There’s lots of reasons for the strong $39 million domestic debut for “Wonka” (Warner Bros.), but what studios will notice most is this: For the first time in his already impressive career, 27-year-old Timothée Chalamet has opened a $100 million+ budget movie, and worldwide.

The awards season also brought two new platform releases, with “American Fiction” (Amazon MGM) “The Zone of Interest” (A24) off to a strong start although neither came close to last week’s initial results for “Poor Things” (Searchlight). Yorgos Lanthimos’ film broadened to 82 theaters, maintaining an excellent $15,000-plus PTA.

The musical prequel to Roald Dahl’s classic fantasy opened a week earlier than normal for a family-oriented Christmas film; Warners will also open “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” next Friday and “The Color Purple” Christmas Day.

The earlier release gave “Wonka” access to premium screens (“Aquaman” will get most of them next week), but if reaction was weak it ran the risk of hurting its chances during Christmas week, when every day is a potential Saturday. With a decent A- Cinemascore, similar to what “Jumanji” and “Night at the Museum” franchise releases got during previous holidays, that wasn’t the case.

That puts “Wonka” in position for a four- to five-time multiple as it moves into a big holiday with limited family competition. (Universal opens the animated “Migration” Friday). With a nearly 50/50 gender balance, and a surprising 64 percent over 25, initial response is encouraging for a wider audience.

“Wonka” built on the year’s shift to interest to movies that were familiar but not quite franchise entries, and the desires for upbeat stories and the unexpected. “Barbie” had all these elements, all tied together by Greta Gerwig. She also likely had a hand in making “Wonka” a hit. She directed Chalamet in supporting roles in “Ladybird” and “Little Women,” films that let him show less intense, more likeable sides.

“Little Women”

Expanding worldwide in its second weekend, “Wonka” added $53 million, and is already over $151 million total. With the Christmas boost, this looks like at least a $400 million-$500 million film, quite possibly more.

The bad news this week is that “Wonka” provided nearly half the domestic gross of $80 million — a huge drop from the last two years, when this weekend saw the massive debuts of “Avatar: The Way of Water” ($134 million) and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” ($260 million).

That nearly guarantees that 2023 will fall short of $9 billion. With around $8.5 billion in so far, there is neither enough time nor the draw of remaining titles to achieve the hoped-for number.

“Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” (Lionsgate) held the #2 spot with a 38 percent drop. The prequel is at $145 million, with guaranteed holiday holdovers now in store.

“The Boy and the Heron” (GKids), last week’s #1, fell 60 percent for third place. Still, $23 million is already a strong showing for Hazao Miyazaki’s latest anime release. “Godzilla Minus One” (Toho International), also from Japan, is fourth, down only 34 percent, with $34 million so far.

Also new this week is “Christmas with The Chosen: Holy Night” (Fathom) from the TV series, reshaping past footage with new musical numbers. It placed seventh with over $2.9 million, but a total of over $4.6 million since its Tuesday opening.

AMERICAN FICTION, Jeffrey Wright, 2023. © MGM / Courtesy Everett Collection
“American Fiction” ©MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection

Both “American Fiction” and “The Zone of Interest” benefited, as platform openings do these days, from early shows, director and cast appearances, and special events. This can be a tricky weekend to draw specialized audiences, more so for thematically complex, thoughtful films like these two.

“Fiction,” which played in more theaters (seven, “Zone” had four), had the higher PTA ($32,411) by over $1,000. However, “Zone” is excellent for a subtitled film, more so with its very serious Holocaust-set story. It expands to 40 theaters this Friday. Both openings add traction to their already-strong awards hopes.

“Poor Things” placed #10 in only 82 theaters with $1,275,000. It will see a jump to 800 theaters this weekend. Lanthimos’ “The Favourite” in 2018 expanded its second week to 52 theaters, grossing less ($1,072,000) but a much higher PTA ($31,537), suggesting a stronger performance.

The Top 10

1. Wonka (WB) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 66; Est. budget: $125 million

$39,000,000 in 4,203 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $9,279; Cumulative: $39,000,000

2. Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Lionsgate) Week 5; Last weekend #2

$5,800,000 (-38%) in 3,291 (-374) theaters; PTA: $2,325; Cumulative: $145,329,000

3. The Boy and the Heron (GKids) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$5,173,000 (-60%) in 2,325 (+120) theaters; PTA: $2,225; Cumulative: $23,145,000

4. Godzilla Minus One (Emick for Toho International) Week 3; Last weekend #3

$4,880,000 (-34%) in 2,622 (+82) theaters; PTA: $1,861; Cumulative: $34,258,000

5. Trolls Band Together (Universal) Week 5; Last weekend #4

$4,000,000 (-34%) in 3,157 (-294) theaters; PTA: $1,267; Cumulative: $88,663,000

6. Wish (Disney) Week 4; Last weekend #5

$3,200,000 (-40%) in 3,100 (-310) theaters; PTA: $1,032; Cumulative: $54,275,000

7. Christmas with the Chosen: Holy Night (Fathom) NEW

$2,932,000 in 2,059 theaters; PTA: $1,400; Cumulative: $4,676,000

8. Napoleon (Sony for Apple) Week 4; Last weekend #7

$2,285,000 (-46%) in 2,601 (-749) theaters; PTA: $855; Cumulative: $57,025,000

9. Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé (Variance for AMC) Week 3; Last weekend #6

$2,000,000 (-63%) in 1,723 (-819) theaters; PTA: $1,161; Cumulative: $30,900,000

10. Poor Things (Searchlight) Week 2; Last weekend #17

$1,275,000 (+93%) in 82 (+9) theaters; PTA: $15,549; Cumulative: $2,222,000

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.

American Fiction (Amazon MGM) NEW – Metacritic: 81; Festivals include: Toronto 2023

$227,000 in 7 theaters; PTA: $32,411

The Zone of Interest (A24) NEW – Metacritic: 90; Festivals include: Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, New York 2023

$124,791 in 4 theaters; PTA: $31,198

Waitress: The Musical (Bleecker Street) Week 2

$483,287 in 1,117 (-97) theaters; PTA: $432; Cumulative: $4,842,000

Anselm (Sideshow/Janus) Week 2

$17,500 in 4(+2) theaters; PTA: $4,375; Cumulative: $73,741

Eileen (Neon) Week 3

$201,500 in 558 (+26) theaters; Cumulative: $1,232,000

Saltburn (Amazon MGM) Week 5

$652,879 in 476 (-231) theaters; Cumulative: $10,115,000

Next Goal Wins (Searchlight) Week 6

$24,000 in 105 (-85) theaters; Cumulative: $6,696,000

Dream Scenario (A24) Week 6

$137,824 in 323 (-927) theaters; Cumulative: $5,435,000

Radical (Pantelion) Week 7

$62,000 in 99 (-51) theaters; Cumulative: $8,547,000

The Holdovers (Focus) Week 8; also on PVOD

$400,000 in 587 (-336) theaters; Cumulative: $17,197,000

Priscilla (A24) Week 8; also on PVOD

$46,644 in 115 (-115) theaters; Cumulative: $20,818,000

Anatomy of a Fall (Neon) Week 10

$35,000 in 35(-11); Cumulative: $3,637,000

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