In a win for the arthouse market, Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch posted the top opening theater average of the pandemic era.
The Searchlight Pictures movie grossed $1.3 million from 52 cinemas in 14 U.S. markets, or $25,000 per location. The previous best three-day opening weekend average of the pandemic era belonged to Venom: Let There Be Carnage ($21,309) and, before that, Black Widow ($19,400).
Before the COVID-19 crisis, the opening performance of a specialty or indie film was judged by its location average since these titles started off in a small number of sites. An average of $75,000 or above was considered a big win, while anything north of $100,000 was reserved for an elite few.
The latter category included Anderson’s 2014 The Grand Budapest Hotel, which made history with an opening weekend average of $202,791 from four cinemas. In 2012, Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom‘s opening average was $130,749, likewise from four sites.
Throughout the COVID-19, averages have been minuscule in comparison for arthouse fare as older adults remain wary to return to theaters. Now, that demo has begun testing the waters.
The French Dispatch raises the bar in a significant way after doing impressive business in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Austin and other strongholds for arthouse audiences. It also reached beyond non-Anderson fans.
“These figures show that after a year and a half, arthouse and independent theaters have a superhero of their own in Wes Anderson. What has been doubly encouraging is the crossover results in mainstream theaters hungry for Wes’ 10th film as well,” Searchlight’s Frank Rodriguez says.
The list of top-grossing locations was led by New York City’s Anjelika Film Center and also included The Landmark in Los Angeles, The Grove in L.A., AMC Lincoln Center, Alamo Downtown L.A. and BAM in Brooklyn.
In the film, Bill Murray plays the editor of a fictitious American magazine in a quaint French town, whose staff assembles to prepare their final issue in this valentine to literary journalism. The film also stars Frances McDormand and Timothée Chalamet, who had double box office duty this weekend between this movie and Dune.
The A-list ensemble cast also includes Owen Wilson, Christoph Waltz, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston, Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, Willem Dafoe, Lois Smith, Saoirse Ronan, Cécile de France, Guillaume Gallienne, Tony Revolori, Rupert Friend, Henry Winkler and Bob Balaban, among others.
The French Dispatch will test the bounds of its commercial appeal when expanding into more than 600 locations next weekend.
Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi classic features an all-star cast including Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa and Zendaya.
Dune will easily win the weekend box office race, but judging its theatrical performance will be complicated by the fact that it is also available in the home. (WarnerMedia’s pandemic-era hybrid release strategy with HBO Max will cease at the end of the year.)
There are other challenges aside from the HBO Max factor. So far, younger moviegoers are driving the box office recovery, yet they aren’t the demo who grew up on the Dune books. And Dune‘s lengthy running time of 155 minutes will reduce the number of showtimes in cinemas. (The recent James Bond film No Time to Die is longer, at 163 minutes.)
Overseas, Dune began rolling out earlier this month, earning an impressive $130 million-plus to date from select markets. On Friday, it opened to $6 million in China, where Legendary and partner Wanda have sole distribution duties. It earned another $9.7 million on Saturday for a two-day total of $15.7 million. (A new COVID-19 breakout is prompting full or partial cinema closures across at least eight provinces.)
Legendary produced Dune, which cost roughly $165 million to make before marketing. The company also financed most of the film, with Warner Bros. and its partners putting up the rest. The weekend’s other new nationwide release is Disney and 20th Century’s animated family film Ron’s Gone Wrong, which earned roughly $2.3 million on Friday from 3,560 theaters for a muted debut in the $7 million range. The movie is looking at a fifth-place finish.