Big movies like The Last Samurai, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation can thrive in this often-barren post-Thanksgiving weekend.

Yesterday was the 28th anniversary of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The sixth (and, I would argue, best) of the Star Trek movies opened with solid reviews and a strong $18 million opening weekend, just fine for a non-summer release in 1991 and the biggest yet for this specific franchise. This past Thursday marked 16 years since the opening day of The Last Samurai. The Tom Cruise/ Ken Watanabe action drama opened with $24.27 million and legged out to $111 million domestic and a whopping $454.6 million worldwide, one of the biggest totals ever at the time for an R-rated movie.  

December 1 was the launch date for National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and the 1989 release remains a generational holiday classic with a robust $72 million domestic gross. It is still, 30 years later, the biggest grossing Christmas movie actually released in December.  Yet, on this weekend, like many other past post-Thanksgiving weekends, there is essentially nothing new for moviegoers to sample. A commercially viable movie can succeed in this specific weekend, and the sheer likelihood of Christmas glut may result in a casualty or two in the next three weeks. Would Bumblebee have been better off last year opening in early December rather than facing the might of Aquaman and Mary Poppins Returns?

Last year saw two weekends in late November/early December) with essentially no “big” openers only to have the standard deluge of end-of-year biggies. And this weekend saw just the wide expansion of Focus Features’ (pretty darn good) legal thriller Dark Waters and the wide debut of STX’s animated Playmobil: The Movie. With theatrical competition like that, I’d imagine plenty of folks stayed home and sampled Noah Baumbach’s terrific A Marriage Story on Netflix.

I’m stalling because I feel bad picking on such a nothing release like Playmobil: The Movie. The $75 million toon was distributed domestically by STX, and they have essentially no financial skin in the game. The vast majority of the advertising was in-theater and they have encouraged theaters to offer $5 tickets. STX spent $3 million on marketing, so the painfully low opening weekend is both somewhat expected and merely a moral blow for the distributor.

The Anya Taylor-Joy/Daniel Radcliffe/Gabriel Bateman flick earned just $167,000 in 2,337 theaters yesterday. That sets the stage for a $811,000 opening weekend and a $347 per-theater average. That will be the 24th-worst opening for a 1,000-screen release and the fourth-lowest opening for a 2,000-plus screen release behind the ten-year anniversary release of Saw, Delgo and The Oogieloves and the Big Balloon Adventure. One of these things is not like the other.

Focus Features expanded Todd Haynes’ grim but gripping legal drama Dark Waters into 2,012 theaters in its third weekend of release. The Mark Ruffalo/Anne Hathaway/Tim Robbins flick, about the lawyer who spent a decade exposing DuPont’s long history of chemical pollution, has earned mostly strong reviews and audience scores, and it grossed $1.39 million yesterday. That sets the stage for a $4.18 million weekend and $5.365 million 17-day total.

That’s an expectedly small opening for the kind of film that is the exact opposite of “escapism” in terms of adult-skewing, star-driven, well-reviewed multiplex fare. Alas. Finally, in an ironic note, Warner Bros. reissued National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation into theaters for its 30th anniversary. The Chevy Chase farce earned around $85,000 on Friday for a likely $272,000 weekend gross in 370 theaters. That’s not bad for a movie in its 1,567th weekend of national release.



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