LOS ANGELES – “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” swung to the top of the domestic box office in its first weekend in theaters, proving that there is widespread audience interest in big screen animated versions of Marvel’s marquee superheroes.
The film led a host of newcomers that debuted to varying success on this pre-Christmas holiday weekend, including Clint Eastwood’s drug smuggling drama “The Mule” and the Peter Jackson-produced epic “Mortal Engines” which bombed in North American theaters.
“Into the Spider-Verse” earned an estimated $35.4 million from 3,813 theaters against a $90 million production budget according to Sony Pictures on Sunday, which is a record for animated movies in December (although the hybrid “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movies were higher). The film features an innovative animation style – both CGI and hand-drawn – and focuses on the Miles Morales character as he learns to become the famed web-slinger. It’s another financial win for the studio’s latest “expanded Spider-Man universe” strategy following “Venom” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”
And “Spider-Verse” has been very well-received among critics, and audiences in exit surveys gave it a rare A+ CinemaScore – a first for a Spider-Man film. It’s also been nominated for a Golden Globe award for best animated feature and picked up a few honors from critics’ groups as well, including the New York Film Critics Circle.
“We are playing to both families and fanboys. We’re an all-audience film,” said Adrian Smith, Sony’s president of domestic distribution.
They also have an eight-day runway until the big Christmas release start packing the multiplexes.
The Clint Eastwood-directed drug smuggling drama “The Mule” debuted in second place with an estimated $17.2 million. It’s a solid debut for R-rated film that cost $50 million to produce. The Warner Bros. film drew an audience that was mostly older (78 percent over 35-years-old) and male (54 percent).
“Clint Eastwood has such a big following as a director and a star,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution.
It’s Eastwood’s first major role in a film since 2012, and the studio is optimistic about the film’s longevity into the holiday.
Not all the new films were so lucky, however. Coming in fifth behind holdovers “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” was the Peter Jackson-produced epic “Mortal Engines,” which bombed in North American theaters, taking in only $7.5 million in ticket sales against a reported $100 million production budget. MRC and Universal Pictures produced the post-apocalyptic steampunk film based on the popular Philip Reeve book, which is the first of four in a series.
Neither critics nor audiences responded favorably to the Christian Rivers-directed film, however, which has a deathly 28 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
This weekend also saw the release of the PG-13 rated version of “Deadpool 2,” “Once Upon A Deadpool,” in 1,566 locations. It earned an estimated $2.6 million, which is being added to “Deadpool 2’s” box office totals.
In limited release, Barry Jenkins’ James Baldwin adaptation “If Beale Street Could Talk” opened in four theaters to a very strong $219,173. Jenkins’ follow-up to “Moonlight” is expected to be a big player throughout awards season and expands nationwide in the coming weeks.
Historically, this mid-December, pre-Christmas weekend has not been a big one for movie openings, save for the exception of last year when “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” opened to $220 million, which is why the weekend overall is down some 61 percent from last year and why the year-to-date advantage has fallen slightly to 8.5 percent.
But the industry is still on track for a record year at the box office and has several late-game blockbusters on the way including “Aquaman,” “Bumblebee” and “Mary Poppins Returns.”
“Aquaman” doesn’t hit North American theaters until Friday but the big budget DC superhero movie is already a blockbuster internationally. In its second weekend in theaters abroad, the film has already earned $261.3 million.
“It’s the happiest time of the year for Hollywood. This is when you get that big burst at the end, a lot of people catching up on movies,” said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for Comscore. “It’s about momentum and this momentum should carry into next year.”
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