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Box Office: ‘Death on the Nile’ and ‘Marry Me’ Battle as Oscar Contenders Hope for Post-Nomination Bump

Death on the Nile

Two new movies, Kenneth Branagh’s star-studded murder mystery “Death on the Nile” and Jennifer Lopez’s romantic comedy “Marry Me,” hope to appeal to people who aren’t all that interested in Super Bowl festivities.

Football’s biggest weekend has traditionally led to lighter movie theater attendance, though Disney and Universal (the studios behind the box office’s newest offerings) are banking on their films to serve as can’t-miss counterprogramming against this Sunday’s big game.

“Death on the Nile” looks to have a leg up on the competition; it’s on track to open to $11 million to $14 million from 3,200 theaters. “Marry Me,” which is landing on the streaming service Peacock on the same day as its theatrical release, is estimated to collect at least $10 million from 3,600 venues between Friday and Sunday. Since rom-coms haven’t been reliable moneymakers, Universal could be mitigating losses by premiering the movie concurrently online. Or, the day-and-date digital debut could cut into ticket sales.

If estimates hold, it’ll be a close race between “Marry Me” and last weekend’s champ “Jackass Forever” for second place — but there’s a better chance that Super Bowl Sunday keeps Jackass fans parked in front of their television. After its better-than-expected $23.5 million start, Paramount’s fourth “Jackass” installment is projected to make $10 million over the weekend.

Also new to theaters, “Blacklight,” the umpteenth Liam Neeson action-thriller to play in theaters since the pandemic, is aiming to bring in $5 million or less from 2,772 locations.

Among holdovers, Sony’s unstoppable box-office behemoth “Spider-Man: No Way Home” should pull ahead of last weekend’s release “Moonfall” on domestic charts; Spidey is eyeing $6 million to $7 million in its ninth weekend of release, while “Moonfall” is hoping for $5 million.

At the same time, newly announced Oscar nominees like Branagh’s semi-autobiographical “Belfast” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s coming-of-age story “Licorice Pizza” will expand their theatrical footprint in attempts to translate awards attention into increased ticket sales. For the most part, this year’s best picture lineup does not consist of commercial winners — at least, in the traditional box office sense. That reality underscores just how much the Academy is starting to embrace streaming service options, like the feel-good drama “CODA” (Apple), director Adam McKay’s social satire “Don’t Look Up” (Netflix), and Jane Campion’s sweeping Western “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix).

Should Academy Award fans and murder mystery enthusiasts alike make the voyage to theaters, it could be a good weekend for Branagh. The Oscar-nominated filmmaker returned to direct “Death on the Nile” after steering 2017’s whodunit “Murder on the Orient Express” to box office glory with $102 million domestically.

On Wednesday, “Death on the Nile” will begin playing in 375 Imax locations and on 700-plus premium large format screens in efforts to get a jump on Sony’s video-game adaptation “Uncharted,” which will take over those high-quality screens next weekend. Ticket sales from Wednesday previews will be included in “Nile’s” three-day tally.

Adapted from Agatha Christie’s novel, “Death on the Nile” sees the return of Branagh as renowned detective Hercule Poirot. Set in Egypt aboard a glamorous river cruise, the story follows a vacation gone terribly wrong after a murder takes place aboard the ship. Along with Branagh, the cast includes Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Annette Bening, Russell Brand and Letitia Wright.

Hammer’s involvement in “Death on the Nile” has sparked controversy, though it is not clear if the scandal will cloud the film’s commercial prospects. Amid several COVID-related delays, Hammer was accused by multiple women of rape and sexual abuse. Disney and Branagh did not publicly address Hammer’s allegations or appearance, but they opted not to cut around or recast his part.

“Death on the Nile” debuts day-and-date in most international markets, except Spain (Feb. 18), China (Feb. 19) and Japan (Feb. 25). It’s one of the rare recent Hollywood movies to land a release date in China, which could benefit the film’s global box office figures. “Murder on the Orient Express” was modestly successful there, grossing $34 million.

In a positive review of “Death on the Nile,” Variety’s chief film critic Owen Gleiberman said Branagh “ups his Agatha Christie game.”

“The new film is crisper and craftier than ‘Murder on the Orient Express’; it’s a moderately diverting dessert that carries you right along,” Gleiberman wrote. It currently holds a 68% on Rotten Tomatoes.

“Marry Me” could become the de facto choice for date night ahead of Valentine’s Day next Monday. Though Universal intends to keep most 2022 movies only in theaters, the studio has been successful with similar hybrid release models for “The Boss Baby: Family Business” and “Halloween Kills.” Universal plans to execute the same method with Zac Efron’s “Firestarter” remake later this year.

With original songs from Lopez, “Marry Me” features the pop star as Kat Valdez and Colombian singer Maluma as Bastian, a hot celebrity power couple. As the musically inclined duo’s new song “Marry Me” climbs the charts, their relationship implodes. Moments before Kat was supposed to marry her rock star fiancé at a concert, she finds out he was cheating on her with her assistant and impulsively picks a man in the audience, a divorced math teacher (Owen Wilson), to wed instead.