By Dave McNary
LOS ANGELES, (Variety.com)
Universal’s opening of “Fifty Shades Freed” is dominating North American moviegoing this weekend with a solid $38.8 million at 3,678 locations as cinemas await the arrival of “Black Panther”
Sony’s launch of family comedy “Peter Rabbit” wound up with a better-than-expected $25 million at 3,725 sites. Clint Eastwood’s thriller “The 15:17 to Paris” from Warner Bros. arrived above forecasts at $12.6 million at 3,042 venues for the weekend.
A pair of sturdy holiday season holdovers in their eighth weekends took fourth and fifth as Sony’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” finished with about $9.8 million at 3,126 sites and Fox’s “The Greatest Showman” grossed $6.4 million at 2,373 screens. “Jumanji” declined only 10 percent from the previous weekend and will finish the weekend with $365.7 million in 54 days in 38th place on the all-time domestic grosser list, $3 million behind “Despicable Me 2.” “Showman” slid only 17 percent and has totaled $146.5 million.
The finale of the “Fifty Shades” trilogy – referred to in marketing materials as “the climax” – is also launching in 57 international markets this weekend with about $100 million, which brings the franchise total to about $1.09 billion.
The weekend saw a significant increase in moviegoing in the wake of a slow Super Bowl session with $138 million, up 46 percent, according to comScore. Overall business was off 27 percent from the same weekend a year ago, when “The Lego Batman Movie” led with $53 million.
Moviegoing will receive another major boost over the Presidents Day weekend with Disney-Marvel’s “Black Panther” opening Feb. 16 and forecasted to take in as much as $150 million during the Friday-Monday period. Overall year-to-date domestic business as of Sunday is $1.234 billion, down 1.8 percent from 2017.
“This weekend is merely the calm before the proverbial Marvel-powered storm as ‘Black Panther’ is poised to leap into theaters with potentially record-breaking results,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore.
“Fifty Shades Freed” sees Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson return as Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele in the conclusion of the events set in motion in 2015’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” and 2017’s “Fifty Shades Darker”
Though the “Fifty Shades Freed” launch wound up above forecasts, it was not as strong as its predecessors. “Fifty Shades of Grey” opened with a sensational $85.2 million in 2015, and “Fifty Shades Darker” opened with $46.6 million on the same weekend last year.
“Fifty Shades Freed” generated a B+ CinemaScore with an audience that was 75 percent female with 55 percent under 30. “We were able to expand the audience beyond the core demographic, and it played well in all geographic areas,” said Jim Orr, Universal’s president of domestic distribution.
Orr credited the “exhaustive” marketing efforts and the chemistry between Dornan and Johnson for the continued strong performance of the franchise and noted that the studio expects strong playability in coming weeks. He also said there will be a significant bump in midweek performance with Valentines Day on Wednesday.
“Peter Rabbit,” a live-action/CGI animated film from Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation, saw an uptick in Saturday business to finish well above recent projections
James Corden is voicing Peter Rabbit in a contemporary comedy highlighted by his feud with Mr. McGregor’s heir (Domhnall Gleeson) as they rival for the affections of the warm-hearted animal lover who lives next door, played by Rose Byrne.
Eastwood’s “15:17 to Paris” is based on the book “The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes” by Jeffrey E. Stern, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos, about the 2015 Thalys train attack.The film, which is co-financed by Village Roadshow, stars Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos as themselves. Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer also star.
Fox‘s third weekend of “Maze Runner: The Death Cure” finished sixth behind “Jumanji” and “Showman” with $6 million at 2,923 sites. The finale of the dystopian trilogy has taken in $49 million in 17 days.
Lionsgate-CBS Films‘ second weekend of Helen Mirren‘s historical horror film “Winchester“ followed in seventh with $5.1 million at 2,480 locations. Fox’s eighth weekend of Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” finished eighth with $3.5 million at 1,865 venues to lift its domestic total to $72.8 million.
Fox Searchlight‘s 11th weekend of Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” came in ninth with $3 million at 1,780 sites. The fantasy romance, which scored a leading 13 Oscar nominations on Jan. 23, has a domestic total of $49.7 million.
STXfilms‘ fourth weekend of heist thriller “Den of Thieves” edged Warner Bros. fourth session of “12 Strong” for the 10th spot with $2.9 million at 1,468 locations for a $41 million total. Afghan war drama “12 Strong” took $2.7 million at 1,901 sites for a 24-day total of $42 million.