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The Movies Going the Distance at the Box Office This Year

A number of 2017 movies have shown long legs and lasting appeal.
Wind River
By  · Published on November 13th, 2017

A number of 2017 movies have shown long legs and lasting appeal.

This weekend’s box office results show a number of things worth noting. Thor: Ragnarok had one of the better second weekends for a Marvel movie, dropping only 53.9% for an estimated $56.6M. And Lady Bird continued to soar in limited release with an estimated $1.2M made from only 37 locations for another excellent per-screen average of $33.8K — meanwhile, limited release newcomer Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri amazed with an $80K average across four screens for a debut gross of $320K.

Wide release newcomer Daddy’s Home 2 also had a  notable bow. The comedy fought off a case of sequelitis by debuting with $30M, close enough to the original’s $38.7M two years ago to prove it worth making. And fellow wide newcomer Murder on the Orient Express offered evidence with its $28.2M bow that whodunit mysteries are still a good idea without needing to also be action movies, and it made a plea for a sequel in the form of a “Death on the Nile” adaptation — helped by its $57.2M overseas gross, of course.

Another interesting observation is that A Bad Moms Christmas hints that it could have strong legs heading towards the holiday season, despite the worse reviews and lesser CinemaScore grade compared to the first installment, which could have indicated there’d be negative word of mouth. The Bad Moms sequel dropped only 31.3% in its second weekend, taking in another $11.5M. That’s the lowest second-weekend dip for a wide release that hasn’t added more screens. Get Out, for instance, dropped only 15% but had increased its screen count by 5.6%. That’s still very good.

Low second-week drops don’t mean it will be a hit in the long run. Monster Trucks had a 35.4% drop its second weekend but it also opened low in the first place and ultimately is one of the year’s biggest flops. Baby Driver, though, dipped only 36.7% its second weekend and continued a steady path to become one of the most successful movies of 2017. Edgar Wright’s musical-minded crime thriller opened to only $20.6M, but that turned out to be only 19.1% of its total domestic gross, which is remarkable in these mostly front-loaded times.

That’s nearly the same as Get Out, which opened at the top of the box office chart with $33.4M back in February, and that figure was just 19% of what it’d accumulate over the next 15 weeks: $175.5M. Even better, The Big Sick had a wide expansion debut of $7.6M, which was only 17.6% of its final tally of $42.9M. By the time of its expansion, though, the rom-com had already grossed a substantial amount, enough that its wide bow was at the 37.7% point of its earnings. Which is a normal success rate.

Less normal, meaning more extraordinary, is Wind River, which has so far managed a domestic gross of $33.8M against an $11M budget. The drama expanded to a lower-end wide release in its third weekend to the tune of $3M, which was just 8.8% of its current total. Even accounting for its earning through that point, $4.1M, was only 12.1% of its current total. And its still in theaters, so that long tail will be even longer.

One little movie that that deserves attention is Gifted, considering Chris Evans isn’t usually considered that bankable outside his Marvel movies. The film’s wide expansion opening of $3.1M was just 12.5% of its domestic total gross of $24.8M (a decent figure against its $7M budget), and even with its limited release grosses added in (for $4.5M through that point), that was still just 18% of the final figure.

Not all long tail hits are small movies that began with relatively minor opening grosses. Wonder Woman, the #2 movie in America this year, debuted with $103M and that turned out to only 25% of its total domestic take of $412.6M. And Dunkirk began with a first-place opening with $50.5M, which was only 26.9% of its current domestic gross of $187.9M. Family films often have long legs, too, so Despicable Me 3 finished domestically with $264M after opening with just 27.4% of that total, $72.4M.

Other notable long tail hits aren’t as high on the list of box office powerhouses of 2017. There’s 47 Meters Down, which debuted with $11M, which was just 25.3% of its total domestic gross of $44.3M, an excellent showing against its $5.5M budget. And Going in Style opened with $11.9M, which was 26.5% of its total domestic gross of $45M against a reported cost of $25M. Religious film The Case for Christ debuted with $4M, which was just 27% of its $14.7M domestic tally, which is not bad against a $5M budget.

Now that we’re getting deep into awards season, we could see more of the late-release contenders also make relatively minor cracks at the box office to start but then follow through triumphantly. Lady Bird and Three Billboards already seem to be on their way to that effect. Other possibilities where audience won’t first know what to expect before diving in due to acclaim and awards include The Disaster ArtistThe Shape of WaterDarkest HourCall Me By Your NameMolly’s Game, and I, Tonya. We’ll have to see how their tails look in the coming weeks.

Here’s the weekend’s estimated box office top 10 (new titles in bold):

1. Thor: Ragnarok – $56.6M
2. Daddy’s Home 2 – $30M
3. Murder on the Orient Express – $28.2M
4. A Bad Moms Christmas – $11.5M
5. Jigsaw – $3.4M
6. Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween – $2.1M
7. Geostorm – $$1.5M
8. Blade Runner 2049 – $1.4M
9. Happy Death Day – $1.3M
10. Lady Bird – $1.2M

All box office figures via 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.