‘Challengers’ Leads Quiet Box Office Weekend With $15 Million Opening

As the box office navigates another slow period due to a lack of a huge April tentpole hit, Amazon MGM’s “Challengers” needed just $15 million in its opening weekend to take the No. 1 spot.

Starring Zendaya in a tennis drama about a player turned coach who navigates a love triangle between the two men she trains, “Challengers” will easily become the highest grossing film ever in the U.S. for director Luca Guadagnino, with the previous record being the $18 million grossed by his Oscar winner “Call Me By Your Name” in 2017.

“Challengers” is also earning the second highest launch for an original R-rated drama since the pandemic behind only the $19 million opening for “Don’t Worry Darling” in 2022, a film that grossed $87 million worldwide.

Based on that metric and the competition coming up as the summer blockbuster season comes next weekend, “Challengers” faces an extremely uphill road to turning a theatrical profit against its reported $50 million budget before marketing costs. But insiders at Amazon MGM say the theatrical release for the film is meant to drive downstream revenue and raise the film’s profile on other release platforms, include Prime Video.

It’s another example of how companies like Amazon and fellow streaming studio Apple Original Films are playing by different rules than the legacy studios. With their immense financial reserves from other divisions of their respective conglomerates, these streamers can take risks on films and release strategies that may not be viable for other studios and hide the true profitability — or lack thereof — of their films behind the opaque nature of streaming where subscribers pay the price of a single theatrical ticket for a massive library of titles.

The question now is whether Zendaya’s star power will give “Challengers” any legs. As expected, the film skewed young and female with 76% under the age of 35, 58% female, and 41% from the 18-24 demo. Reception for the film has been positive, but critics have been somewhat more approving than audiences with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 87% critics and 76% audience along with a B+ on CinemaScore.

Next week should see an interesting matchup as Universal sends in David Leitch’s action romcom “The Fall Guy” starring Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt. Leitch and his studio 87North have historically made stunt-heavy action films like the “John Wick” series that are heavily aimed towards male audiences.

But insiders at Universal believe that the film’s romance-driven plot and the presence of Gosling hot off his “Barbie” run could make the film appealing to women as well, creating potential competition for “Challengers.”

Lionsgate/Kingdom Story Company’s “Unsung Hero” is on a much clearer path to making back its costs, as the $6 million Christian music biopic opened to $7.7 million this weekend. Telling the rise of the Christian pop duo For King & Country with one of its members, Joel Smallbone, co-directing, the film will turn a modest profit against its low production and marketing spend off of excitement among the music group’s fans.

Warner Bros./Legendary’s “Godzilla x Kong” is in third with $7.2 million, having now crossed $500 million in global grosses the same weekend that fellow Warner/Legendary release “Dune: Part Two” crossed the $700 million mark. Brought together onto the March release slate by the SAG-AFTRA strike, which delayed “Dune 2” from its initial November 2023 release, the two blockbusters formed from the partnership between Warner and Legendary have come to define the spring box office.

A24’s “Civil War” is just behind “Godzilla x Kong” with $7 million, bringing the film’s domestic total to a modestly profitable $56 million. Rounding out the top 5 is Universal’s “Abigail” with $5.2 million, as the horror film is looking like it will be a theatrical disappointment despite its positive word-of-mouth as it has grossed just $18.8 million after 10 days in domestic theaters against a $28 million budget.

On the brighter side for Universal, the DreamWorks animated film “Kung Fu Panda 4” has passed the $500 million mark worldwide. It joins Illumination’s “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” and “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” as well as Sony Animation’s “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” as the fourth animated film to pass the half-billion mark since theaters reopened in 2021.

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