by Anthony D’Alessandro – Deadline Hollywood
4th Update, Sunday 9:22AM final writethru with chart after Sunday 7:39AM update and Saturday 1:18 AM post: It’s funny, whenever a movie fails at the box office, the immediate go-to excuse in analyzing what went amiss is pointing to whatever problems occurred during production.
But if there’s ever a perfect bliss for any studio executive, producer or filmmaker, it’s when a movie, which has had an embattled path to the screen, greatly succeeds, and that’s what’s occurring for the second time at the weekend box office this fall, as 20th Century Fox/New Regency/GK Films’ Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody is blasting past its $35M-$40M expectations with, yes, a $50M opening this morning, according to early industry estimates, after a $18.8M Saturday. All-in global is at $141.7M, with $10.2M of that number coming from Imax.
On Friday night, we hear there were a handful of theaters that were incomplete, sending weekend numbers higher, with distributors revising their weekend figures lower on Saturday morning. But let’s face it: Bohemian Rhapsody had all the momentum to over-index: Audiences remain crazy in love with Bohemian Rhapsody, giving it an A CinemaScore, 88% overall positive, and four-and-half stars on Screen Engine/ComScore’s PostTrak, topped off with a super-definite recommend of 75%. They also have a hunger to see the movie in a concert-like environment, meaning the dynamic sound of premium formats.
Imax drove $6.2M of the weekend B.O., repping 12% of ticket sales and premium large format screens generating 17% of all ticket sales. Prior to its opening stateside, many knew the Queen pic was going to work when it swept up $13M in the UK last weekend. In addition, Bohemian Rhapsody wasn’t just a success around the nation last night, but at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences last night, where the official screening was held to a packed crowd of about 800, with the entire audience delivering a standing ovation to star Rami Malek.
Beamed 20th Century Fox Domestic Distribution boss Chris Aronson this morning about Bohemian Rhapsody‘s success,”The journey is all Graham King’s. It took him ten years to get this film made properly, and the genius of Graham is managing the band. Because if the band walked out, there wouldn’t have been a movie. You couldn’t make this movie without the blessing of Brian May and Roger Taylor. Graham never let them out of the fold. It shows his dogged determination to make the right movie by keeping Brian and Roger interested and engaged. I couldn’t congratulate him him enough. It’s all the elements of success here for Graham, as well as a great screenplay and unbelievable cast who literally went around the world promoting this movie.”
What was the last tortured production to rally at the B.O. this fall? Sony’s Venom. That movie was rife with stories about a production shutdown, fights between its director Ruben Fleischer and star Tom Hardy, and down-to-the-wire editing. Some wondered if all that agita would spell for an opening that was under $65M, but in the end, the $116M-budgeted Marvel property over-indexed, with the best opening October had ever seen with $80.2M. Then the industry predicted that the film would drop like a horror film in subsequent weeks, and Venom held continually, and is now closing in on $200M domestic, $600M WW. Who would have thought?
However, the success of Bohemian Rhapsody and Venom underscore two similarities. First, don’t ever underestimate a brand, one being the 70s/80s pop rock band Queen, and the other a Spider-Man spinoff. When executed to their zenith, they’re stronger than any director’s reputation or any on-the-set calamity. Second, filmmaking is truly a collaborative process, from concept through production to testing to marketing. Success and failure don’t necessarily fall on the shoulders of one person, and great test scores only mean something if a marketing department can convince the masses to attend. Despite all the news about the firing of Bryan Singer from Bohemian Rhapsody last December and the problems on set and fighting with star Rami Malek, applause here is due for producer Graham King, EP Denis O’Sullivan, and longtime Singer editor John Ottman for bringing this Mercury biopic home.
What was crucial for Ottman in getting Bohemian Rhapsody to truly sing: That final 1985 Live Aid concert that Mercury performs in. That was Bohemian Rhapsody‘s Death Star scene. Let’s not forget Dexter Fletcher (who has an EP credit here), who stepped in to finish shooting after Singer left. He specifically shot those moments between Mercury and his first wife, Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton).
Then you have Fox’s marketing, which, from the onset when they dropped Bohemian Rhapsody footage at CinemaCon last spring, drove their whole campaign by putting Malek out front and center, describing his emotional metamorphosis to embody Mercury, a story that won exhibitors over and Queen fans as well. During the pic’s world tour, Malek and Fox have continued to stay on message.
While production problems made headlines roughly a year ago with Singer’s firing, there was a subtle sign in the press last March which indicated that Fox could be sitting on a goldmine with Bohemian Rhapsody: The studio moved the feature up from its Christmas Day release to Nov. 2. And whenever a studio moves a film earlier on the schedule, more often than not it means they have enormous faith in the film. Even though Christmas is a rich time at the box office, yielding grand multiples for pics, it’s also a great place to hide a dud and milk it for every penny (i.e. Alcon/Warner Bros. comedy last year Father Figures).
So why did Fox change release dates? Word is that before Fletcher stepped in, Fox executives saw a rough two-hour cut of the film, and were gobsmacked by how great it was. Now that result speaks to Singer’s vision and the creative team he surrounds himself with, such as composer/editor Ottman and DP Newton Thomas Sigel. While there’s been plenty out there about Singer’s personal life, executives give credit to his passionate artistic side and his ability to execute a pop zeitgeist on screen. It can be an uphill battle to get there: Like Bohemian Rhapsody, the filmmaker was also known to be absent during the production of Superman Returns and X-Men: Apocalypse. But he’s surrounded himself with a reliable and talented below-the-line team who are key in the final product. By going earlier in the fall with Bohemian Rhapsody, Fox thrusts the New Regency/GK Films movie into the middle of the awards conversation (with rave reviews for Malek’s performance), not to mention the studio has stolen a great deal of cash away from Disney’s $120M-priced family film, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, in the lucrative pre-Veterans Day ramp-up. That pic is tanking, with $20M stateside after a Saturday of $8.2M, +46% over Friday’s $5.6M thanks to matinees.
And as far as those critics slamming Bohemian Rhapsody with a 60% fresh Rotten Tomatoes score because the film didn’t show the gritty, underbelly life of Freddie Mercury, frankly, the filmmakers’ decision not to go in that direction is winning out at the box office. How many times have we seen the drugs, sex, rock n’ roll movie? Queen was a band that played to the masses, and united crowds in sing-alongs in stadiums around the world. For the producers, including Queen manager Jim Beach and Queen members and EPs Brian May and Roger Taylor, marrying a warts-all story with the music that millions enjoyed would have spelled for a niche arthouse destination (remember the brilliant, but experimental Bob Dylan opus I’m No There? Unfortunately, nobody watched it, spending $4M at the box office). The fact that a Queen movie is playing in large format and premium cinemas and winning at the box office backs up the decision that PG-13 was the way to go with this movie.
The other takeaway here with the success of Bohemian Rhapsody is that it further demonstrates the overall cultural impact of telling a story on the big screen versus on a mobile phone or iPad. Queen brought the masses together, and they did so again this weekend. Who would want to watch this movie alone in their bedroom?
Also, Disney should not forget as they take over Fox that these are the types of movies that the Pico Blvd. studio does well, and it pays to keep their creatives, including marketing and distribution, intact as they move forward. Fox has hammered down any negative word-of-mouth in the wake of Singer’s firing a year ago and made a box office hit here. Disney’s formula for glossy fairy tales unfortunately did not work this weekend.
Overall demos for Bohemian Rhapsody are 51% female, 49% male, with 77% over 25, 31% over 45, 52% under 35, with the single largest quad being 25-34 at 26%. Diversity demos shows 62% Caucasian, 20% Hispanic, 12% Asian and 6% African American. We hear that Bohemian played best in the West along with Canada, but really performed well everywhere (8 of the top 10 grosses were from the West Coast).
While The Nutcracker is drawing 33% kids per PostTrak, Disney likely never expected that Bohemian Rhapsody would play so broad and young, with an under-25 draw of 23%. CinemaScore is B+, with 3 stars from general audiences on PostTrak and a 49% recommend.
Even though it’s their third bomb this year after Solo and Wrinkle in Time, Disney put their best foot forward: They saw a high concept in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 holiday short story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King; it was in their princess wheelhouse, and with an awards pedigree filmmaker and below-the-line team, the studio felt it was definitely worth the spend. But unlike the alchemy of Bohemian Rhapsody, which is a nostalgic roller coaster rider for all generations, Nutcracker‘s elements didn’t make for a great chemistry. After a trailer was flatly received at the studio’s fan convention D23, Disney reportedly ordered another 32 extra days of re-shoots, with director Joe Johnston stepping in for Lasse Hallstrom (both decided to share co-directing credit). Still, there are other negative factors which slowed down business this weekend.
Some blame the release date for being too early for a holiday film, arriving too soon after Halloween. However, Disney needed to space Nutcracker away from Ralph Breaks the Internet during Thanksgiving, and they certainly weren’t going to take a holiday film out at Christmas, which is where they have Mary Poppins Returns.
The marketing and the overall look of The Nutcracker also looked too similar to Beauty and the Beast. Not to mention, The Nutcracker screams ballet, which doesn’t necessarily sell to a mainstream family audience, even though there’s not a lot of dancing in this movie. The movie has a darker tone than we’re used to (not for under seven-year-olds who came out at 6%) and has little in it for boys (girls out-number them 60% to 40% under 12).
Reviews, which complain about the pic’s slow pace and lack of dance, hurt those mothers who otherwise would have taken their kids (without the nag factor) for nostalgic reasons. How often does a Disney movie have a 34% Rotten Tomatoes score? But again, few studios are powerful enough like Disney to take big budget gambles and take a hit on the chin. They’re the box office kings of 2018 as they near $3 billion domestic, and they’ll be the rulers of 2019 with their franchise loaded schedule of Marvel, Pixar, and Star Wars: Episode IX and live action toon adaptations, such as Dumbo, Aladdin, and The Lion King. Disney is reporting a 57% female turnout for Nutcracker, 57% over 25, with families repping 43%, adults 50% and teens 7%. 2D repped 82% of business, 3D 18%.
After an estimated $5.6M Saturday, +10% over Friday, Paramount’s Tyler Perry movie Nobody’s Fool is opening to $14M, and while the studio kept it cheap at net $19M, we’ve seen the director’s other movies perform much better at these budgets. Given what the movie costs, it needs to make bank at the domestic B.O. Also, one major reason for the slowdown: Too much Tiffany Haddish at once on the marquee in a season. Night School, even though it opened six weeks ago, is the No. 12 pic this weekend with $1.9M and a $74.3M domestic B.O., and The Oath was playing in limited release for three weeks during October grossing over $400K. Nobody’s Fool could have squeezed more money out during a less competitive weekend, say, some time in February or the spring, where Perry’s fare often does well. Few of his movies open in the teens – this one did. On the bright side, those who bought tickets enjoyed it, with an A- CinemaScore and four stars on PostTrak, with Paramount calling exits at 61% females, 51% over 30 (PostTrack saw 75% over 25 on Friday night) and diversity demos of 51% African American, 24% Caucasian, and 19% Hispanic.
Specialty box office: Brian Brooks will detail further, but Focus Features’ Boy Erased, directed by Joel Edgerton, took the top screen average of the weekend with $44K and a $220k weekend from New York’s Angelika and Lincoln Square, LA’s Arclight Hollywood and Landmark, and San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Spoiler alert, but Nicole Kidman delivers an emotional speech in this movie about a gay teenager and son of a Baptist preacher who is forced to participate in a church gay conversion program, one that leaves audiences in tears and cheering. Exit polls showed an older female audience giving the movie a 95% in the top two boxes and an 85% definite recommend. Rotten Tomatoes is 85% Certified Fresh.
Aviron’s A Private War, about war correspondent Marie Colvin as portrayed by Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike, drew $72K at four theaters for a screen average of $18K. Rotten Tomatoes is at 88% fresh.
Amazon’s Beautiful Boy in weekend 4 earned $1.4M at 540 theaters for a running total of $3.2M, while Suspiria increased from two theaters to 311 for a $964K second weekend, $1.2M 10-day running total and $3,1K screen average.