It wasn’t her intention, but Taylor Swift saved this weekend as well as ones still to come.

“The Era Tour” concert film opens Friday with over $100 million in estimated presales, but it already forced “The Exorcist: Believer” (Universal), originally set for October 13, to move up a week and get out of the way.

As a result, the sequel to William Friedkin’s smash hit (in adjusted terms, it’s the biggest grosser as both a horror film and a Warner Bros. release — yes, much bigger than “Barbie”) dominated this weekend with $27.2 million. That’s more than double the #2 title, “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” (Paramount), with $11.8 million.

All told, this weekend grossed around $75 million. Without “Exorcist,” and assuming other titles would pick up some of the slack, that number would have been closer to $55 million — and close to the worst of 2023. Instead, it improved $16 million (27 percent) over last year, which also included Indigenous Peoples’/Columbus Day on Monday. Year to date remains up about 26 percent.

Another way to find a positive spin on the “Exorcist” result is its worldwide gross of $45 million compares favorably to the $30 million cost of the Blumhouse production. However, it’s less impressive compared to other Universal and Blumhouse October horror releases. The last two years had a “Halloween” entry that opened day-and-date with Peacock streaming, each of which saw an opening worldwide gross of around $55 million.

Underpinning this is the preproduction cost. In 2021, Universal brokered a deal to acquire all rights to the franchise for a reported $400 million, including three feature films and the presumed ability to further exploit them on Peacock. If the cost approached anything like that number, it was a poor acquisition.

SAW X, (aka SAW 10), Shawnee Smith, 2023. ph: Alexandro Bolanos Escamilla /© Lionsgate / Courtesy Everett Collection
“Saw X”©Lions Gate/Courtesy Everett Collection

The latest “Exorcist” faced real headwinds. It is the third top horror franchise entry to open since Labor Day, with “The Nun II” (Warner Bros.) and “Saw X” (Lionsgate) already thriving. The moved-up date placed it against the second “Saw X” weekend, not ideal. (Pre-Swift, Lionsgate moved up “Saw” by a month in order to not be the third horror title).

However, the biggest problem may be that “The Exorcist: Believer” just didn’t deliver. Credit Universal for screening the film, but the result was mostly awful reviews that hit just before opening. The audience agreed with an horrific C Cinemascore, a terrible grade for a high-anticipation studio title.

Holdovers were a mixed bag. “PAW” dropped 48 percent, which is standard for a kids’ title in its second weekend (although this one lacked any competition). With a 55 percent drop, “Saw X” actually did better compared to other second weekends in the franchise. Disney’s “The Creator” lost its slim hope of word of mouth with a 57 percent fall. The $80 million-budgeted sci-fi combat film won’t even gross half of that domestically.

Among films that debuted last weekend, Fathom Events’ faith-based biopic “The Blind” had the smallest drop, only 28 percent. It stayed in fifth place with $3.1 million. Late in its run, “A Haunting in Venice” (Disney) at #6 fell only 25 percent, though it stands at a disappointing $35.7 million total.

That put it ahead “Dumb Money” (Sony), another older-appeal wide release in its second week of wide play. The meme stock comedy is #8, with only $10.6 million in so far. It was an early release among the September festival premieres.

Bowen Yang as God in "Dicks: The Musical"
Bowen Yang as God in “Dicks: The Musical”Courtesy A24

Another festival premiere, “Dicks: The Musical” (A24) was a standout. Directed by Larry Charles (“Borat”), with major participation from Chernin Entertainment (“The Greatest Showman”), the very R-rated comedy was the Peoples’ Choice winner among Midnight Madness films at Toronto. It opened in seven New York/Los Angeles/San Francisco theaters, with multiple Q&A appearances, to $221,000 and a PTA of over $31,000.

That’s quite good, though below what MGM’s “Bottoms” initially did in 10 theaters ($461,000, on its way to $12 million). It will add other top cities this weekend before going wider October 20.

Among limited titles, standout was “Joan Baez I Am a Noise” (Magnolia), a Berlin premiere, which took in an excellent $17,000 in one New York date. It also starts expanding next week.

Other festival titles didn’t fare as well. Neon’s “The Royal Hotel” from Kitty Green (“The Assistant”), fresh from its Telluride/Toronto showings, managed $355,000 in 267 theaters despite strong reviews. “She Came to Me” from Rebecca Miller (“Maggie’s Plan”), Berlin’s opening-night film starring Peter Dinklage, Marisa Tomei, and Anne Hathaway, took in $360,000 in 355 theaters. The Toronto-premiered “Where Evil Lurks” (IFC) saw $200,000 in 659 theaters.

The 30th anniversary reissue of Disney’s 1993 “Hocus Pocus” with Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker made the top 10 with $1.5 million. It’s a flashback to COVID days, when studios placed older films out for wide release. This film was one of the most successful, grossing $5 million in 2020.

There is no precedent for the release of Pedro Almodovar’s gay Western short “A Strange Way of Life” with Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke. The 31-minute Cannes-premiere title paired with the director’s 2020 short, “The Human Voice,” for a just-over one hour program. It grossed $205,000 in 276 locations.

Of note: With “Barbie” falling to #12, this is the first weekend that neither it not “Oppenheimer” ranked in the top 10. A new queen will be crowned next weekend.

The Top 10

1. The Exorcist: Believer (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: C; Metacritic: 39; Est. budget: $30 million

$27,200,000 in 3,663 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $7,426; Cumulative: $27,200,000

2. PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie (Par) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$11,750,000 (-48%) in 4,027 (+38) theaters; PTA: $2,918; Cumulative: $38,867,000

3. Saw X (Lionsgate) Week 2; Last weekend #2

$8,150,000 (-55%) in 3,262 (no change) theaters; PTA: $2,498; Cumulative: $32,555,000

4. The Creator (Disney) Week 2; Last weekend #3

$6,100,000 (-57%) in 3,680 (no change) theaters; PTA: $3,680; Cumulative: $36,900,000

5. The Blind (Fathom) Week 2; Last weekend #5

$3,127,000 (-28%) in 1,312 (-403) theaters; PTA: $2,379; Cumulative: $10,487,000

6. A Haunting in Venice (Disney) Week 4; Last weekend #6

$2,700,000 (-25%) in 2,425 (-360) theaters; PTA: $1,127; Cumulative: $35,700,000

7. The Nun II (WB) Week 5; Last weekend #4; also on PVOD

$2,575,000 (-46%) in 2,492 (-379) theaters; PTA: $1,033; Cumulative: $81,060,000

8. Dumb Money (Sony) Week 4; Last weekend #7

$2,150,000 (-35%) in 2,837 (no change) theaters; PTA: $758; Cumulative: $10,635,000

9. The Equalizer 3 (Sony) Week 6; Last weekend #5; also on PVOD

$1,835,000 (-32%) in 1,526 (-658) theaters; PTA: $1,202; Cumulative: $88,837,000

10. Hocus Pocus (Disney) (reissue)

$1,542,000 in 1,578 theaters; PTA: $1,078; Cumulative: $(adjusted) $106,500,000

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 film festivals lists as listed.

Dicks: The Musical (A24) NEW – Metacritic: ; Festivals include: Toronto 2023

$220,867 in 7 theaters; PTA: $31,552

The Royal Hotel (Neon) NEW – Metacritic: 79; Festivals include: Telluride, Toronto 2023

$355,000 in 267 theaters; PTA: $1,255

Joan Baez I Am a Noise (Magnolia) NEW – Metacritic: 78; Festivals include: Berlin, South by Southwest 2023

$17,000 in 1 theater; PTA: $17,000

She Came to Me (Vertical) NEW – Metacritic: 53; Festivals include: Berlin 2023

$360,000 in 355 theaters; PTA: $1,014

A Strange Way of Life (Sony Pictures Classics) NEW – Festivals include: Cannes, New York 2023

$205,050 in 276 theaters; PTA: $743

When Evil Lurks (IFC) NEW – Metacritic: 74; Festivals include: Toronto 2023

$200,233 in 659 theaters; PTA: $304

Cat Person (Rialto) NEW – Metacritic: 52; Festivals include: Sundance 2023

$10,000 in 4 theaters; PTA: $2,500

Common Ground (Area 23) Week 2

$32,949 in 6 (+2) theaters; PTA: $5,492; Cumulative: $88,811

Stop Making Sense (A24) (reissue) Week 3

$423,331 in 527 (-259) theaters; Cumulative: $4,000,000 (reissue only)

It Lives Inside (Neon) Week 3 1827

$88,000 in 246 (-1,581) theaters; Cumulative: $4,600,000

My Sailor, My Love (Music Box) Week 3

$7,247 in 9 (-1) theaters; Cumulative: $70,125

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 (Focus) Week 5; also on PVOD

$620,000 in 783 (-691) theaters; Cumulative: $27,518,000

Golda (Bleecker Street) Week 7 76

$25,913 in 45 (-31) theaters; Cumulative: $4,726,000

Talk to Me (A24) Week 11; also on PVOD 212

$69,373 in 95 (-117) theaters; Cumulative: $48,036,000

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