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‘Happy Death Day’ Repeats ‘Groundhog Day’ Box Office

Meanwhile, Wonder Woman disappoints in biopic form with poor ‘Professor Marston’ opening.
By  · Published on October 16th, 2017

Meanwhile, Wonder Woman disappoints in biopic form with poor ‘Professor Marston’ opening.

You can’t call Happy Death Day a rip-off since it directly acknowledges  Groundhog Day as an influence, but the new horror movie about a young woman trapped in the same day over and over has now gone too far in aping its predecessor. In 1993, Groundhog Day opened at number one over the Valentine’s Day/President’s Day weekend with a three-day gross of $12.5M. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $26.9M. Now, almost 25 years later, Happy Death Day has grossed an estimated $26.5M for its own debut.

If that box office repeat seems like just a coincidence, here’s another example: 1408, the Stephen King adaptation with a minor Groundhog Day-like time loop, opened 10 years ago with $20.6M, which is actually $26.6M in 2017 money (the movie went on to become the most successful King-based horror movie until the release of IT). Perhaps it’s just the same people who are drawn to the premise every time? Unfortunately, most Groundhog Day type movies are made for TV or go direct to video and don’t have box office figures with which to compare.

And those other few that did open theatrically weren’t financial copycats. Source Code  arrived in 2011 with only $14.8M, which is just $16.3M adjusted. Three years later,  Edge of Tomorrow debuted with $28.8M, which is $30.7M in today’s money. That’s closer to Groundhog Day‘s total opening for its four-day holiday weekend, which amounts to $31.5M adjusted. And this year’s Before I Fall only took in $4.7M in its first weekend. Anyway, Groundhog Day started out on only 1,640 screens, making its adjusted per-theater average ($16.4K) about twice as high as that of both Happy Death Day ($8.4K) and Edge of Tomorrow ($8.8K).

In other observations about the weekend box office, Angela Robinson’s Professor Marston and the Wonder Women flopped hard with an opening gross of only $737K. The movie, about the creator and inspirations for the DC Comics superhero character Wonder Woman, debuted on 1,229 screens, giving it an average of just $600 per location. That marks it with the distinction of having the 63rd worst wide-release opening of all time and the 18th worst for releases on 1,000 or more screens. With all adjusted for inflation, though, the movie drops to 10th worst for the 1,000-plus group. And it’s the worst of this year for that filter, although two under-1,000-screen wide releases (Good Time and The Stray) had lower opening grosses.

Ironically, the movie based on Professor Marston’s creation, Wonder Woman, has the honor of having the fifth best opening of the year with $103.3M. The action blockbuster also is the number two movie of 2017 in the US (with $412.4M) and seventh in the world ($821.4M). Maybe they can try again with Professor Marston and the Wonder Women with a better-marketed re-release in two years when Wonder Woman 2 comes out. Or, better yet, push it harder in a month when Justice League arrives. Professor Marston deserves better, as our own Matthew Monagle describes it as a powerfully conventional biopic “that finds hope and joy in sex, power, and consent.”

Otherwise, it should be appreciated that we can have wide releases helmed by women perform on either end of the spectrum of success and failure. Looking back over the year so far, women directors have had hits and misses, same as men, and that goes for critical receptions. The aforementioned Before I Fall, directed by Ry Russo-Young, is one of them that received decent reviews but didn’t gross a lot ($12.2M total) yet also didn’t cost much. Earlier in the year, Anna Foerster’s poorly received Underworld: Blood Wars gave its franchise its worst domestic gross ($30.4M), while Stacy Title’s The Bye Bye Man was panned by critics and audiences but managed to make just enough ($22.4M) to profit from its low budget.

The next wide release from a woman director was Niki Caro’s The Zookeeper’s Wife, which started out fine in limited release but didn’t perform as well as it should have upon expansion. The modestly reviewed period drama didn’t quite break even, grossing $17.4M against its reported $20M price tag. Denise Di Novi followed that with the thriller Unforgettable, which neither critics nor audiences enjoyed and which topped out at $11.4M, making it another box office bomb.

Before Patty Jenkins and Wonder Woman broke records for her gender in June, the summer heated up for women directors with Stella Meghie’s Everything, Everything. Reviews weren’t favorable for the YA romantic drama, but fans liked it and the adaptation did pretty well with a total domestic gross of $34.1M plus another $27.2M overseas. After Wonder Woman came Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Megan Leavey, the budget of which is unknown but is said to be quite small. The well-liked military biopic still grossed only $13.4M.

Rough Night is the one of the summer’s two films about an all-girls’ trip that was appropriately made by a woman — Lucia Aniello — but it was also the one that didn’t do very well. Received poorly by critics and moviegoers, the wild comedy only grossed $22.1M in the US, on a budget of $20M, though it did match that number overseas. Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled made more money than the 1971 adaptation of the same book, but the well-received feature still only grossed $10.6M in the US once it went wide. That’s about the same as what it cost to produce.

One of the biggest box office disappointments of the year of any kind is Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit, which made just $16.8M. While not the Oscar winner’s worst showing — it’s actually not too far off from her Best Picture-winning The Hurt Locker — the acclaimed and popular historical drama performed quite poorly compared to her previous effort, Zero Dark Thirty. Finally, Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s critically panned Home Again brought in a so-so $26.8M, more than doubling its budget but hardly being anywhere as successful as usual for her mother/producer, Nancy Meyers.

There’s also Battle of the Sexes, which is co-directed by Valerie Faris. The historical sports film isn’t even too big a hit with $10.4M, but as far as feminist biopics go it’s looking great next to Professor Marston now. Looking forward, there’s only one certain wide release from a woman director: Trish Sie’s Pitch Perfect 3, which could very well bomb given how sequel fatigue is going lately. Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird could wind up going wide if it’s popular enough in initial limited release, however.

Good news for Robinson is that she didn’t deliver the lowest-grossing wide opening for a woman director ever. That unfortunate honor goes to Marielle Heller, whose highly acclaimed indie The Diary of a Teenage Girl debuted with only $393K on 795 screens in 2015 (it’s 14th worst of all time). Nor is it the worst opening for a movie on more than 1,000 screens. That’s Lisa Comrie’s 2007 feature Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour, a movie that has a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes and only took in $586K in its first weekend (it’s 13th worst of all time for the 1,000-plus group). The fact that those are the only two women-directed movies ahead of Professor Marston on that chart proves we need more wide-releases by women.

Here’s the (estimated) top 10 box office for the weekend:

  1. Happy Death Day – $26.5M (new release)
    2. Blade Runner 2049 – $15.1M
    3. The Foreigner – $12.8M (new release)
    4. IT – $6.1M
    5. The Mountain Between Us – $5.7M
    6. American Made – $5.4M
    7. Kingsman: The Golden Circle – $5.3M
    8. The LEGO Ninjago Movie – $4.3M
    9. My Little Pony: The Movie – $4M
    10. Victoria and Abdul – $3.1M

New release Marshall came in at number 11 with $3M, while Professor Marston and the Wonder Women debuted at number 14. (Source for all box office figures: Box Office Mojo)

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.