‘The Woman King’ debuts at $19 million and leads the box office

“The Woman King,” a historical action epic starring Viola Davis, topped the domestic box office charts in its opening weekend.

Buoyed by rave reviews and positive word-of-mouth, the film collected $19 million from 3,765 North American theaters over the weekend, hitting the peak of expectations. Independent tracking services predicted “The Woman King” would debut with $15-18 million, while Sony estimated a debut closer to $12 million.

Fortunately, the film exceeded Sony’s ultra-conservative forecasts since “The Woman King” cost 50 million dollars to produce, not to mention the tens of millions of marketing expenses, including a premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film was co-financed by eOne.

Gina Prince-Bythewood directed ‘The Woman King’, which tells the true story of the all-female warrior unit known as the Agojie, which protected the West African kingdom of Dahomey from the 17th to 19th centuries. Audiences were receptive, awarding the film a rare “A+” CinemaScore.

As expected, the majority of the opening weekend crowds were women, with women accounting for 61% of ticket buyers between Friday and Sunday. Broken down by demographic group, 60% of moviegoers were black, 19% were white, 11% were Hispanic, and 10% were Asian.

Given strong initial crowd reception, box office analysts believe “The Woman King” will enjoy a lucrative run on the big screen. It helps that there isn’t a ton on the way in competition form, although Olivia Wilde’s “Don’t Worry Darling,” which also targets female audiences, opens on the big screen on September 23.

“The reviews are sensational,” says David A. Gross, who runs film consultancy Franchise Entertainment Research. “These movies are playing at healthy multiples in their off weeks and that should be happening here.

“The Woman King” easily topped the box office charts because there weren’t many other high-profile movies playing in theaters.

New to theater marquees, Searchlight’s oddly under-the-radar murder mystery “See How They Run,” starring Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan, opened in third place with $3.1 million from 2 400 North American theaters.

The only other movie to premiere nationwide, A24’s horror sequel “Pearl,” landed in fourth place with $3.1 million from 2,934 theaters. Those ticket sales mark a drop from its predecessor, director Ti West’s “X,” which debuted in March at $4.2 million and ended its theatrical run with $11 million.

A24 may not care that “Pearl” may be lower than “X” at the box office; the indie company has already announced a third chapter, “MaXXXine,” which will debut in 2023. Mia Goth stars in the slasher series in multiple roles, with “Pearl” serving as an origin story about her repressed antihero.

““Pearl” and “X” are well-reviewed, low-budget independent pics – produced, written, directed and edited by Ti West – don’t expect it to be a studio release,” says Gross.

Two remaining titles, Airbnb chiller “Barbarian” and Brad Pitt’s action thriller “Bullet Train,” round out the top five.

“Barbarian,” which took the top spot last weekend, slipped to second place with $6.3 million from 2,340 locations in its second-year frame. It’s only dropped 42% from its $10 million debut, an unusually strong hold for a low-budget horror film. So far, “Barbarian” has grossed $20.9 million at the domestic box office.

In fifth place, “Bullet Train” grossed $2.5 million from 2,602 theaters in its seventh weekend of release. A mainstay throughout the fall, the film is approaching $100 million in North America, with ticket sales at $96 million. “Bullet Train” grossed $125.7 million at the international box office, bringing its worldwide total to an impressive $222 million.

For only the second time in 17 weeks, Paramount’s “Top Gun: Maverick” landed outside the top five on the domestic box office charts. Tom Cruise’s hit sequel added $2.18 million across 2,604 venues over the weekend, pushing ticket sales to $709 million in North America.

On the indie scene, Neon’s “Moonage Daydream,” a kind of David Bowie documentary, broke into the top 10 while playing on just 170 Imax screens. The film earned $1.225 million over the weekend, averaging $7,207 per location. “Moonage Daydream,” directed by Brett Morgen, expands next weekend to around 600 theaters.

Another arthouse release, “The Silent Twins,” grossed $102,000 from 279 theaters between Friday and Sunday, translating to a so-so $365 per screen. Focus Features is releasing the film, which has received mixed reviews since its Cannes Film Festival premiere. With Letitia Wright, the real story centers on twin sisters who only communicated with each other.

Overall, the box office drop has been dismal so far, with ticket sales down around 55% from 2019. That’s mainly because studios haven’t released any major franchise films. The next potential blockbusters won’t be until “Black Adam” (October 21), “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (November 11), and “Avatar: The Way of Water” (December 16).

“A rising tide lifts all boats,” Gross says, “but right now the tide is low.”

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