versions to potentially star Whitney Houston or Beyonce.
With “A Star Is Born” expected to play a large role in awards season, Goldstein said the film is sure to run through Christmas. The movie’s soundtrack also reached No. 1 on iTunes this week.
This version of “A Star Is Born” — the fourth, including the 1937 original — drew power from an audience that Hollywood often ignores: older women. Warner said that 68 percent of ticket buyers were over the age of 35 and 42 percent were over 50. About 66 percent of the total audience was female. The film, which is expected to figure heavily in the coming Academy Awards race, received an A grade in CinemaScore polls.
To generate interest in “A Star Is Born,” Warner marketers relied heavily on Live Nation and its Ticketmaster division. Marketing partners also included iHeartRadio. On Sunday, the “Star Is Born” soundtrack was No. 1 on the iTunes album chart and had the top three songs on the singles chart.
The two films dominated the marketplace, though in limited release, Fox 2000′s “The Hate U Give” opened with $500,000 on 36 screens. That gave George Tillman Jr.‘s adaptation of Angie Thomas’ best-selling young adult novel, starring Amandla Stenberg, a modest $14,000 per-screen average. The film is set to expand nationwide in the next two weeks.
Aubrey Wells, who wrote “The Hate U Give” adaptation, died Friday at age 58 after a five-year battle with cancer.
“Venom” and “A Star Is Born” helped push the year-to-date box office further above last year, now up 9.2 percent.
“The industry is absolutely on fire right now,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore. “We just finished the second-best September ever. If we keep this up, there’s no question we’re going to get a record.”
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to comScore. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday also are included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
- “Venom,” $80 million ($125.2 million international).
- “A Star Is Born,” $41.3 million ($14 million international).
- “Smallfoot,” $14.9 million ($11.7 million international).
- “Night School,” $12.3 million ($3.4 million international).
- “The House With a Clock in Its Walls,” $7.3 million.
- “A Simple Favor,” $3.4 million ($4.1 million international).
- “The Nun,” $2.6 million ($7.2 million international).
- “Hell Fest,” $2.1 million.
- “Crazy Rich Asians,” $2.1 million ($1.6 million international).
- “MET Opera: Aida,” $1.2 million.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada), according to comScore:
- “Venom,” $125 million.
- “Project Guttenberg,” $38 million.
- “Shadow,” $17.9 million.
- “Hello, Mrs. Money,” $15.6 million.
- “Johnny English Strikes Again,” $14.1 million.
- “A Star Is Born,” $14 million.
- “Smallfoot,” $11.7 million.
- “Dark Figures of Crime,” $9 million.
- “Fat Buddies,” $8 million.
- “The Nun,” $7.2 million.