‘Challengers’ Scores $15 Million Opening: Great for Luca Guadagnino, Not for the Box Office

Luca Guadagnino’s “Challengers” (Amazon MGM) nearly doubled any other gross in its opening weekend, taking an easy #1 with an estimated $15 million. That’s respectable for the Zendaya-starring erotic tennis drama.

However, another week with this level of a #1 film isn’t what theaters need. After a month of intriguing new releases, none of them are likely to gross as much as $75 million in the U.S./Canada. Theaters faced a double burden — too few films released, and too few perform — but May could be different: It starts the summer season next week with “The Fall Guy” (Universal).

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“Challengers” was not an automatic sell. It has Zendaya (who, as part of ensembles, has huge box-office success with six of her seven live-action features grossing over $100 million domestic) and excellent reviews (83 Metacritic score). Recent R-rated, sexually charged dramas are unusual these days. “Saltburn,” also from Amazon MGM, grossed $11 million in its release — $4 million less than the “Challengers” opening. “No Hard Feelings” with Jennifer Lawrence (who, like Zendaya, also was a producer) had the same opening gross last summer.

The “Challengers” box office seems to be propelled by younger females as well as the broader LGBTQ+ audience (a reason for the optimistic Sunday estimate). Its B+ Cinemascore feels something like a victory for this potentially divisive film

For theaters, one positive note is Amazon MGM is elevating the title with a normal theatrical release. Initial response seems enough to justify its investment longer term, with interest enhancing potential PVOD and Prime streaming.

Joel Smallbone in Unsung Hero
‘Unsung Hero’Lionsgate

Faith-based “Unsung Hero” (Lionsgate) debuted at #2, with the $6 million production grossing $7.75 million. Despite its sky-high A+ Cinemascore (not unusual for the genre), it dropped 36 percent Saturday from its combined Friday/pre-opening gross (compared to “Challengers,” which fell 21 percent). Again, it’s good for theaters to have smaller films like this in the mix. But it’s a problem when this level of gross ranks second.

“Boy Kills World” (Roadside Attractions) with Bill Skarsgård as a deaf man trained to become a lethal weapon managed a #10 position, but under $1.7 million in 1,993 theaters. Filling in some of the void in terms of new releases, the original 1979 “Alien” (Disney) grossed around $1.6 million and “The Mummy” (Universal) grossed a little over $1 million.

The $65 million weekend again fell from last year, down 36 percent. In prior years, we saw top Marvel titles debut here. In 2019, when “Avengers: Endgame” opened, with lower ticket prices, the weekend total was $402 million, not far behind what all of April will gross this year. Year to date is now off by an ugly 21 percent.

Last week’s openers didn’t fare well. “Abigail” (Universal), an initial disappointment, managed to keep to a 49 percent fall, but that came to only a bit over $5 million for #5. Even with a promising A- Cinemascore, “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” (Lionsgate) dropped 57 percent at #6, earning a little under $4 million.

Ahead of them were “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” (Warner Bros.) sustaining its #3 position, off only 25 percent, $7.2 million. “Civil War” (A24) in its third weekend dropped from #1 to fourth, off a normal 38 percent. Adding $7 million, it now has reached $56 million.

Wicked Little Letters
‘Wicked Little Letters’TIFF

The specialized market is at low ebb at the moment, with little new of note and expansions having little impact. Of note is “Wicked Little Letters” (Sony Pictures Classic) at around $4 million. That makes its that distributor’s biggest grossing title since “Pain and Glory” in 2019 ($4.5 million).

The Top 10

1. Challengers (Amazon MGM) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 83; Est. budget: $55 million

$15,011,000 in 3,477 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $4,317; Cumulative: $15,011,000

2. Unsung Hero (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: A+; Est. budget: $6 million

$7,750,000 in 2,832 theaters; PTA: $2,737; Cumulative: $7,750,000

3. Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (Warner Bros.) Week 5; Last weekend #2

$7,200,000 (-25%) in 3,312 (-346) theaters; PTA: $2,174; Cumulative: $181,680,000

4. Civil War (A24) Week 3; Last weekend #1

$7,004,000 (-38%) in 3,518 (-411) theaters; PTA: $1,991; Cumulative: $56,195,000

5. Abigail (Universal) Week 2; Last weekend #2

$5,250,000 (-49%) in 3,393 (+9) theaters; PTA: $1,547; Cumulative: $18,780,000

6. The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare(Lionsgate) Week 2; Last weekend #4

$3,860,000 (-57%) in 2,845 (no change) theaters; PTA: $1,357; Cumulative: $15,449,000

7. Kung Fu Panda 4 (Universal) Week 8; Last weekend #6; also on PVOD

$3,550,000 (-24%) in 2,767 (-188) theaters; PTA: $1,283; Cumulative: $184,990,000

8. Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (Sony) Week 6; Last weekend #7

$3,250,000 (-27%) in 2,627 (-482) theaters; PTA: $1,237; Cumulative: $107,388,000

9. Dune: Part Two (Warner Bros.) Week 9; Last weekend #8; also on PVOD

$1,895,000 (-33%) in 1,334 (-680) theaters; PTA: $1,488; Cumulative: $279,743,000

10. Boy Kills World (Roadside Attractions) NEW – Cinemascore: 46; Metacritic: B-

$1,675,000 in 1,993 theaters; PTA: $841; Cumulative: $1,675,000

Other specialized/independent titles

Films (limited, expansions of limited) are listed by week in release, starting with those opened this week; after the first three weeks, only films with grosses over $5,000 are listed. Metacritic scores and initial film festivals recorded.

Nowhere Special (Cohen) NEW – Metacritic: 77; Festivals include: Venice 2020

$15,052 in 4 theaters; PTA: $3,763

Humane (IFC) NEW – Metacritic: 58

$25,756 in 56 theaters; PTA: $460

Spy x Family Code: White (Sony) Week 2

$1,100,000 in 2,009 (no change) theaters; PTA: $548; Cumulative: $7,025,000

Stress Positions (Neon) Week 2

$26,743 in 15 (+14) theater; PTA: $1,783; Cumulative: $63,033

We Grown Now (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 2

$126,122 in 340 (+331) theaters; PTA: $371; Cumulative: $170,766

The Long Game (Emick/Mucho Mas)

$214,000 in 341 (-164) theaters; Cumulative: $2,764,000

Sasquatch Sunset (Bleecker Street) Week 3

$97,964 in 562 (-294) theaters; Cumulative: $897,669

The Beast (Janus/Sideshow) Week 4

$62,300 in 117 (+58) theaters; Cumulative: $280,078

The People’s Joker (Altered Innocence) Week 4

$58,432 in 39 (-13) theaters; Cumulative: $213,555

Wicked Little Letters (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 5

$247,367 in 250 (-181) theaters; Cumulative: $4,027,000

La Chimera (Neon) Week 5

$40,000 in 55 (-57) theaters; Cumulative: $637,882

Immaculate (Neon) Week 6; also on PVOD

$30,240 in 55 (-145) theaters; Cumulative: $15,662,000

Late Night with the Devil (IFC) Week 6; also on PVOD

$108,101 in 275 (+24) theaters; Cumulative: $9,848,000

One Life (Bleecker Street) Week 6; also on PVOD

$36,557 in 95 (-28) theaters; Cumulative: $5,582,000

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