Universal's critically acclaimed astronaut drama First Man is headed for a muted domestic debut of $16.8 million after earning $5.9 million on Friday from 3,640 theatres. The hope is that the adult-skewing film will be buoyed by a long run throughout awards season.
Conversely, Sony's Venom and A Star Is Born continue to rock the October box office in their sophomore outings with projected weekend hauls of $32 million and $28 million-$30 million after grossing $9.8 million and $8.5 million on Friday, respectively.
Reuniting Oscar-winning filmmaker Damien Chazelle with his La La Land star Ryan Gosling, First Man is a visceral retelling of Neil Armstrong's journey to the moon in 1969. Heading into the weekend, the biographical drama was tracking to open in the $18 million-$20 million range (some services had it slightly higher). Audiences liked the film less than critics, giving it a B+ CinemaScore.
It's not clear so far whether a dust-up over Chazelle's decision not to show the famous image of Armstrong planting the American flag on the moon is impacting the film, whose theatre count includes Imax runs.
Comparisons to La La Land (2016) or Chazelle's Whiplash (2014) are tough, since both of those films debuted first in select cinemas. First Man, costing a gross $70 million to produce (and $60 million net), co-stars Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll and Lukas Haas.
One comp Universal is using internally is Ben Affleck's Oscar-winning Argo, which started off with $19.5 million in October 2012, and the 2015 Bridge of Spies ($15.4 million). First Man is expected to be more of an adult-skewing title than space epics Gravity (2013) or The Martian (2015), which likewise launched in October, opening to $55.8 million and $54.3 million, respectively.
First Man looks to place No. 3 for the weekend, followed by Sony's new animated family picture Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. Goosebumps 2, earning an estimated $4.8 million Friday from 3,521 locations, is now projected to open to $16 million.
20th Century Fox's period thriller Bad Times at the El Royale, another new title on the crowded marquee, is on course for a $7.8 million debut from 2,808 locations, despite relatively strong reviews and a star-studded cast that includes Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, Cynthia Erivo, Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm and Nick Offerman.
El Royale earned a B- CinemaScore and Goosebumps 2, a B, according to Hollywood Reporter.
A slew of movies are also rolling out in select theatres at the specialty box office, including Sony Pictures Classics' The Happy Prince, directed by and starring Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde; Roadside Attractions' The Oath, top lined by Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz; and Amazon Studios' father-son drama Beautiful Boy, starring Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet.
Beautiful Boy, playing in four theatres in New York and Los Angeles, looks to post one of the top opening screen averages of the year so far, or a projected $50,000-$65,000.
Like First Man and A Star Is Born, Beautiful Boy made the rounds at the fall film festivals in hopes of whipping up awards attention. Ditto for Paul Greengrass' terrorist drama 22 July, which opened date-and-date on Wednesday on Netflix and in a smattering of theatres. Netflix doesn't report grosses.
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