Finally, it looks like Hollywood got the message. In the top 10 titles on this final weekend of 2023, only one (“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom”) is pure sequel. Add “The Hunger Games — The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” and only two are part of franchises. Long live originality!

The results saw grosses a little above expectations, enough to hit the magic $9 billion for 2023. The three-day weekend will total not quite $120 million, with the December 25-31 period around $300 million.

That pales by comparison to our pre-Covid normal. Those same seven days for 2018 and 2019 reached around $450 million, with ticket prices below current levels. By comparison box office this year is down a third and attendance down around 40 percent.

“Wonka” (Warner Bros.), one of the company’s unprecedented three wide releases for Christmas, reclaimed the #1 spot with $24 million for three days. It’s doing fine, with a 30 percent jump from last weekend (not unusual over the holidays, more so with Christmas Eve last Sunday). Through three weekends, the domestic total is $135 million and worldwide will cross $400 million by Monday. It should easily pass $200 million domestic and $500 million worldwide, which is fine for a $125 million-budgeted film.

However, $24 million as the top gross on a post-Christmas weekend? That’s below the #1 for most weeks this year. Last year, “Avatar: The Way of Water” grossed $67 million and in 2021 “Spider-Man: No Way Home” grossed $56 million. Both, like “Wonka,” were in their third weeks.

Many of these titles don’t have massive budgets and their distributors could be content with the results. It also shows why turning away from expensive franchise titles is not without risks.

AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM, (aka AQUAMAN 2), Jason Momoa as Aquaman, 2023. © Warner Bros. Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdon”©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” (WB), with a reported budget of $205 million is #2 in its second weekend and down 30 percent with $19.5 million ($78 million to date. It’s the latest example of diminished returns for what once was surefire and essential for theaters. The 2018 “Aquaman” hit $189 million through the same playtime, with $52 million for its second weekend. That’s brutal.

“The Color Purple,” the third Warners title, is easily the best of the three wide Christmas Day releases. After a stellar $17 million opening day (propelled by a smart group sales promotion, and an A Cinemacore), is #4 with $13 million. That’s $45 million in its first week.

Its audience has been 69 percent Black and none of the 10 best theaters were on the coasts or in Texas; Atlanta was the best city. Apart from the chance of continued good word of mouth, its best hope for expanded audiences comes from anticipated Oscar and other award attention ahead.

The musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel cost $100 million, which means (particularly with likely lesser international returns ahead) it needs to sustain this level through January and beyond.

George Clooney’s “The Boys in the Boat” (Amazon MGM) placed #6 for the weekend with $8.3 million, $21 million to date. The $40 million film (also an A Cinemascore) plays almost entirely to an older audience (68 percent over 35), which made its holiday release ideal. It has potential for a longer run.

Michael Mann’s “Ferrari” (Neon) is lagging at #8, $4 million for the weekend and $11 million so far. Its B Cinemascore discourages hopes for significant improvement. Neon acquired domestic rights for an uncertain figure; the film cost its producers $95 million.

Other than “Aquaman,” the top second-week performer was “Migration” (Universal). The animated original from Illumination rose 38 percent to $17.3 million and $54 million so far. That performance exceeds last year’s “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” in its second week, which held for weeks to end up at $186 million.

Sony’s R-rated rom-com “Anyone but You” started very slowly but jumped 50 percent to take fifth place with $9 million. With a $25 million cost, it could do well for its studio. A24’s “The Iron Claw” (even thriftier at $16 million) came in #7, up four percent for $16 million so far.

The box office achieved $9 billion by the skin of its teeth — and with a debt of gratitude to the $75 million that “The Boy and the Heron” (GKids, #10 for this weekend) and “Godzilla Minus Zero” (Toho) brought into December. Without those two films, the year would have fallen just short. (For the record, the $9 billion includes perhaps $50 million of box office revenue from non-film event programming — live sports, theater, concert, opera, and other sources). That’s up 20 percent from 2022, but substantially below pre-Covid years, even with ticket prices that are 10-15 percent higher.

The December juggernaut of specialized releases continues to impress. Best again is Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things” (Searchlight). It did $2.3 million in 800 theaters, up 10 percent from the same number last weekend. It could end up #10 for the four-day weekend. “The Favourite” in 2018 grossed $15 million at the same point, but opened in November. Its certain nomination bounty ahead means a bright future.

Jeffrey Wright stars as Thelonious "Monk" Ellison in writer/director Cord Jefferson’s 


An Orion Pictures Release

Photo credit: Claire Folger

© 2023 Orion Releasing LLC. All Rights Reserved.
“American Fiction”Claire Folger/Orion Releasing LLC

“American Fiction” (Amazon MGM) stayed with 40 theaters in its third weekend and grossed $411,000, off three percent from last week. Again, it has much further potential.

Among more limited titles, the second weekend for Andrew Haigh’s “All of Us Strangers” (Searchlight) is best, with $129,000 in six theaters (it added two). “The Zone of Interest” (A24), also in six, grossed $96,000 in its third weekend.

The more limited “Memory” (Ketchup), with Jessica Chastain and Peter Skarsgaard in two theaters grossed $26,000. The second weekend of “Freud’s Last Session” (Sony Pictures Classics) managed only $11,000 in five.

Rare post-Christmas openings were led by a reissue of “The Third Man” (Rialto) with $16,500 in one New York theater. That’s slightly better than “The Teachers’ Lounge” (SPC), German’s International Oscar entry did in five theaters. However, the reviews (86 Metacritic) are what matters; that film hopes to improve with a nomination.

The Top 10(3-Day Weekend)

1. Wonka (WB) Week 3; Last weekend #2

$23,950,000 (+33%) in 4,115 (-98) theaters; PTA (per theater average): $5,820; Cumulative: $134,603,000

2. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (WB) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$19,500,000 (-30%) in 3,787 (+81) theaters; PTA: $5,149; Cumulative: $77,845,000

3. Migration (Universal) Week 2; Last weekend #3

$17,230,000 (+38%) in 3,839 (+78) theaters; PTA: $4,488; Cumulative: $54,323,000

4. The Color Purple (WB) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 70; Est. budget: $100 million

$13,000,000 in 3,203 theaters; PTA: $4,059; Cumulative: $45,300,000

5. Anyone but You (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend #4

$9,000,000 (+50%) in 3,055 (no change) theaters; PTA: $2,946; Cumulative: $25,085,000

6. The Boys in the Boat (Amazon MGM) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 52; Est. budget: $40 million

$8,317,000 in 2,557 theaters; PTA: $3,253; Cumulative: $21,915,000

7. The Iron Claw (A24) Week 2; Last weekend #6

$5,045,000 (+4%) in 2,794 (+20) theaters; PTA: $1,819; Cumulative: $16,356,000

8. Ferrari (Neon) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 73; Est. budget: $95 million

$4,064,000 in 2,386 theaters; PTA: $1,703; Cumulative: $10,921,000

9. Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Lionsgate) Week 7; Last weekend #8; also on PVOD

$2,900,000 (-%) in 1,660 (-849) theaters; PTA: $; Cumulative: $159,868,000

10. The Boy and the Heron (GKids) Week 4; Last weekend #7

$2,504,000 (-10%) in 900 (-680) theaters; PTA: $2,664,000; Cumulative: $35,918,000

Other specialized titles

Films (limited, expansions of limited, as well as awards-oriented releases) are listed by week in release, starting with those opened this week; after the first three weeks, only films with grosses over $5,000 are listed.Metacritic scores and initial film festivals recorded.

The Teachers’ Lounge (Sony Pictures Classics) NEW – Metacritic: 87; Festivals include: Berlin, Toronto 2023

$15,665 in 3 theaters; PTA: $5,222; Cumulative: $32,306

The Third Man (Rialto) (reissue) – NEW

$16,500 in 1 theaters; PTA: $16,500

All of Us Strangers (Searchlight) Week 2

$129,000 in 6 (+2) theaters; PTA: $21,500; Cumulative: $362,000

Memory (Emick for Ketchup) Week 2

$26,000 in 2 (no change) theaters; PTA: $13,000; Cumulative: $79,600

Freud’s Last Session (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 2

$11,392 in 5 (no change) theaters; PTA: $2,278; Cumulative: $65,294

American Fiction (Amazon MGM) Week 3

$411,000 in 40 (no change) theaters; PTA: $10,265; Cumulative: $1,656,000

The Zone of Interest (A24) Week 3

$96,634 in 6 (no change) theaters; PTA: $16,106; Cumulative: $474,000

Poor Things (Searchlight) Week 4

$2,329,000 in 800 (no change) theaters; PTA: $2,911; Cumulative: $8,005,000

Godzilla Minus One (Emick for Toho International) Week 5

$2,370,000 in 1,080 (-805) theaters; Cumulative: $45,671,000

Radical (Pantelion) Week 9

$17,756 in 14 (-28) theaters; Cumulative: $8,639,000

The Holdovers (Focus) Week 10; also on PVOD

$180,000 in 237 (-79) theaters; Cumulative: $18,005,000

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