Sat. Dec 7th, 2019

Box Office Preview and Predictions: Is ‘Parasite’ on track for a record limited opening?

Courtesy of NEON

This weekend will see the release of three new movies in wide release: The Addams Family, Jexi, and Ang Lee’s Gemini Man. But before I get to those movies, I want to take a look at a box office record owned by another Ang Lee movie: Lust, Caution holds the record for best per-theater-average for a foreign language film, with $63,918 made from one theater in 2007. However, with an avalanche of hype following it into theaters this weekend, the new Bong Joon-ho thriller Parasite could end up taking that 12-year-old record by Sunday.

Typically, foreign language films have had modest starts in their very first limited weekend, before legging it out over the course of a couple months as the film slowly expands to other major cities. Of the top 200 per-theater-averages of all time according to Box Office Mojo, only eight were foreign language films (not counting bi/multilingual films like The Farewell or Babel). Of those eight movies, three were released in only one theater (Lust Caution, The Battlefield Island, The Admiral: Roaring Currents), which can inflate a per-theater-average since well, it’s not much of an “average.” Three more were Pedro Almodovar films (Broken Embraces, Talk to Her, Bad Education), one of the only international directors that is a consistent draw on the art house circuit.

The last two, Amelie and The Motorcycle Diaries, both films that became crossover successes and attracted awards attention after their releases. They are perhaps the best comparison points for Parasite, even though both movies are 19 and 15 years old respectively. But then, Parasite is not quite like any other foreign language movie in recent memory. Ever since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, where it won the Palme D’Or in a unanimous vote, the film has been a runaway success at every other festival it has played at, and the film has been a box office success both in South Korea (where it made over $70 million and is the year’s fourth biggest film) and in other countries, including in France where the movie has become the most successful Palme D’Or winner since Fahrenheit 9/11.

American distributor Neon is also pulling out all of the stops for the film as it opens this weekend in three theaters this weekend, with Q&As at the IFC Center in New York on Thursday and Friday, a move usually reserved for major English-language releases. While Neon is still a young distributor with hits and misses, they pushed I, Tonya to a $30 million total, and have proven themselves adept at handling successful documentaries like Three Identical Strangers and Apollo 11, another art house staple that had struggled at the box office in recent years. Any per-theater-average above $50,000 would be a massive success (and one of the five best PTAs of the year so far), but with Parasite carrying more hype than any other foreign language release in recent memory, the record is within reach. My prediction is a weekend total of $180,000, for a PTA of $60,000 – just short of Lust, Caution, but with two more theaters than that movie had.

In wide release, Joker is looking at an easy repeat at #1. After its record breaking opening, the movie has had an exceptional weekday run, continuing to shatter October box office records (its Tuesday gross, $13.9 million, was over 70% above the previous record). Is this a sign of incredible word-of-mouth, a Yom Kippur midweek boost, or just people going out on the weekdays in order to avoid weekend crowds? Probably a little of all three. But even assuming a 20% decline on Thursday and a 90% increase on Friday (conservative holds by comic book movie standards), the film should manage a 50% drop for a $48 million weekend gross, which would be one of the best holds in recent memory for a comic book adaptation.

With Joker sucking up all of the oxygen in the room, it seems unlikely that Gemini Man will find room to seriously break out. There was some hope that Will Smith’s scene-stealing turn in Aladdin over the summer would rejuvenate interest in the iconic movie star, but reviews for the film have been dismal, with a 37 on Metacritic and 28% on Rotten Tomatoes. Smith’s star power and the sells-itself premise (old Will Smith vs. young Will Smith!) should be enough to avoid an all-out flop, but a low opening weekend of $18 million seems to be in the cards.

The Addams Family hopes to cash in on the name appeal of the long-running family name, and being one of the few spooky-themed releases this month should the film in the long term. But the marketing has struggled to sell the movie to adults, and the lack of reviews is less than promising. United Artists Releasing is giving the film their widest release ever, in over 3,800 theaters, but it will probably underwhelm with a $17 million weekend.

The last new wide release of the weekend is also the last film CBS Films will ever release theatrically, the sci-fi romantic comedy Jexi. From the directing duo behind the Bad Moms movies, the film’s Her-riffing premise is the kind that might have had breakout potential with the right push and the right level of quality, but marketing has been muted, and this film also suffers from a suspicious lack of reviews just as it opens. Expect an underwhelming $5 million start for the film.

1. Joker – $48 million (-50%)
2. Gemini Man – $18 million (NEW)
3. The Addams Family – $17 million (NEW)
4. Abominable – $7.1 million (-40%)
5. Downton Abbey – $5.2 million (-35%)
6. Jexi – $5 million (NEW)
7. Hustlers – $4 million (-37%)
8. Judy – $3.1 million (-32%)
9. IT: Chapter Two – $3 million (-44%)
10. Ad Astra – $2.1 million (-50%)
Parasite – $180,000 (NEW)

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