Box Office Top 10 Film News

Box Office: The Equalizer Has One of the Biggest September Openings of All Time

Here’s what happened at the domestic box office this weekend: America remembered that it loved itself some Denzel Washington, giving his The Equalizer the 4th biggest opening in September history.  Elsewhere, Boxtrolls did good (for a Laika movie), The Maze Runner continued its better-than-expected run, Guardians of the Galaxy officially became the third biggest Marvel Cinematic Universe film ever (kind of), and indie drama The Skeleton Twins dang near cracked the top 10 despite playing in fewer than 400 theaters.  Oh, plus, Lucy is still killing it overseas.  Let’s do the numbers:

Top 10 Estimated Domestic Totals (9/26-9/28)

1. The Equalizer (Opening Weekend)


  • Weekend Gross=$35 million
  • Budget=$55 million

Foreign: $17.8m from over 65 markets this weekend for a worldwide debut of $52.8m

There were more than a couple of critics openly wondering why The Equalizer was playing at the Toronto Film Festival last month.  It wasn’t an indie seeking distribution nor was it any kind of awards contender.  Instead, it was a very commercial R-rated action film, reuniting star Denzel Washington with his Training Day director Antoine Fuqua in an adaptation of little-remembered, old Michael Sloan and Richard Lindhei-created TV show.  Oh, sure, maybe Sony was kind of hoping to kickstart a Best Actor campaign for Washington, but the truth is the Festival screening was simply part of an aggressive advertising campaign which included tastemaker screenings in 15 major cities and endorsements from several professional athletes (Michael Strahan, Dwight Howard, and Tiger Woods) and NFL teams (Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers).

It’s safe to say that it worked, with The Equalizer‘s estimated $35m opening registering as the fourth best debut in September history (trailing Hotel Transylvania, Insidious Chapter 2, Sweet Home Alabama).  It’s actually the 12th-straight Denzel Washington movie to open north of $20m, not counting The Great Debaters since he’s just a supporting character in that one.  This is a noticeable improvement over the debuts of his most recent films, i.e., last year’s 2 Guns ($27m), 2012’s Flight ($25m debut), but not as good as Safe House ($40m) or American Gangster ($43m).

2. The Maze Runner



  • Weekend Gross=$17.5 million
  • Total Gross to Date=$58 million
  • Budget=$34 million

Foreign: $27.5m from 62 markets this weekend for a new 17-day international total of $91m and worldwide gross of $149m

Fox was a pretty proud of itself last weekend, wasting no time to announce a Maze Runner sequel, boasting to THR,, “We went after teenagers hard and did everything to eventize this film in a play period (Setptember) never tested before. We accomplished the task.”  Sure, a $32.5m opening for a YA adaptation was not actually that impressive, not when Hunger Games sets records with its opening and Divergent manages $54m, but, um, did you see the part where the movie only cost $34m to make and it almost made all of that back in its first 3 days?  Now, it has only declined 45% in its second weekend, which is pretty great for YA films (e.g., Divergent dropped 53%), and is looking up at a worldwide gross just south of $150m.

3. The Boxtrolls (Opening Weekend)


  • Weekend Gross=$17.2 million
  • Budget=They’d rather not say, thank you very much

Foreign: $5.1m from 16 markets this weekend for a foreign total of $17.7m and early worldwide gross of $35 million.

Portlan, Oregon-based Laika continues ringing the bell for stop-go animation in a world which has long since moved on, loathe to do anything other than computer animation.  Their latest effort, The Boxtrolls, follows a boy “raised by a community of quirky, mischievous creatures living in a cavernous home beneath the streets, but when the town’s villain plots to rid the world of the Boxtrolls the boy rises to the surface to save the day.”  It scored Laika’s best opening, but not by a whole lot, coming out just ahead the openings for Paranorman ($14m) and Coraline ($16.58m).  If you adjust for ticket price inflation, it actually came in just below Coraline ($18.4m).  Paranorman ultimatley topped out at $56m and Coraline surged to $75m.  The Boxtrolls should finish somewhere between those two.

4. This Is Where I Leave You 


  • Weekend Gross=$7 million
  • Total Gross to Date=$22.5 million
  • Budget=$19.8 million

Foreign: No international box office yet

This Is Where I Leave You, Warner Bros.’ star-studded adaptation of Jonathan Tropper’s beloved novel, played almost exclusively to females (63%) over the age of 25 (86%) in its opening weekend.  That was great news because that is typically the least fickle filmgoing audience there is.  They’re the group that helped Hundred-Foot Journey stick around in the top 10 for quite a while, ending up with $52m domestic despite a ho-hum opening weekend of $11m.  Well, This Is Where I Leave You opened with less than $12m last weekend, but now it has eased a strong 39% in this its second weekend.  This isn’t going to turn into the awards-contender Warner Bros. had hoped for it, but it could still turn into a modest box office success.  It still has a long way to go before that, though.

5. Dolphin Tale 2 


  • Weekend Gross=$4.8 million
  • Total Gross to Date=$33.6 million
  • Budget=$36 million

Foreign: Just $3m in limited international release for a worldwide total of $36.7m

Dolphin Tale 2 is looking more and more like a sequel that not enough people were actually asking for.  Its predecessor, the first Dolphin Tale, grossed a respectable $72m domestic against a $37m budget in 2011, and after its first 17 days it stood at $49m.  Unfortunately, Dolphin Tale 2 is well behind that pace, sitting at just below $34m after its first 17 days.

6. No Good Deed 


  • Weekend Gross=$4.6 million
  • Total Gross to Date=$46.6 million
  • Budget=$13.2 million

Foreign: Less than $1m from very limited international release

Idris Elba is known for his work as the star of BBC’s Luther as well as showing up in the ensemble casts of Prometheus, Thor and Thor: The Dark World, and Pacific Rim.  However, he does occasionally get his own movie to carry or carry alongside no more than two co-stars, and his high-water mark in this territory remains Obsessed ($68m domestic in 2009), a kind of interracial version of Fatal Attracion co-starring Ali Larter and Beyonce.  No Good Deed is falling too fast after its $24m opening weekend to come close to that, but at nearly $50m domestic after 17 days against a production budget of just $13.2m it’s an obvious success.

7. A Walk Among the Tombstones 

Astro Walk Among Tombstones


  • Weekend Gross=$4.2 million
  • Total Gross to Date=$20.8 million
  • Budget=$23 million

Foreign: A international/worldwide split of $4.9m/$25.8m

It took over a decade for director/writer Scott Frank to realize his goal of adapting Lawrence Block’s novel Walk Among the Tombstones into a film, and what made it finally happen was the presence of Liam Neeson’s name up on the marquee as well as the faint possibility of establishing a new franchise since Block has written 19 of these dang crime novels centered around private investigator Matthew Scudder.  Well, Neeson’s name failed to deliver a good opening last weekend (a meager $12.7m), and the 67% drop this weekend sure as heck can’t help any franchise talk.  To put that drop into context check out the second-weekend drops for all of the prior Liam Neeson action fests:

  • Non-Stop – 45% down from $28m
  • Taken 2 – 56% down from $49m
  • The Grey – 53% down from $20m
  • Unknown – 43% down from $22m
  • Taken – 17% down from $24m

So, that $12.7m opening made Walk Among the Tombstones the weakest starter of Liam Neeson’s new action star phase, and now it has had his worst second-weekend drop.  Just going to go out on a limb here and say that’s not a good combination.  You can chalk a lot this drop up to The Equalizer eating directly into Walk Among the Tombstones‘ core audience  Plus, this is ultimately one those “for me” projects for Neeson which didn’t cost much and won’t make much.  Still, you have to wonder if this means Liam Neeson fatigue has finally started to creep in just a little bit.

8. Guardians of the Galaxy 


  • Weekend Gross=$3.7 million
  • Total Gross to Date=$319.1 million
  • Budget=$170 million

Foreign: A new international/worldwide split of $325.1m/$644.2m.

The headline here is that Guardians of the Galaxy is now the third-highest grossing film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, domestically at least, passing the first Iron Man ($318.m) this weekend.  That leaves it (well) behind Iron Man 3 ($397m) and The Avengers ($625m).  Now the fun part is to see just how much Guardians makes when it finally reaches China in two weeks.  It only needs just over $30m more to pass Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s ($714m) on the worldwide chart, which would make it the third biggest worldwide hit in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  So, basically, without adjusting for inflation Guardians is pretty much set to be the third biggest Marvel film to date, domestic and worldwide.

9. Let’s Be Cops

Lets Be Cops

  • Weekend Gross=$1.5 million
  • Total Gross to Date=$79.6 million
  • Budget=$17 million

Foreign: A new international/worldwide split of $24.1m/$101.3m

Let’s Be Cops has releases scheduled in over 20 foreign countries into January 2015 meaning its box office run is far from over even if is set to soon depart the domestic top 10.

10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 

TMNT 2014 Michaelangelo

  • Weekend Gross=$1.4 million
  • Total Gross to Date=$187.1 million
  • Budget=$125-150 million

Foreign: A new international/worldwide split of $154.9m/$342m

Paramount has already announced and dated a TMNT sequel, but they’ll probably feel a bit more confident about that decision once the film debuts in big markets like Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Spain and the U.K. through October and into next January.  That’ll inevitably improve the worldwide gross.  However, as of right now it appears as if TMNT has yet to be accepted for release in China, which seriously limits the number of big Hollywood films it exhibits.  Not getting into China, the world’s second biggest marketplace for film, would be a seriously tall glass of suck for them.

What Happened Outside the Top 10?:

The Drop (#9 to #12) and If I Stay (#10 to #13) both fell out of the top 10, and the Bill Hader-Kristin Wiig indie drama The Skeleton Twins surged in its third weekend of release to finish at #11 despite playing in fewer than 400 theaters.  The Skeleton Twins, starring Hader and Wiig as estranged twins, actually posted the fourth highest per-theater average of the weekend.

What About Lucy?:

Although Lucy‘s domestic run is over ($125m) it is still adding new foreign markets, opening in first place in Italy ($3.2m) this weekend.  Its foreign total is now up to $269m, and it will cross $400m worldwide in a couple of days.  All of this for a movie that cost just $40m to make.  Wow.

What’s Up Next?:

Gone Girl and Annabelle, both opening wide on Friday.  Gone Girl is adapted from Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel about a dude (Ben Affleck) suspected of actually killing his mysteriously missing wife (Rosamund Pike), and it just debuted to “It’s good, but is it Oscar good?” responses at the New York Film Festival.  This will oddly be the third straight October to feature a new Ben Affleck movie.  It didn’t work out so well last year for Runner Runner ($19m domestic against a $30m production budget) whereas the year before that it quite possibly couldn’t have gone any better for Argo, which eventually won a Best Picture Oscar to go along with its $136m domestic/$232m worldwide gross.  Gone Girl, from director David Fincher, could be an Argo-sized hit.  Annabelle is the spin-off from The Conjuring that no one really asked for considering that the origin story of that film’s creepy doll was pretty much covered in its first 20 minutes.  On top of that, this has been a seriously down year for horror films.



  1. Wow. Why do so many people want to see The Equalizer? Is it just to feed a need for R-rated violence? The reviews weren’t good; it’s just another remake; it’s probably a pointless remake. I am also surprised it’s referred to that way without reference to Edward Woodward – what an awesome name.

    1. That’s an excellent question. Since it’s a Denzel Washington movie, I expected Equalizer to do okay but nothing like $35 million. There is no really good answer for why this happened, but Scott Mendelson at had a pretty good take on the issue:

      Denzel Washington has been one of our most consistent box office draws over the last twenty years, partially because he excelled at giving the audience what it craved from a so-called Denzel Washington film and partially because was able to keep making such films. He has never made a sequel and never inserted himself into an ongoing franchise. He is a movie star because he is the biggest and most important item in all of his movies and yet they still all are able to score notable opening weekends. Somewhat diverse films like Remember the Titans, John Q, Training Day, American Gangster, Unstoppable, Flight, and now The Equalizer all garnered $20 million+ weekends, with a few hitting $30m+ (The Equalizer, The Book of Eli) or $40m+ (American Gangster, Safe House). But the kind of old-school star vehicles, often referred to as “meat and potatoes entertainment” that made the likes of Julia Roberts and Tom Cruise into movie stars without always requiring them to carry a gun and/or kill people, are an endangered species for most of our would-be movie stars past and present.

      For most movie stars new and old, mid-budget genre films or outright dramas like Tom Hank’s Captain Phillips or Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher are the exception as opposed to the rule. But Denzel Washington never really stopped being allowed to make “Denzel Washington movies,” and audiences keep showing up accordingly. In an era of “star+concept,” Denzel Washington being righteously heroic or (occasionally) an anti-hero is basically all the concept you need. He is not our last movie star, as Leonardo DiCaprio, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, and Brad Pitt make films that qualify as events, but it’s still a “star+concept” situation. Scarlet Johansson may have joined the list as Lucy sits with $394m worldwide on a $40m budget (we’ll see what she gets offered next). But for now, Denzel Washington is perhaps our purest variation on what used to be called “the movie star.” The Equalizer is a hit because Denzel Washington is a movie star. Denzel Washington is still a movie star partially because he is among the few allowed to make old-fashioned star vehicles.

      1. Mendelson’s response is probably a very good explanation.

        It’s not something I feel “I get”. I have never followed any particular stars but have found that I do tend to have purchased a fair number of Arnold Schwarzenneger films on DVD. (I still haven’t watched any of his comeback movies such as “The Expendables” and their sequels.)

        Do you think some of his success is that he is one of the few African American action actors? Furthermore, he is one of the few older decent African American action actors – a complementary demographic to Liam Neeson in “Taken” etc.

      2. “Do you think some of his success is that he is one of the few African American action actors? Furthermore, he is one of the few older decent African American action actors – a complementary demographic to Liam Neeson in “Taken” etc.”

        You’re probably on to something there.. I haven’t seen any breakdown of Equalizer’s demos by race. So, I don’t know how much it skewed African-American, but I do know that it skewed older, with 65% of the opening weekend audience being over 30. It was almost evenly split on gender, though, 52/48% male/female.

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