‘Barbarian’ Tops ‘Brahmāstra’ With $3.8 Million Friday


In a world less beset by Covid-related post-production delays, I’d spend this morning explaining either A) why New Line’s Salem’s Lot opened on par with a top-tier Conjuring Universe flick or B) why it was okay that the Stephen King adaptation opened closer to The Conjuring 3 than The Conjuring 2. Alas, the Gary Dauberman-directed vampire flick has been indefinitely delayed, and this weekend’s big new release is Zach Cregger’s buzzy and well-reviewed Barbarian. There is a grim irony in Disney producing and distributing potentially commercial nostalgia-bait sequels like Hocus Pocus 2 and Disenchanted for Disney+ while releasing this original, star-free, arguably ‘hardcore’ grindhouse flick into wide theatrical release. While Barbarian, about a young woman who finds peril in a double-booked Airbnb, might have broken out a generation ago and with a more theatrically-committed distributor, at this point, it’s just a relief it didn’t crash and burn.

Barbarian grossed $3.8 million on Friday for a likely over/under $9.1 million domestic debut. Like Idris Elba’s Beast (which opened with $11 million a few weeks ago), this is the kind of old-school genre programmer that probably would have netted an easy $20 million back when more folks went to the movies just to go to the movies. That may sound simplistic, but Don’t Breathe (another high-concept, star-lite original chiller) opened with $26 million in August 2016, months after Lights Out (ditto) opened with $21 million. Circumstances being what they are, we may be in a situation where horror movies may be as franchise-driven (be that an actual franchise or a marquee director like Jordan Peele or M. Night Shyamalan) as most other genres (including, alas, animation) over the last several years. Still, an under-$5 million original will earn $9 million in the first three days.

The hope is that Barbarian, which has used the whole ‘don’t read just go’ hook as an implicit marketing tool, will leg out as audiences discover its various surprises (the marketing is almost entirely focused on the first act) and ghoulish pleasures. Yes, a C+ from CinemaScore polling isn’t bad for a grizzly horror flick. I’ve always felt that a spoiler-lite marketing campaign will, provided you can open the film, increase post-debut legs since audiences will have a sense of discovery and ownership which will improve word of mouth. Think, offhand, Free Guy, Gravity and Hancock. The only obstacle is competition in the form of Warner Bros. Discovery’s vaguely horror-ish Don’t Worry Darling on September 23 and Paramount’s Smile on September 30. Circumstances aside, it opened better than James Wan’s Malignant and Gore Verbinski’s A Curse for Wellness (both of which cost $40 million).

The other main release was also from Disney/20th Century Studios, specifically their Star Studios. Bollywood’s Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva pitched itself as India’s answer to Iron Man but plays closer to The Mummy. It overdoses on table-setting, mythology and universe-building at the expense of present-tense entertainment value. The $51 million action fantasy romance is the first in a planned Astraverse trilogy, and we’ll see if that comes to pass. Ayan Mukerji’s ambitious but frankly formulaic and plot > character franchise-starter earned $2 million on Friday for a likely over/under $4 million weekend. That’s well below the over/under $10 million debuts of Baahubali 2: The Conclusion in 2017 and RRR this past March. However, it’s pretty solid by almost any other standard in terms of Indian biggies opening in North America. It’ll outgross Saaho ($2.8 million) by today and pass War ($4.7 million) by Monday or Tuesday.

Fathom Events distributed the faith-based anti-abortion drama Lifemark in 1,531 theaters. The Kirk Cameron-starring melodrama earned $855,000 on Friday for a likely $2.32 million opening weekend. I’m sure that’s fine in terms of budget and expectations. Still, the Kendrick brothers recently released movies like Fireproof, Courageous, Overcomer and The War Room to conventional ($33-$67 million domestic) success. That’s more about the market than the genre or talent involved, as Kevin Smith’s Clerks II was a traditional wide release while Clerks III will get a Fathom-centric theatrical release. Granted, most of the earlier faith-based breakouts were from Sony (Soul Surfer) or Lionsgate (I Can Only Imagine). I’d also argue there’s a sharp difference between ‘all are welcome’ or Veggie Tales-style Christian flicks (that’s a compliment) like Heaven is For Real and The Shack and arguable persecution-complex and/or explicitly anti-choice films like October Baby.

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