Sam Mendes’ 1917 marched to box office victory, earning a solid US$36.5 million (S$49 million) from 3,434 theatres in the US in its first weekend of wide release.
Universal and DreamWorks' World War I drama also defeated Disney's Star Wars: Rise Of Skywalker, the final chapter in the sequel trilogy that has ruled box office charts since debuting in late December. The tentpole slid to second place, generating another US$15 million for a domestic haul of US$478 million.
1917 is undoubtedly capitalising on awards season attention, a promising sign on the eve of Oscar nominations. In a surprise Golden Globes victory last week, the film beat odds-on favorites The Irishman and Marriage Story to take home the statue for best motion picture for drama. Mendes also nabbed the best director prize. Amblin Partners and New Republic backed the US$90 million film, which has enjoyed critical raves.
To movie theatre owners and studio executives, 1917 is emblematic of the kind of experience ticket buyers can only get on the big screen. The slice-of-life war epic unspools to look like one unbroken shot, resulting in an edge-of-your-seat journey that makes audiences feel like they, too, are in the trenches. Moviegoers, most of whom were older males, appear enthusiastic about the film, awarding it with an A- CinemaScore.
Another Oscar hopeful, Warner Bros' legal drama Just Mercy, also expanded nationwide this weekend, picking up US$10 million from 2,375 venues. The film scored a rare A+ CinemaScore from audiences, signaling word of mouth could be strong moving in coming weeks, especially if it sees any Academy Award love come Monday morning. So far, the awards prospects of Just Mercy have been limited to a SAG nomination for Jamie Foxx for his portrayal of a wrongfully convicted man on death row. Michael B Jordan and Brie Larson also star in the drama, which cost US$25 million.
Just Mercy is in a close race with fellow new release, Paramount's R-rated comedy Like A Boss for fourth place on box office charts. Some rival studios are projecting Just Mercy debuts to US$9.8 million, which would allow Like A Boss to pull ahead if those estimates hold.
Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne star in Like A Boss, a film that's been more embraced by audiences than critics. It pulled in US$10 million from 3,078 locations, a modest result but one that could point to profitability given its US$29 million price tag. Miguel Arteta directed the film about two best friends struggling to run their own cosmetics company.
Meanwhile, Underwater, a sci-fi thriller starring Kirsten Stewart, tanked after debuting with US$6.9 million from 2,791 screens. That's a catastrophic result given its US$50 million budget. Underwater is the latest dud from Fox, which has saddled Disney with a series of disappointments since the companies merged last year. However, Disney is only distributing Underwater, limiting its exposure. Underwater was produced by Chernin Entertainment and financed by TSG.