Box Office: Scorsese Killers of Flower Moon Starts Strong, Swift No. 1

Box Office: Scorsese Killers of Flower Moon Starts Strong, Swift No. 1

Martin Scorsese’s star-studded crime epic “Killers of the Flower Moon” impressed in its box office debut, collecting $23 million from 3,628 North American theaters over the weekend. The film also brought in $21 million from 63 international territories for a global total of $44 million.

Despite its second-place finish, it’s easily the best start for Scorsese since 2010’s “Shutter Island” ($41 million debut) and the third-best of his career following 2006’s “The Departed” ($26.9 million debut). And “Killers of the Flower Moon” managed to make a splash even though its stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, haven’t been able to promote the film amid the ongoing actors strike.

Even with its daunting three-and-a-half-hour runtime, the R-rated “Killers of the Flower Moon” has been embraced by moviegoers (landing an “A-” CinemaScore) and critics (92% on Rotten Tomatoes), which is a good sign for the remainder of its theatrical run. Adapted from David Grann’s 2017 novel and co-starring Lily Gladstone and Jesse Plemons, the story takes place amid the “Reign of Terror,” a period that refers to the mysterious murders that took place after major oil deposits were discovered on the Osage nation’s land in the early 1920s. Inaugural crowds, as expected, skewed older but plenty of younger ticket buyers turned out with 44% under the age of 30.

The $200 million-budgeted movie represents a bold big-screen bet for Apple, which — until now — prioritized streaming over theatrical. This marks the widest release ever for a movie backed by a streaming service. It’s unclear when the film will land on Apple TV+, but it won’t be for at least 45 days.

“Reviews and audience scores are superb. And Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro are strong draws overseas,” says David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. “Between word-of-mouth, press coverage and eventual awards nominations, the picture is set up for a strong run now.”

For most studios, a debut in the low $20 million range would be disappointing for such an expensive endeavor. And given the price tag, “Killers of the Flower Moon” certainly needs to do big business to be profitable; though Scorsese’s movies tend to have significant box office staying power. But analysts have been more generous in reading the box office tea leaves because streaming services, like Apple, have different metrics of success compared to traditional theatrical players. They don’t place as much emphasis on box office, instead viewing ticket sales as a way to bolster the film’s profile before it lands on streaming. Others point out a movie like this may not exist without Apple to foot the bill. Paramount Pictures, which distributed “Killers of the Flower Moon,” was originally going to finance the film as well but brought in Apple to fund the project after production costs soared to $200 million.

Apple is testing the model again with two other high-profile movies, Ridley Scott’s historical drama “Napoleon” on Nov. 22 (distributed by Sony Pictures) and Matthew Vaughn’s spy thriller “Argylle” on Feb. 2 (distributed by Universal). Based on the performance of these movies, box office analysts believe this could open a lane for newer players in the exhibition space.

“The production and distribution of ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ is breaking new ground,” Gross says. “If ‘flexibility’ is the new mantra of the theatrical movie business, then this is a significant success.”

Regardless of the healthy start of “Flower Moon,” it was no match for Taylor Swift’s “The Eras Tour,” which remained in first place with $31 million from 3,855 venues. It’s the only concert film in history to repeat No. 1 for two consecutive weekends, and it’s the first to reach $100 million at the domestic box office. After only five days of showtimes, the AMC Theatres-distributed film has generated $131 million to date. Although ticket sales dropped by a sizable 66% from its debut, “The Eras Tour” is already a massive commercial winner. It was self-produced by Swift, cost around $15 million, and required a smaller marketing spend than the average blockbuster of this scale.

Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian calls the concert film “the kind of norms-busting innovative thinking that can bring bottom line dollars to theaters and a business model worth further exploration by the industry.”

In a distant third place, Universal’s horror sequel “The Exorcist: Believer” added $5.6 million in its third weekend of release. So far, the film has generated $54.2 million in North America and $107 million globally. It’s a solid turnout for a film that costs $30 million. But Universal and Blumhouse spent a staggering $400 million for rights to the property, so it needs moviegoers to feel invested in the series beyond this installment to justify that massive deal.

“PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” landed at No. 4 with $4.3 million in its fourth weekend on the big screen. Paramount and Nickelodeon’s animated kids’ film has grossed $55.9 million in North America and $148 million worldwide, officially surpassing the run of its predecessor, 2021’s “PAW Patrol,” ($40 million domestically while opening simultaneously on Paramount+; $140 million globally). The sequel cost only $30 million, to say nothing of its lucrative consumer products line, so “The Mighty Movie” is well positioned in its theatrical run.

Rounding out the top five, Disney’s re-release of Tim Burton’s spooky season 1993 classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas” added $4.1 million from 1,650 theaters. The musical story of Jack Skellington and the inhabitants of Halloween Town provides a welcome extra boost for exhibitors around this time of year.