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‘Bad Guys’ bests ‘The Northman’, Nick Cage at the box office

Jake Coyle

NEW YORK (AP) – On an unusually crowded weekend at movie theatres that featured a pricey Viking epic and Nicolas Cage playing himself, DreamWorks Animation’s The Bad Guys bested the field, signalling a continued resurgence for family moviegoing after a downturn during the pandemic.

The Bad Guys, released by Universal Pictures, debuted with USD24 million in United States (US) and Canada ticket sales, according to studio estimates last Sunday. That came despite steep competition for families from Paramount Pictures’ Sonic The Hedgehog 2, which stayed in second place with USD15.2 million its third week of release. It’s grossed USD145.8 million domestically thus far.

The apparent health of family moviegoing is especially good news for Hollywood as it heads into its lucrative summer season when films like Universal’s own Minions: Rise of Gru and Walt Disney Co’s Lightyear – the first Pixar film opening in theatres in two years – hope to approach pre-pandemic levels.

“There’s reason for being more than cautiously optimistic,” said head of distribution for Universal Jim Orr. “I think audiences this summer are going to be flooding into theatres.”

While studios have been hesitant to programme many films against each other during the pandemic, the weekend saw a rarity: three new wide releases, all of them well-received, none of them sequels or remakes.

Ethan Hawke in a scene from ‘The Northman’. PHOTOS: AP
Nicolas Cage as himself in ‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’

The Bad Guys, based on Aaron Blabey’s children’s graphic novel series about a gang of crooked animals with a Quentin Tarantino-for-kids tone, fared well with critics (85 per cent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences (an ‘A’ CinemaScore). With little family competition until the release of Lightyear in mid-June, The Bad Guys should play well for weeks. Having first debuted overseas, the animated film has already grossed USD63.1 million internationally.

The weekend’s other new releases – Robert Eggers’ The Northman and the Cage-starring The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent – didn’t do as well but still fared reasonably solidly in their first weekend.

“Every weekend is a building block in the recovery, but I don’t even want to call it a recovery.

I think movie theatres are recovered. We’re pretty much there,” said senior media analyst for ComScore Paul Dergarabedian. “Three newcomers were all well-received, and all of them found an audience.”

The risks were greatest for Focus Features’ The Northman, which saw its budget balloon beyond USD70 million, a major increase in scale for Eggers, the director of previous indie historical horrors The Witch and The Lighthouse. The film’s path to profitability was unlikely even before launching in theatres, but it opened on the higher side of expectations with USD12 million in ticket sales. It added USD6.3 million internationally in 26 territories.

The Northman stars Alexander Skarsgard, Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicole Kidman star in a brutal and bloody revenge saga.

“First and foremost, we wanted to work with Robert Eggers,” said, head of distribution Lisa Bunnell atFocus, which had handled international distribution for Eggers’ first two films. “The key here is that we got to make a film that we wanted to make with a filmmaker we feel is part of the future of American cinema. He’s got a very distinctive voice. He’s making film with original IP, not just going in: Let’s make a sequel!”

Meanwhile, a new installment in a once all-powerful brand, the Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, fell off a cliff in its second weekend in theatres. The Warner Bros release, the third Fantastic Beasts movie, dropped 67 per cent in it second week with USD14 million. That’s a bad sign for the future of the franchise, should it be continued by Warner Bros. (The studio has thus far held off on greenlighting a fourth film). Still, Secrets of Dumbledore, last week’s top film, is doing better overseas. International sales of USD213.2 million account for the lion share of the film’s USD280.3 million global haul.

Lionsgate’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, a gonzo meta comedy starring Cage as an exaggerated version of himself, opened with an estimated USD7.2 million. The film, which first launched to warm reviews out of South by Southwest, will depend on good word of mouth to approach netting its USD30 million budget.

That’s the kind success that Everything Everywhere All at Once has had. The A24 release, a madcap metaverse fantasy starring Michelle Yeoh, has been one of the brightest signs for the specialty film business, another sector of the industry that struggled theatrically during the pandemic. In its fifth week, Everything Everywhere All at Once grossed USD5.4 million, a drop of just 12 per cent from the week prior.

But the biggest breakthrough in theatres this April has been for family moviegoing. It’s good timing for the film industry, which will this week convene in Las Vegas for CinemaCon, the annual convention and trade show for trumpeting theatrical exhibition. Expect plenty of proclamations that movie theatres are back.

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