Film Wars: The Return of the Box Office

COVID-19 really damaged a lot across the globe, but one of the things I missed the most was sitting in a darkened theatre to see something I’d never seen before (and sometimes rewatch something I already loved). I used to be fairly persnickety with what I sat through, but since everything opened back up I’ve grown to a point where I just see everything I can. Subscription ticketing services like AMC A-List and Regal Unlimited make this a lot easier to do, but many others are simply watching the same things over and over again. With Top Gun: Maverick still making big numbers and other films starting to creep up into the high echelons of earning potential, I’m thinking the movies are all the way back.

While that’s thrilling, it’s interesting to see what’s bringing people back to the silver screens. There are plenty of surprises, like Scott Derrickson’s The Black Phone. This creepy little adaptation of a Joe Hill short story scored big with $23.6m over a three-day stint. Once in a while, we get a good horror surprise, but we haven’t seen truly big numbers like this since It: Chapter One. I’m thrilled for Derrickson and writer C. Robert Cargill’s success, but I’m even more hopeful that this is indicative of a new horror boom in the theatre. I get sick of seeing some of these wonderful films tossed onto streaming instead of given a wide release the way they were meant to be seen, and if I had to get psyched for any trio of people I’m happy it’s Derrickson, Cargill, and star Ethan Hawke. The First Reformed actor is aging into a fine weirdo, delivering bold performances and often headed directly to horror. I love him for it and I’m glad audiences are showing up as well.

It’s unfortunate that the film got beaten by$26.7m to Jurassic World: Dominion. The bloom is off the rose for the trilogy (it never had any to begin with if we’re being honest), but after Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom I was hoping for a continuation of the goofy pulp-horror sensibilities and instead got bugs. Seriously, what kind of dinosaur movie needs to be so embarrassed about being a dinosaur movie? While the franchise continued to make good money beyond the first film, which is the only great one in a franchise full of watchable films, it is perhaps time for it to go extinct (there, I cracked the same joke every other SEO-obsessed writer has). Audiences continue to show up, apparently pleased that there’s a new big movie to watch in theatres, but they’re too concerned with whether or not they could after a pandemic that they didn’t stop to consider whether or not they should.

Thankfully we have another massive blockbuster to look to – Top Gun: Maverick. Cruise’s latest continues to draw big crowds, all of them thrilled with this intense, gorgeous, blast of a sequel. We constantly wind up seeing films that feature tropes and plots we’ve seen before, but here we get to see firsthand what happens when they’re executed properly. This is, essentially, the Death Star Trench Run if they practiced and trained for weeks instead of watching a PowerPoint presentation twenty minutes before suiting up. Audiences showed up for this sequel (in my neck of the woods it’s a lot of ex-military watching it over and over), and it just keeps chugging along with $29.6m after four weeks and shows no signs of slowing down. Paramount has decided to keep the film in theatres beyond its traditional 45-day period, which shows that if we want things to be successful we just need to support them.

And this brings me to the winner of the weekend – Baz Luhrmann’s horny fever-dream, Elvis. Somehow we suffered almost a decade without a release from this beautiful maniac, his last film being the hip-hop/art-deco mashup The Great Gatsby. The trailers looked uncomfortable, disorienting, and epic in a Shakespearian way while the hype was building. For some reason people seemed excited by the idea of this, most likely thinking it would be something akin to Bohemian Rhapsody or Get On Up, but what they got instead threw rhinestones and comic books at the screen while politely declining to discuss the cultural appropriation and creepiness of its subject. Audiences were into it, possibly drawn by Austin Bulter’s turn as the titular titan and all that came with it. The film snuck by with $31.2m and I hope it goes on for weeks. This is such a wild film to succeed this way, but I’m glad it pulled this off.

Four films taking in over $20m each is quite a feat in an age that feels scrambled by Marvel. I’m thrilled to see so many weird things at the top and perhaps the most excited by the turnout for The Black Phone. Movies have swung back into being a full-time hobby for many of us, but now casual viewers are returning as well. They’re showing up for the creepy ones, the standard fare, the rah-rah big ones, and even the weirdest of them. It’s magical and you love to see it (and you better see it, because almost all of the films out right now are worth your time). Cheers to it, and welcome back to summer movie season!

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