Box Office: ‘Elvis’ Rocks $31 Million Debut As ‘Black Phone’ Grabs $23 Million

Austin Butler and Tom Hanks in ‘Elvis’

Warner Bros.

Elvis opened strong this weekend with a $30.5 million Fri-Sun debut right alongside Top Gun: Maverick’s shockingly huge (also $30.5 million) fifth-weekend gross. Regardless of which film topped the domestic box office when the final figures drop tomorrow, they are both winners. I’ll discuss the Tom Cruise-led sequel later, but the Tom Hanks co-starring music biopic benefited from the former. Some of the best marketing a movie can have is a good trailer playing before a smash hit aimed at similar demographics. Think the Deep Impact teaser attached to Titanic or the Zootopia DMV spot playing before The Force Awakens. With all the pre-summer concern that older, irregular audiences (Elvis Presley isn’t exactly still huge with the kids) wouldn’t show up, the Warner Bros. flick got a last-minute shot in the arm when Top Gun: Maverick soared past $520 million domestic partially thanks to older and irregular moviegoers. Guess what trailer played before most theatrical showings of Top Gun 2.

WBD still sold the hell out of the Baz Luhrmann-directed flick. Elvis got the centerpiece treatment at the studio’s CinemaCon presentation, and its IMAX-friendly trailer has been playing before big movies since President’s Day weekend, including The Batman, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and, yes, Top Gun: Maverick. Moreover, the film’s performance is suggestive of a pre-Covid normal whereby live-action musicals (including music-centric biopics and melodramas) were among the safer theatrical sub-genres since they were “event movies” even in a VOD/streaming era. Before Covid we had the likes of (offhand and non-comprehensive) Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, Pitch Perfect 2, La La Land, The Greatest Showman, Straight Outta Compton, A Star Is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody. Over the last year, we had, alas, West Side Story, In the Heights and Dear Evan Hanson. Even Disney’s Encanto (comparatively) stumbled with $250 million global while Universal although Illumination’s Sing 2 soared to $400 million.

Elvis Presley, like Freddie Mercury, Elton John and Ice Cube before him, qualifies as a butts-in-seats “marquee character” right alongside the likes of Deadpool, Michael Myers or Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. Tom Hanks *as* Colonel Tom Parker qualified as star+character high-concept casting. That the role skewed opposite to Hanks’ onscreen/offscreen persona was a calculated bet (Hanks is usually strongest commercially when playing real-life American heroes) that paid off. Throw in generally positive reviews, whereby even some of the pans made the film seem like a must-see hallucinogenic acid trip, while Austin Butler (a Disney Channel/Nickelodeon vet who will star opposite Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya in Dune part Two) got the “star is born” media treatment in the weeks leading up to release. None of this is rocket science, but it’s refreshing to see that it still works in our current theatrical environment. Elvis just nabbed the biggest opening for a (non-action) drama in well over two years.

That this comes a decade after Magic Mike opened with $39 million is a happy coincidence. Warner Bros., when it’s on its game, is better than anyone else in Hollywood at turning comparatively unconventional biggies into full-throated theatrical hits. Assuming Elvis doesn’t drop dead after this opening, and decent reviews, an A- from Cinemascore and a lack of adult-skewing biggies for the rest of the summer suggests it won’t, its strong debut stands alongside the likes of Gravity, American Sniper, San Andreas, It, Crazy Rich Asians, Joker and (on a Covid curve) Dune. If it legs like Mama Mia: Here We Go Again ($121 million from a $35 million debut), Elvis cracks $100 million domestic. If it (less likely but we’ll see) legs like Rocketman ($96 million/$26 million) or Bohemian Rhapsody ($217 million/$52 million), it’ll end with $112-$125 million. Conversely, legs like Straight Outta Compton ($161 million/$60 million) gets the $85 million flick to $80 million domestic.

(from left) Finney Shaw (Mason Thames) and Gwen Shaw (Madeleine McGraw) in The Black Phone, directed by Scott Derrickson.

© 2022 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS. All Rights Reserved.

Universal, whose Ted opened with $54 million right alongside Magic Mike a decade ago, had the weekend’s other big debut. Blumhouse’s acclaimed The Black Phone opened with $23.3 million in its domestic Fri-Sun debut. Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill’s 70’s set chiller, about a kidnapped boy who gets help from the killer’s previous victims, was supposed to open early in 2022. However, strong festival buzz and reviews led Universal to keep the film, adapted from a Joe Hill short story, until this weekend. Credit the reviews and word-of-mouth (a solid-for-horror B+ Cinemascore), along with the Blumhouse brand name, and the “marquee value” of Scott Derrickson (who helmed Doctor Strange, Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and Ethan Hawke (who has been an added value element for all kinds of genre flicks for decades). Its grim fantasy horror and gruesome child murders qualifies as the kind of fantasy escapism we need to distract from the real-world horrors.

Even legs on par with David Sandberg’s Lights Out ($67 million from a $21 million debut in July of 2016) get the $18 million flick to $70 million domestic, while legs on par with Fede Álvarez’s Don’t Breathe ($89 million/$26 million) gets it closer to $80 million. I guess it could be frontloaded like Blumhouse’s terrific (and well-liked) Happy Death Day (which overperformed on opening weekend partially thanks to opening on Friday the 13th and finished with $56 million after a $26 million launch), but I won’t mourn The Black Phone “only” grossing $50 million. It has already earned $35 million worldwide. This could have been the first weekend since July of 2016 whereby the top five movies all earned $20 million, but since Pixar’s Lightyear crashed and grossed just $18 million, it’ll have to settle for being the first weekend with four $20 million grossers since Thanksgiving weekend of 2018. That’s a Disney problem, not a Hollywood one.

‘Marcel The Shell With Shoes On’


A24 launched Marcel the Shell with Shoes On into six theaters. The charming and poignant feature-film adaptation of Dean Fleischer-Camp and Jenny Slate’s YouTube short-film series, for which Nick Paley and Elisabeth Holm also receive feature film writing credit, earned $169,606 on opening weekend. That’s a $28,267 per-theater average for the live-action/animated coming-of-age family flick. It goes wide on July 15, and it’s very good (my 11-year-old dug it too). I am curious as to if it gets a Cinemascore grade when it goes wide, if only for the comic value of this genuine crowdpleaser getting like an A and “clashing” with A24’s usual brand of (often quite good) “Did you not seen an A24 logo before this feature?” horror flicks. My local Regal was packed on Friday night with a variety of moviegoers waltzing into various auditoriums. Crazy theory: But if studios release movies into theaters, audiences will go to those theaters and watch those movies.

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