Paramount’s “Smile” debuted to a sizzling $22 million this weekend, easily topping the domestic box office. The horror film beat out the weekend’s other new wide release, Universal’s LGBTQ romantic comedy “Bros,” which landed in fourth place with a paltry $4.8 million bow.
“Smile” ranks as one of the better original horror openings of the year, beating out 20th Century Studios’ “Barbarian” ($10 million) and Sony’s “The Invitation” ($7 million). As the box office enters October, the horror genre will continue to take center stage with Universal’s “Halloween Ends” releasing in two weeks and hoping to cash in on the seasonal thirst for thrills and chills.
The box office result for “Smile” is a frighteningly good haul, seeing as it cost a measly $17 million to produce and had originally been seen as a streaming release.
“It’s honestly sensational,” said Chris Aronson, Paramount’s distribution chief. “I don’t like to use hyperbole, but this exceeded our wildest expectations.”
But “Smile” has been exceeding expectations throughout its production. Paramount opted to give the film a full theatrical rollout after it scored with audiences during test screenings. The company used some clever marketing tactics this week by strategically placing paid actors, with huge, creepy smiles plastered on their faces, behind home plate during televised Major League Baseball games. Social media users quickly noticed the unsettling fans, who wore “Smile” t-shirts, when the cameras zoomed in on batters stepping up to the plate.
Last weekend’s champ, “Don’t Worry Darling,” fell sharply in its second weekend, dropping 62%. The Warner Bros. thriller earned $7.3 million for a second place finish, bringing its domestic total to $32.8 million. Sony’s “The Woman King” finished third with $7 million, pushing its stateside haul to $46.7 million. Disney’s re-release of “Avatar” rounded out the top five, earning $4.7 million. By putting the James Cameron fantasy back in theaters, the studio is hoping to whet appetites for the December debut of the long-awaited return to Pandora, “Avatar: The Way of Water.”
“Smile” is the latest hit in what has been a sizzling run for Paramount. Six of the studio’s last seven films have now opened in first place, including such box office winners as “Top Gun: Maverick,” “The Lost City” and “Sonic the Hedgehog 2.”
“We’ve been very careful in our release dates and we’ve been very strong in our campaigns,” said Aronson.
The horror film stars Sosie Bacon, (daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick) as a therapist who becomes haunted by horrifying, smiling hallucinations after witnessing one of her patients die by suicide. The cast also includes Kyle Gallner, Kal Penn, Jessie T. Usher, Caitlin Stasey, Rob Morgan and Robin Weigert. “Smile” attracted an audience that was 52% male, with the bulk of ticket buyers, some 68%, ranging in age from 18 to 34.
“Bros” didn’t represent a major financial risk for Universal, carrying a modest production budget of $22 million. The film earned rave reviews, but clearly struggled to connect with audiences. Its opening is about half of the $8 million to $10 million that Universal projected “Bros” would make.
While it may have fallen short commercially, the Billy Eichner film is already in the record books: It’s the first gay rom-com to be given a theatrical release by a major studio, the first with an all-openly LGBTQ cast and Eichner is the first openly gay man to ever write and star in a Hollywood movie. Universal expressed optimism that the critical notices and the positive audience reaction (“Bros” earned an “A” CinemaScore) will fuel word-of-mouth and help the movie stick around in theaters.
“We are incredibly proud of ‘Bros,'” said Jim Orr, president of domestic distribution at Universal. “Everyone who saw it, absolutely loved it. And given that response, I think the film will continue to find an audience and have some legs.”
In “Bros,” Eichner plays Bobby, a brainy museum executive down on his luck, who falls for Luke Macfarlane’s Aaron, a muscular lawyer who may change everything for him. The film is directed by Nicholas Stoller with a cast including Guy Branum, Ts Madison, Dot-Marie Jones, Bowen Yang and Jim Rash.
Romantic comedies were once a reliable theatrical genre, but with the notable exception of “The Lost City,” which boasted the combined star power of Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum, it’s rare for one to score at the box office. Universal will try again this month with the release of the George Clooney and Julia Roberts “meet cute,” “Ticket to Paradise.” We’ll see if that film fares better when it opens on Oct. 21.