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Elvis, Top Gun tie for box-office crown with USD30.5 million each

Jake Coyle

NEW YORK (AP) – Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis Presley biopic Elvis shook up theatres with an estimated USD30.5 million in weekend ticket sales, but – in a box-office rarity – Elvis tied Top Gun: Maverick, which also reported USD30.5 million, for number one in theatres.

Final figures, once Sunday’s grosses are tabulated, will sort out which film ultimately won the weekend. With a high degree of accuracy, studios can forecast Sunday sales based on Friday and Saturday business, though numbers often shift by a few hundred thousand dollars.

But for now, the unlikely pair of Elvis and Maverick are locked in a dance off (if you favour Elvis) or a dead heat (if you prefer Maverick). That it was this close at all was due to both a better-than-expected opening for Elvis and remarkably strong continued sales for Top Gun: Maverick. The Top Gun sequel reached USD1 billion in worldwide box office in its fifth week of release.

Elvis, starring newcomer Austin Butler as Presley, came into the weekend with expectations closer to USD25 million. Among recent music biopics, a USD30.5 million debut puts the King ahead of the pace of Elton John (Rocketman launched with USD25.7 million in 2019) though not in the same class as Freddie Mercury (Bohemian Rhapsody opened with USD51.1 million in 2018).

“I’m less concerned with who’s number one and who’s number two, and I’m more concerned that we hit this big number given that this audience has been the slowest to return to movie theatres,” said distribution chief for Warner Bros Jeff Goldstein.

Jerry Schilling, Baz Luhrmann and Austin Butler look on as members of the Presley family show their hands after placing them in cement at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. PHOTO: AP

About 60 per cent of the audience for Elvis was over the age of 35. Older audiences have been among the most hesitant to return to theatres in the pandemic but that’s changing – in part, Goldstein noted, because of Top Gun, which brought back fans of the 1986 original.

Elvis, which cost about USD85 million to make, was propelled by strong reviews (78 per cent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), good word of mouth (an A- CinemaScore) and a glitzy Cannes Film Festival premiere. It added USD20 million overseas over the weekend.

Elvis ranks as Luhrmann’s second best opening after 2013’s The Great Gatsby (USD50.1 million). Luhrmann was on the cusp of beginning production in Australia when, in an indelible early moment in the pandemic, star Tom Hanks tested positive for COVID-19.

“Elvis was a risky proposition: the music is dated, the character is not directly familiar, and the lead actor is unproven on the big screen,” David A Gross of Franchise Entertainment Research wrote in a newsletter. “But critics and audiences are responding. This is the Baz Luhrmann show, a music and dance spectacular – it’s a hit.”

Meanwhile, Top Gun: Maverick continues to soar. The Paramount Pictures film became the first 2022 release to reach USD1 billion in worldwide ticket sales, and the first starring Tom Cruise to do so.

In its fifth weekend of release, Maverick dipped just 32 per cent domestically to bring its total so far to USD521.7 million in United States (US) and Canadian theatres. It continues to move up the record books, sitting 15th all-time domestically, not accounting for inflation.

Internationally, the Top Gun sequel added another USD44.5 million.

The Elvis/Top Gun showdown – along with the new Blumhouse horror release The Black Phone and big holdovers in Jurassic World: Dominion and Pixar’s Lightyear – made for one of the most competitive, and busy, weekends in movie theatres in the pandemic era.

Most studios came away celebrating, though Disney’s Lightyear dropped a steep 65 per cent in its second weekend. After opening softly last week, the Toy Story spinoff grossed USD17.7 million domestically, falling to fifth place. Lightyear, which has made USD152 million worldwide to date, will soon face more competition for families with the Friday release of Minions: The Rise of Gru.

Counterprogramming came from Universal Pictures’ The Black Phone, the Scott Derrickson-directed supernatural thriller starring Ethan Hawke as an escaped killer. The Blumhouse production rode strong reviews (84 per cent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) to a better-than-expected launch of USD23.4 million.

After two weeks in first place, Universal’s Jurassic World: Dominion took in USD26.4 million, sliding to third. It’s now passed USD300 million domestically, and hauled in USD746.7 million globally.

A much smaller-scaled film, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, debuted with good sales in limited release. The warmly received stop-motion animation film, in which Jenny Slate voices a one-inch-tall mollusk with a googly eye, opened with USD169,606 on six screens, for a per-screen average of USD28,267.