Weekend Box Office: THE EQUALIZER Shoots to the Top with $35 Million

     September 28, 2014


As expected, The Equalizer came out on top this weekend, earning an estimated $35 million from 3,236 locations.  That’s surprisingly strong for a September debut – especially considering the movie is based on a TV series few people remember.  The credit goes to Denzel Washington, who has one of the best opening weekend records of any A-list actor.  Not all of Washington’s films in the past decade have gone on to be hits (Unstoppable, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3), but the man can definitely open a movie.  The Equalizer is Washington’s best box office debut since 2012’s Safe House and it also gives director Antoine Fuqua the highest opening of his career.

 Title Weekend Total
1.  The Equalizer $35,000,000 $35
2.  The Maze Runner $17,500,000 $58
3.  The Boxtrolls $17,250,000 $17.2
4.  This Is Where I Leave You $7,010,000 $22.5
5  Dolphin Tale 2 $4,835,000 $33.6
6.  No Good Deed $4,600,000 $46.6
7.  A Walk Among the Tombstones $4,234,000 $20.8
8.  Guardians of the Galaxy $3,789,000 $319.1
9.  Let’s Be Cops $1,515,000 $79.6
10.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles $1,450,000 $187.1


Details after the jump.

the-equalizer-poster-denzel-washingtonIn a career that spans 30 years and over 40 films, Denzel Washington has achieved an enviable level of success.  The star is both critically admired, with two Academy Awards and six nominations, and bankable.  In fact, considering he has no franchise hits, animated films, or comic book movies on his resume, Washington’s ability to consistently open features above $20 million is kind of remarkable.  Of the 13 films he has headlined in the last decade, only one debuted below that level: 2007’s The Great Debaters, which played in only 1,290 locations.  I couldn’t find another star who was even close.

Another thing that makes Washington stand out from his contemporaries is the fact that the majority of his recent films have been R-rated.  Ten of his features since 2004 have been adults-only dramas.  You can look no further than Liam Neeson’s A Walk Among the Tombstones to see how hard the box office can be for restricted-audience releases.

Of course, opening weekends are the final word on a film’s success.  You have to look at both the final gross and the budget to know if a film is a hit, and here Washington’s record is more mixed.  Unstoppable made over $167 million worldwide in 2010, but cost $100 million before marketing.  The thriller was also one of the rare PG-13 titles on Washington’s recent credits.  By contrast, 2013’s Flight was a runaway hit: earning more than $160 million worldwide with a budget of just $31 million.

The Equalizer received an A- CinemaScore but stands at just 59% on Rotten Tomatoes.  That suggests that the film may not hold up as well as Flight in the weeks to come.  Another critical factor in the film’s long-term outlook is the arrival of Gone Girl next weekend.  With Oscar buzz already building for David Fincher’s film, the R-rated competition will not do The Equalizer any favors.  Luckily, it looks like Sony/Columbia is confident enough with the finished product to move forward with plans for a sequel.  That would be a first for both Washington and Fuqua, who previously worked together on Training Day.  In franchise terms, The Equalizer has a lot of material to work with.  The film is based on a CBS series starring Edward Woodward that ran for four seasons in the 1980s, which leaves lots of asses for Washington to kick in future installments.

the-boxtrolls-image-1The Maze Runner fell to second place this weekend, narrowly edging out The Boxtrolls.  Last weekend, the young adult adaptation looked strong with its $32.5 million debut, a number that is actually notable for September.  Now that The Equalizer has easily topped that opening (and without trying to appeal to those coveted younger audiences), The Maze Runner looks a little less impressive.  The film had a good sophomore hold (-46%) and has already taken in over $120 million worldwide, however, so its franchise future looks secure.

The Boxtrolls opened in third place with an estimated $17.2 million from 3,464 venues – more screens than The Equalizer but only half its gross.  Even so, this is an unequivocal win for Focus Features and Laika, the stop-motion animation studio behind previous genre favorites like Coraline and ParaNorman.  Unlike traditional animated films, stop motion is not known for its big grosses.  The highest domestic total still belongs to 2000’s Chicken Run, and the genre’s best opening was Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride with $19.1 million.  Even with the serious lack of family films currently in release, The Boxtrolls is not likely to equal either of those films in terms of final box office numbers.  But I also didn’t think the film would open above $15 million, so I would be happy to be proved wrong again.

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy fell out of the top five last weekend, but it is still a force to be reckoned with.  On Sunday, the film’s total domestic gross climbed above $319 million.  That makes it the third highest-grossing feature in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, behind The Avengers and Iron Man 3.  Higher than Iron Man and Iron Man 2 before adjusting for inflation, and really – who saw that coming?

Overall, this weekend’s box office was down about 5% from last year, when Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 was on top.  Even with the anticipation surrounding the Gone Girl, next weekend’s box office has almost no chance of pulling ahead of 2013.  The drama is expected to open close to $30 million.  That’s significantly ahead of 2012’s Argo but not close to last year’s outsized Gravity launch.


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