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Box Office: ‘1917’ Defeats ‘Star Wars’ With $36.5 Million Weekend

Sam Mendes’ “1917” marched to box office victory, earning a solid $36.5 million from 3,434 theaters in its first weekend of wide release.

Universal and DreamWorks’ World War I drama defeated Disney’s “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” the final chapter in the sequel trilogy that has ruled box office charts since debuting in late December. The tentpole slid to second place, generating another $15 million for a domestic haul of $478 million. Globally, “Rise of Skywalker” has amassed $990 million and should cross the billion-dollar mark next week.

Since opening in limited release on Christmas Day, “1917” has earned $39.22 million in North America. The movie also kicked off overseas this weekend, picking up $21.17 million from 28 international territories. That brings its global tally to $60 million.

“1917” is undoubtedly capitalizing on awards season attention, an encouraging sign on the eve of Oscar nominations. In a surprise Golden Globes victory last Sunday, the film beat odds-on favorites “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story” to take home the statue for best motion picture – drama. Mendes also nabbed the best director prize. Amblin Partners and New Republic backed the $90 million film, which has enjoyed critical raves.

“Awards season buzz and box-office success often run on parallel tracks and in the case of ‘1917,’ Universal’s perfectly executed platform release strategy is paying box office dividends and post-Globes, pre-Oscar awards season momentum,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore.

To movie theater owners and studio executives, “1917” is emblematic of the kind of experience ticket buyers can only get on the big-screen. The movie follows young British soldiers (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) tasked with the dangerous mission of delivering a message that could save hundreds of lives. The slice-of-life war epic unspools to look like one unbroken shot, resulting in an edge-of-your-seat journey that makes audiences feel like they, too, are in the trenches. Moviegoers, most of whom were older males, appear enthusiastic about the film, awarding it with an A- CinemaScore.

“This is a film that’s best seen in its most immersive environment,” said Universal’s president of domestic distribution Jim Orr. “From the cinematography to everything involved in the film, it’s an epic achievement. When you tell a new story in an extraordinary way, audiences will come out.”

Commercial prospects for “1917” look promising, though they won’t erase the studio’s embarrassing swing-and-a-miss with “Cats.” The universally savaged musical adaptation from Tom Hooper will lose the studio $100 million after a dismal showing in multiplexes. The film relinquished over half its theaters four weeks in, scraping together $520,000 from 818 venues. “Cats,” which cost $100 million to produce, has posted $26 million in the U.S. to date and isn’t expected to hit the $30 million mark in North America.

Warner Bros.’ legal drama “Just Mercy,” another Oscar hopeful, also expanded nationwide this weekend, picking up $10 million from 2,375 venues. The film scored a rare A+ CinemaScore from audiences, signaling word of mouth could be strong moving in coming weeks, especially if it sees any Academy Award love come Monday morning. So far, the awards prospects of “Just Mercy” have been limited to a SAG nomination for Jamie Foxx for his portrayal of a wrongfully convicted man on death row. Michael B. Jordan and Brie Larson also star in the drama, which cost $25 million.

“Just Mercy” is in a close race with fellow new release, Paramount’s R-rated comedy “Like a Boss” for fourth place on box office charts. Rival studios are projecting “Just Mercy” falls short of that number and instead reaches $9.5 million to $9.8 million, which would allow “Like a Boss” to pull ahead when final numbers are tabulated Monday.

Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne star in “Like a Boss,” a film that’s been more embraced by audiences than critics. It pulled in $10 million from 3,078 locations, a modest result but one that could point to profitability given its $29 million price tag. Miguel Arteta directed the film about two best friends struggling to run their own cosmetics company. Opening weekend crowds skewed expectedly female, with women accounting for 60% of ticket buyers. It landed a B CinemaScore from Patrons, 65% of which were over the age of 25.

“It’s a comedy, and in this day and age, people want to laugh,” said Chris Aronson, Paramount’s head of domestic distribution. “There hasn’t been a good comedy in a while. I’ve seen this movie with a crowd, and it’s a good time.”

Meanwhile, “Underwater,” a sci-fi thriller starring Kristen Stewart, tanked after debuting at No. 7 with $6.9 million from 2,791 screens. That’s a catastrophic result given its $50 million budget. “Underwater” is the latest dud from Fox, which has saddled Disney with a series of disappointments since the companies merged last spring. However, Disney is only distributing “Underwater,” limiting its exposure. It was produced by Chernin Entertainment and financed by TSG.

Sony’s “Jumanji: The Next Level” placed third on charts, pulling in $14 million in its fifth weekend of release. The Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart-led sequel has pocketed a sizable $257 million in the U.S.

A handful of awards contenders are hoping to get a box office boost ahead of Monday morning’s Oscar nominations. Though Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” left the Globes empty-handed, the adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel continues to impress in theaters. The film added $7.6 million, propelling its North American ticket sales to $74 million.

The Safdie brothers anxiety-inducing drama “Uncut Gems” collected $3.5 million over the weekend. After five weeks in theaters, the A24 release has garnered an unexpectedly strong $43 million.

Overall, the 2020 box office appears to be starting on a high note. Year-over-year revenues are already ahead 7.8%, according to Comscore. Ticket sales are also up over 11% compared to the same weekend in 2019. It’s a trend the industry hopes will continue when Warner Bros.’ comic-book spinoff “Birds of Prey” and Universal’s thriller “The Invisible Man” hit theaters next month.

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