Early September weekends are traditionally a no-man’s-land for breakout openers, unless you’re delivering relatively cheap thrills (the IT and Resident Evil movies, Screen Gems thrillers like The Perfect Guy and No Good Deed), and it’s even more of a wasteland if you’re looking for a quality new opener – among $25+ million openers that launched between September 1st and 15th, the only ones certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes are IT and Sully. However, a new film this weekend might be joining those two movies, as STX’s Hustlers looks poised for a strong breakout.
On paper, Hustlers certainly looked like your typical quickly-forgotten early September release. Jennifer Lopez hadn’t been in a widely acclaimed film in over 20 years, and films about strippers were considered box office poison after the one-two punch of Showgirls and Striptease in the mid-’90s. However, as STX struggled this summer and started delaying the releases of My Spy, 21 Bridges, and Playmobil: The Movie, Hustlers stayed put, positioned as a potential savior for the studio. Then the trailer, frankly one of the most effective trailers for any movie this year, was released in July, and buzz began to pick from there, and pre-embargo whispers about Jennifer Lopez’s performance in the film turned into full-throated raves for her and the film itself, sitting pretty right now at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and 79 on Metacritic, both among the best scores for any Hollywood release this year.
Early tracking made headlines in Hollywood last month, when it was pinned for a $24 million opening, and more recent projections now showing potential as high as $30 million. In a year that’s been rather cruel to non-franchise films (the only $30+ million openers not based on a preexisting IP are Us and Once Upon a Time In Hollywood), these numbers seem outlandish, but movies with a strong female ensemble can break out under the right conditions – just two years ago Girl’s Trip opened to $31.2 million, and STX’s biggest opener remains 2016’s Bad Moms at $23.8 million. I currently have Hustlers opening in between those two movies, with strong reviews propelling it to a $29 million weekend gross from 3,250 theaters.
Hustlers has sucked up almost all of the attention for this coming weekend, but considering how the reviews for The Goldfinch have turned out, Warner Bros. probably isn’t too saddened by that. Even with an starry cast, a director fresh off a Best Picture nominee (John Crowley), and a Pulitzer-winning novel as its source material, the film currently sits at 30% on Rotten Tomatoes, a worse score than half of Jennifer Lopez’s output in the last 20 years. For this kind of straight-forward drama, reviews that poor tend to be a death-knell, especially for a film lacking in any box office draws and a film whose two trailers struggle to convey what exactly the movie is about. Even with a fairly wide release of 2,542 theaters, I currently have The Goldfinch pinned at a $4.5 million debut, one of the worst for a super-wide release this year.
Holdovers: The Hustlers hype has been picking up so much in the last week that there’s a legit outside-chance that it takes #1 for the weekend, and while I would bet against that for now, IT: Chapter Two could drop hard enough to give Hustlers a chance. The first IT had an excellent -51.3% decline in its second weekend, but that was a movie that probably benefited from first weekend sellouts pushing business to its second weekend, and buzz being so high after that first weekend that it brought out viewers that wanted to get in on the hype. With a smaller opening than the first film, Chapter Two seems unlikely to have any of those benefits, and faces much harsher competition from Hustlers than the first IT did from American Assassin and mother! I have the film dropping 60.5% to a $36 million weekend.
With only two R-rated new releases this weekend, the PG/PG-13 releases will probably enjoy another weekend of soft drops. Lion King and Overcomer in particular should benefit, as they continue to be multiplexes’ family film holdover until Abominable opens at the end of the month.
1. IT: Chapter Two – $36 million (-60.5%)
2. Hustlers – $29 million (NEW)
3. The Goldfinch – $4.5 million (NEW)
4. Good Boys – $3.7 million (-33%)
5. Angel Has Fallen – $3.6 million (-40%)
6. The Lion King – $3.3 million (-24%)
7. Overcomer – $2.7 million (-27%)
7. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw – $2.6 million (-32%)
8. Dora and the Lost City of Gold – $1.6 million (-30%)
9. The Peanut Butter Falcon – $1.5 million (-29%)
10. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – $1.4 million (-35%)