Four new films with major stars ranging from Hugh Jackman to Michael Keaton opened in movie theaters this weekend, and only the one with animated puppies fared well. But it wasn’t enough to beat out Ryan Reynolds’ action comedy “Free Guy,” which topped the charts for the second weekend running.
“Paw Patrol: The Movie,” a film aimed at very young kids that’s also streaming on Paramount+, earned $13 million in North American movie theaters, according to studio estimates on Sunday. It was by far the best performer among the new openers, which included three adult-skewing films that failed to find significant audiences: The action pic “The Protégé,” with Keaton and Maggie Q, the sci-fi thriller “Reminiscence,” which is also streaming on HBO Max, and the well-reviewed Rebecca Hall horror film “The Night House.”
First place went to “Free Guy,” which is showing exclusively in theaters. It dropped a miniscule 34% and added $18.8 million this weekend, bringing its global total to $112 million. The studio attributed the strong hold to good word of mouth.
” ‘Free Guy’ is a movie that harkens back to the days when strong word of mouth and a really engaged star combine to make for a great theatrical-first release,” says Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “It shows that a theatrical-first release, even in today’s unusual marketplace, can have legs. It feels very 2019, not pandemic-era.”
What to watch this weekend:‘Reminiscence,’ ‘The Night House,’ ‘Paw Patrol: The Movie’
The relative success of “Paw Patrol” came as a bit of a surprise, even to those involved. Although the movie is based on an immensely popular Nickelodeon series, its target audience of children ages 5 and under is a wild card. Delta variant concerns and its availability to stream at home made it even more of a moving target.
Chris Aronson, president of domestic distribution for Paramount Pictures, calls the film’s weekend performance a “very pleasant surprise.”
“It’s a younger-skewing audience and we’re in interesting times, but (our marketing team) did a terrific job at getting the message out,” Aronson says. “The pups are very beloved and have a very, very loyal audience.”
The studio says the audience that turned out to theaters was diverse (41% white, 34% Hispanic and 20% Black) and predominately comprised of families with very young children.
Celebrities who voiced characters in “Paw Patrol” included Tyler Perry, Jimmy Kimmel, Yara Shahidi and Kim Kardashian.
“Jungle Cruise,” which is available to rent on Disney+ for $30, landed in third place in its fourth weekend. So far, the Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt action-adventure has grossed $174 million globally.
In its first weekend, “The Protégé,” starring Keaton, Q and Samuel L. Jackson, earned $2.9 million. The Martin Campbill-directed action pic about Q’s assassin character Anna, who is seeking justice, got mixed-to-positive reviews.
“The Night House,” which was very well-reviewed, didn’t connect with its opening weekend audience, who gave it a C- on CinemaScore. The indie horror about a recently widowed woman played by Hall grossed an estimated $2.9 million.
Meanwhile, “Reminiscence” with Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson and Thandiwe Newton, fizzled with only $2 million. The directorial debut of “Westworld” co-creator Lisa Joy, “Reminiscence” is also streaming on HBO Max.
It’s one of several Warner Bros.’ adult-skewing films that have underwhelmed with the hybrid release strategy, including the thrillers “Those Who Wish Me Dead,” with Angelina Jolie and “The Little Things,” with Denzel Washington. The studio is releasing all of its 2021 slate on HBO Max and in theaters simultaneously.
“There is a consumer confusion,” Dergarabedian says of the many hybrid release strategies. “When people are faced with myriad options, they have to figure out how when and where they can get that content. To rise above the noise, you really have to have a film that’s buzzworthy. ‘Free Guy’ is that buzzworthy movie and it’s only available in theaters.”
Final numbers are expected Monday.
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