The star-studded murder mystery, from Disney and 20th Century Studios, arrived on par with expectations, which had projected a three-day tally around $11 million to $14 million from 3,280 North American theaters. But “Death on the Nile” cost a hefty $90 million to produce — not to mention the additional costs the film racked up across several pandemic-related delays — meaning it will not be smooth sailing to get out of the red.
Super Bowl weekend, usually the biggest TV event of the year, is never a busy time for moviegoing, and this Sunday’s matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals is no exception. Both “Death on the Nile” and another newcomer, Universal’s romantic comedy “Marry Me,” were scheduled as can’t-miss counterprogramming against the big game. But this weekend’s tepid turnout is a reminder that adult women, the target demographic for those films, have remained mostly hesitant about going to the movies during COVID-19.
That could be one of the reasons that “Marry Me,” which co-stars Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson, opened simultaneously in theaters — where it earned $8 million — and on NBCUniversal’s streaming service Peacock.
It also helps explain why “Death on the Nile,” director Kenneth Branagh’s follow-up to the 2017 whodunit “Murder on the Orient Express,” suffered a steep decline from the original, which opened to $28.7 million and eventually earned $102 million in North America.
Branagh returned to direct “Death on the Nile,” which received mixed feedback from critics (64% on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences (“B” CinemaScore). Adapted from Agatha Christie’s popular novel, the film follows renowned detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) as he attempts to solve a murder aboard a glamorous river cruise in Egypt. The cast includes Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Annette Bening, Russell Brand and Letitia Wright.
“Super Bowl weekend is consistently down in overall business compared with other weekends, and we’re still coming off an enormous Omicron surge that peaked in mid-January.” says David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. He adds, “At a cost of $90 million, the movie will need strong overseas business.”
At the international box office, “Death on the Nile” brought in $20.7 million from 47 foreign markets. The movie has yet to open in China, which is currently the world’s biggest moviegoing market and, in 2017, dug up a solid $34 million for “Murder on the Orient Express.”
For similar reasons, “Marry Me” didn’t exactly find its happily ever after. The movie, featuring Lopez as a musical superstar who weds a total stranger (Wilson) at her concert, debuted in third place with $8 million from 3,462 venues. Its initial receipts are not catastrophic considering “Marry Me” cost only $23 million to make and it was available day-and-date on streaming for paying Peacock subscribers. However, it’s less than box office experts had predicted heading into the weekend and it likely won’t inspire Universal executives to greenlight “Marry Me 2.”
“Marry Me” was reportedly the No. 1 title on Peacock on Friday and Saturday, but NBCUniversal did not provide any metrics to quantify that statistic. Considering the lack of context around viewership numbers, it’s impossible to know whether the studio mitigated losses by concurrently premiering the movie online — or if the hybrid release cut into box office ticket sales. Peacock has only 9 million paid subscribers (HBO Max launched around the same time and has 73.8 million subscribers), so it may not have kept too many interested viewers at home.
At the box office, “Marry Me” hopes to stick around and become the de facto choice through Valentine’s Day on Monday. “Audiences have embraced Jennifer Lopez in this role. She has incomparable appeal,” says Universal’s president of domestic distribution Jim Orr. “It’s going to be a feel-good romantic comedy that people want to see in theaters throughout the spring.”
Ticket buyers, 67% of whom were female, awarded it a “B+” CinemaScore. The movie has gotten so-so reviews (it holds a 62% on Rotten Tomatoes), but Variety’s chief film critic Owen Gleiberman praised Lopez’s charm. “Once you accept the setup (I fought it for about 20 minutes), it’s easy to roll with the situations in the connect-the-dots script,” he wrote in his review.
Adds Gross, “Women, particularly older women, have been slower than others to return to moviegoing, and they are showing it again, here. The budget was reasonable, so the movie should not lose money.”
With “Marry Me” falling slightly short of expectations, last weekend’s box office champ “Jackass Forever” took the runner-up spot. Paramount’s fourth entry in the absurdist comedy franchise took in $8.05 million from 3,653 screens over the weekend, a significant-but-not-surprising 65% decline from inaugural sales. “Jackass Forever” has earned $37.4 million to date — not bad for a movie that carries a $10 million price tag.
“Marry Me” and “Death on the Nile” may have sold some moviegoers who weren’t all that interested in Super Bowl festivities, but that wasn’t the case for “Blacklight,” the umpteenth Liam Neeson action-thriller to play in theaters since the pandemic. Briarcliff Entertainment is distributing the film, which pulled in $3.6 million from 2,772 theaters. That’s a tepid result, but one that matches to Neeson’s other COVID capers like “Honest Thief” ($3.6 million debut) and “The Marksman” ($3.1 million debut).
“Blacklight” landed in fifth place behind “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which earned $7.1 million in its ninth weekend of release. Sony’s comic book epic has earned $759.001 million at the North American box office, putting “No Way Home” less than $1 million away from passing James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster “Avatar” ($760 million) to become the third-highest grossing domestic release in history (not adjusted for inflation).
Elsewhere, director Roland Emmerich’s disaster epic “Moonfall” collapsed in its second weekend of release. The sci-fi adventure dropped to the No. 7 spot and brought in $2.85 million from 3,446 theaters, plummeting 71% from its already-weak $10 million opening. The movie, which cost $140 million to produce, has generated a dismal $15.15 million so far.
See this weekend’s domestic box office estimates:
- “Death on the Nile” — $12.8 million
- “Jackass Forever” — $8.050 million
- “Marry Me” — $8 million
- “Spider-Man: No Way Home” — $7.1 million
- “Blacklight” — $3.6 million