‘Hustlers’ Shows Strength of Female-Centered Fare as ‘The Goldfinch’ Fails to Fly

Tom Brueggemann

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Mid-September is not normally prime box office, but this weekend provided some encouragement as we move into a fall that will determine whether the market will reverse the trend that has domestic results 6% below last year.

Hustlers” planted the flag for the cause of comedies, original projects, and women front and center with a stronger-than-anticipated $33 million. That was good enough for second place, behind “It: Chapter Two,” which managed to keep its second-weekend drop to reasonable levels and a total just under $41 million that maintained the #1 slot. A particularly strong group of small-drop holdovers also added to decent results.

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And then there was the absolutely dreadful #8 with “The Goldfinch,” which grossed $2.64 million. Its failure, which Warner Bros. can sustain, will have more long-term impact than most similar high-end duds.

What emerged was a weekend total that should end up over $110 million, enough to slightly surpass the same date last year. That’s encouraging, with upcoming weeks providing what appears to be an above-average appeal slate of films, likely led by “Joker” on October 4 and the return of franchise-driven Disney with “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” on October 18. And “Hustlers” suggests is that originals still have appeal, in certain cases. What will ultimately make or break efforts to surge for the remainder of 2019 is improved performances by standalone titles.

If movies in theaters can survive as anything other than major-spectacle events for familiar properties, then successes like “Hustlers” are vital. It’s the best opener for STX (about $9 million better than “Bad Moms”), the best by a tiny margin for a Jennifer Lopez-starring film (edging out adjusted numbers for “Monster in Law” and “Anaconda”). It’s the best opening for a female-directed film in 2.5 years (since “Wonder Woman”). Lorene Scafaria, who also wrote this, will step into the upper ranks of in-demand directors.

And what makes the response more notable is “Hustlers” is an anomaly: It defies expectations by having a gangworld setting, with an emphasis on drama along with laughs. (The plot actually bears similarities to last year’s “Widows.”) Even with a $20 million budget, this is the kind of film shunned by major studios.

Despite its Toronto festival showcase, strong reviews, and a sense of launching fall’s adult film season, it had an atypical audience makeup with 2/3 female and 2/3 minority with heavy Latino and black ticket-buyer interest. The marketing on this was terrific, with a strong understanding of its appeal as well as possible points of resistance.

You can’t get much more adult-audience than what “The Goldfinch” was meant to be: a Pulitizer Prize- winning and bestselling novel, contemporary themes, hot director (John Crowley from “Brooklyn,”) a stellar cast including Nicole Kidman and Anson Elgort (his first studio release since “Baby Driver”), and a gala showing at Toronto.

Yes, it got hit hard by reviews, and good ones are vital for a film like this to work. Like “Life Itself,” “Rules Don’t Apply,” and “Our Brand Is Crisis,” it’s a serious effort with no appeal.

The result will be even less studio interest in these sorts of projects. Are we seeing the end of serious fiction as the basis of major films? This already was a rarity. HBO’s “Big Little Lies” started as a novel; in the future, a project like “The Goldfinch” would be considered for TV, if at all. Even with great reviews, it doesn’t look like something that could open well enough to justify the cost.

The first “It” two years back dropped only 51% in weekend two, off a bigger opening. But a 55% drop for a sequel is respectable, and at $154 million in and even more overseas, consider it a hit.

But here’s what is really remarkable about this weekend. In the top 10, the biggest drop was 27%  and the lowest was 10%. These are terrific holds, and even more when there was a strong opener. The best hold came from “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” which actually fell short of the list last weekend after an initial distributor-provided estimate that had it in seventh place. The independent film, initially limited, looks headed to a word-of-mouth driven $20 million total.

But that titles like “Angel Has Fallen” and “Good Boys” dropping only around a quarter, it suggests a steady audience seeking out current films. Maybe the strong franchise summer has managed both to restore some interest in movies overall, as well as a hunger for those that seem fresher.

Whatever the case, consider this a promising weekend that could portend a better than expected rest of 2019.

The Top Ten

1. It Chapter Two (Warner Bros.) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$40,735,000 (-%) in 4,570 theaters (no change); PTA (per theater average): $8,914; Cumulative: $153,804,000

2. Hustlers (STX) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Metacritic: 79; Est. budget: $20 million

$33,230,000 in 3,250 theaters; PTA: $10,225; Cumulative: $33,200,000

3. Angel Has Fallen (Lionsgate) Week 4; Last weekend #2

$4,400,000 (-26%) in 3,076 theaters (-153); PTA: $1,430; Cumulative: $60,380,000

4. Good Boys (Universal) Week 5; Last weekend #3

$4,260,000 (-22%) in 2,736 theaters (-457); PTA: $1,557; Cumulative: $73,317,000

5. The Lion King (Disney) Week 9; Last weekend #4

$3,555,000 (-18%) in 2,365 theaters (-245); PTA: $1,503; Cumulative: $533,993,000

6. Hobbs & Shaw (Universal) Week 7; Last weekend #5

$2,770,000 (-27%) in 2,040 theaters (-249); PTA: $1,351; Cumulative: $168,317,000

7. Overcomer (Sony) Week 4; Last weekend #6

$2,735,000 (-26%) in 2,293 theaters (+140); PTA: $1,193; Cumulative: $28,988,000

8. The Goldfinch (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 41; Est. budget: $49 million

$2,640,000 in 2,542 theaters; PTA: $1,039; Cumulative: $2,640,000

9. The Peanut Butter Falcon (Roadside Attractions) Week 6; Last weekend #11

$1,921,000 (-10%) in 1,490 theaters (+180); PTA: $1,289; Cumulative: $15,044,000

10. Dora and the Lost City of Gold (Paramount) Week 6; Last weekend #7

$1,850,000 (-21%) in 1,348 theaters (-440); PTA: $1,372; Cumulative: $56,744,000

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