Newcomers Doctor Strange and Trolls Inject Much Needed Life Into North America’s Box Office, The Accountant Continues to Impress While Inferno Continues to Bomb

Outside of a few surprises (Sully, Boo! A Madea Halloween and The Accountant), September and October were pretty forgettable months at the box office. With the few aforementioned exceptions, this fall has been littered with under performers, disappointments and outright bombs. You could understand if some studio execs were starting to get a little nervous and were maybe polishing up the old resume.

Enter a super hero to save the day. And some animated trolls. And a war movie made by a director looking for redemption. Not only was this weekend the strongest at the box office since the steamy days of summer blockbusters, but it also offered a wide variety of new titles for moviegoers to spend their money on.

The Rise of Strange

Everyone knew that Marvel’s newest super hero franchise Doctor Strange was going to be number one. Everyone knew it was going to open big. But no one thought it was going to be this big. No. One.

A month ago insiders were predicting an opening somewhere in the high sixty millions. This time last week estimates had it opening around 70 million. So when it grossed over 32.5 million on Friday alone, people knew it going to be huge and started wondering out loud if it was going to catch Thor: The Dark World or Guardians of The Galaxy.

While it didn’t pull of that particular feat, (it just narrowly missed catching Thor), its 85 million dollar opening is a huge success for Marvel/Disney. It’s also a validation of the unique yet highly innovative marketing approach Disney took. While Doctor Strange had traditional TV spots and a standard online presence, Disney tailor made a strategy that included all social media platforms (where the movie got unprecedented exposure) as well as interactive apps and games. And it paid off.

This time last year, Doctor Strange had precious little name recognition outside hardcore comic book and movie fans. One reason for that is because the good doctor is a virtual unknown outside of comic book fandom (where even there, he’s never been popular enough to sustain his own title for very long). But not only did Disney’s marketing campaign generate an appetite for an unknown character (something they’re making a habit out of; see Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy), but their emphasis on the movie’s groundbreaking visual effects expanded the movie’s appeal and sold plenty of expensive IMAX tickets as well.

And the news only gets better for Disney and Marvel. Unlike Suicide Squad, Doctor Strange has a very strong Cinemascore to go along with its huge box office debut. It’s also blowing the doors off the international box office (it grossed 86 million in foreign markets last weekend and when all is said and done this week it could have close to a quarter of a billion worldwide). Historically that indicates a movie will have strong legs and Strange will pretty much have the North American box office all to itself until Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens November 18th.

It’s success has already added more fuel to the (pointless) Marvel versus DC online fan wars, but it will be interesting to see if it can match or pass Suicide Squad’s numbers. While Suicide Squad enjoyed an incredible opening, smashing Guardians of the Galaxy’s record for the best August debut, it lost momentum despite facing little competition. In the end it fell well short of matching GoTG’s domestic and international totals despite crushing it’s opening weekend. Could Doctor Strange surpass Suicide Squad? Does it have enough time before it’s knocked down a peg or two by Fantastic Beasts? Regardless of what you think about Suicide Squad, that will still be a pretty tall order. It is going to be an interesting few weeks.

Good Luck Trolls

Let’s not forget the other new guests to the box office party. Dreamworks/Fox’s new animated movie Trolls (based on the toys that have been granting old ladies good luck at their church bingos for years) also opened well above expectations. Two weeks ago it was predicted that Trolls wouldn’t be able to break the 30 million dollar threshold. It opened in second (as expected) with 45.6 million (way more than expected). Not only is that much stronger than expectations, it bodes well for the movie’s long term prospects since it won’t have to co-exist with Disney’s eventual animated hit Moana for another two and a half weeks. Factor in the strong overseas performance Dreamworks animated films usually enjoy and some strong merchandising sales over Christmas and Trolls, a movie everyone thought was going to bomb, may turn out to be a surprise hit. Trolls deserves serious credit for performing so well while having to compete against a Marvel blockbuster.

Is Mel Back?

Opening number three this weekend was Mel Gibson’s war drama Hacksaw Ridge, snagging 14.7 million. This is Gibson’s first genuine return to the director’s chair since his infamous drunken, racist meltdown. Has enough time passed to rehab his brand? Hacksaw Ridge may not be the movie to answer that question. Marketed through evangelical channels and designed to appeal to patriotic audiences, it lacked the same opening numbers that movies like Unbroken and American Sniper delivered. Is that because of the competition (neither of the aforementioned movies faced anything like Doctor Strange or Trolls their opening weekends), the subject matter (Hacksaw deals with the conflict of a “prisoner of conscience,” a concept that doesn’t really fly with conservative moviegoers) or are people still avoiding anything with Gibson’s name on it?

Inferno Continues to Falter While The Accountant Hangs Tough

The catastrophic performance by Sony’s Inferno worsened this weekend when the already under performing movie dropped 58 percent in just its second weekend. Capturing fifth place with only 6.2 million, Ron Howard’s latest (and likely last) Robert Langdon adventure has just over 26 million to its domestic name. How bad is that? Doctor Strange made six million more than that in its first twenty-four hours. Ouch.

Contrast that to The Accountant, which held on to sixth place this week with 5.9 million. To add a little perspective to The Accountant’s performance, it has now out grossed The Girl on the Train (this week’s number nine), which has had an extra week to sell tickets, and its outperforming Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher: Never Look Back (number seventh among this week’s box office earners), which is supposed to be “fresher.”

It will be interesting to see how the smart looking sci-fi flick The Arrival fares next weekend. Can it slow Doctor Strange’s box office juggernaut? Or will being sandwiched in between a pair of tent pole blockbusters kill its chances? Until next time, stay safe and wear your poppy.

Picture: Marvel Entertainment
Numbers: Box Office Mojo