‘Elvis’ Tops With $13 Million, ‘Black Phone’ Grabs $10 Million
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Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis topped the domestic box office on Friday with a solid $12.7 million. That includes $3.7 million in Thursday (and week-of) previews. If the film plays over the weekend like Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman (which opened with $25.7 million from a $9.17 million Friday in June of 2019), then the $85 million rock biopic earns an impressive $35 million in its Fri-Sun debut. That may be optimistic since the Paramount-released, crowd-pleasing Elton John flick was R-rated. However, Taron Egerton’s Rocketman was also an hour shorter than Warner Bros. Discovery’s Austin Butler and Tom Hanks-starring 160-minute epic. With strong reviews and solid buzz, I’d expect the Austin Butler/Tom Hanks flick with around $30 million and duking it out with Top Gun: Maverick for the weekend crown.

One year ago, we were all mourning the $11.8 million opening weekend of In the Heights (and celebrating the $70 million opening of F9), so I’d count $30 million-plus for a 2.75-hour, adult-skewing musical drama as a relative win. Yes, Elvis Presley is a “marquee character,” as was Freddie Mercury for Bohemian Rhapsody and Lady Gaga as a fictionalized version of Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born. In pre-Covid days, live-action musicals (including musically centric biopics like Straight Outta Brooklyn) were among the safer theatrical sub-genres. We had a ton of musicals last year and almost all of them (West Side Story, Respect, Dear Evan Hanson, etc.) died badly. Elvis’ solid debut feels like another progression toward relative “business as usual” normality.

A decade after Magic Mike opened with $39 million, it’s another example of Warner Bros. turning a less-conventional biggie (Gravity, American Sniper, San Andreas, It, Crazy Rich Asians, Joker, Dune, etc.) into a big-deal theatrical hit. That the second theatrical trailer played for most older, irregular moviegoers checking out Top Gun: Maverick was a last-minute shot in the arm. The Cannes reception, where even the bad reviews made it seem like a must-see hallucinogenic acid trip, helped build buzz. Austin Butler (unknown to most even with 15 years of highly relevant Disney Channel/Nickelodeon experience) rode a wave of positive media and Tom Hanks offered a deeply against-type turn as a real-life American villain. Hanks no effort to make Colonel Parker anything other than a scoundrel.

It’s a big-budget biopic about one of the most famous American artists of the last century with a marquee director, good reviews and enough star power in Hanks and Elvis himself to bring in the crowds. That weekend ten years ago when Steven Soderbergh’s R-rated, Channing Tatum-starring male stripper/economic mobility dramedy Magic Mike opened with $39 million? The top-grossing movie was another newbie, Seth MacFarlane and Mark Wahlberg’s original (and surprisingly terrific) R-rated “crude teddy bear” comedy Ted. Universal pulled a $54 million opening from that film on the way to a sky-high $218 million domestic and $549 million global cume. Throw in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus ($403 million on a $130 million budget) earlier that month, and the optimism is now almost laughable.

Universal had the weekend’s other big debut. Blumhouse’s acclaimed and justly buzzy The Black Phone opened with $10.18 million yesterday. Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill’s 70’s set chiller, about a kidnapped boy who gets unlikely help from the killer’s previous victims, was supposed to open early in 2022. However, strong festival buzz and strong reviews led Universal to keep the film, adapted from a Joe Hill short story, until late June. That seems to have worked out. If it plays over the weekend like Happy Death Day ($26 million from an $11.7 million Friday), it’ll get to $22.6 million. If it legs out like Split ($40 million/$14.6 million), it’ll gross $27.8 million for the Fri-Sun frame. Let’s split the difference and say $25 million.

Credit the reviews and word-of-mouth (a solid-for-horror B+ Cinemascore), along with the Blumhouse brand name, and the “marquee value” of Scott Derrickson (who helmed Doctor Strange, Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and Ethan Hawke (who has been an added value element for all kinds of genre flicks for decades). It’s the kind of fantasy escapism to distract from the real-world horrors. Since The Black Phone and Elvis are comparatively adult-skewing biggies in a summer mostly dominated by PG-13 actioners and franchise-friendly toons, I’d expect decent legs. My local Regal was packed last night with a variety of moviegoers buying concessions and waltzing into the multiplex. Crazy theory: If studios release movies into theaters, audiences will go to those theaters and watch those movies.

A24 launched Marcel the Shell with Shoes On into six theaters. The charming and poignant feature-film adaptation of Dean Fleischer-Camp and Jenny Slate’s YouTube short-film series, for which Nick Paley and Elisabeth Holm also receive feature film writing credit, earned $79,396 on Friday for a likely $191,000 opening weekend. That’s a solid $31,811 per-theater average for the live-action/animated coming-of-age family flick. It goes wide on July 15, and it’s very good (my 11-year-old dug it too). I am curious as to if it gets a Cinemascore grade when it goes wide, if only for the comic value of this genuine crowdpleaser getting like an A and “clashing” with A24’s usual brand of (often quite good) “Did you not seen an A24 logo before this feature?” horror flicks.

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