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Does a Movie’s Box Office Debut Define Its Success?

Photo by Karen Zhao via Unsplash

Does a Movie’s Box Office Debut Define Its Success?

By Movieguide® Contributor

Often, the mark of a great movie is how much revenue it makes for its box office debut, but recent releases are showing that this gauge might change.

When John Krasinski’s IF didn’t have the best opening weekend debut, X user Patrick Schwarzenegger wrote, “32Mil for an original idea is still great… and I bet this movie will have great legs and hold strong box office as there aren’t many great family movies at the moment. It also has great cinema / audience score. Give It few weeks.”

Despite its unimpressive opening, the family-friendly flick has now grossed $162,953,946 worldwide and $95,753,946 at the domestic box office, and as Movieguide® knows, what ultimately sets a movie up for lasting success is a focus on uplifting, moral values.

“…What most moviegoers (and most non-moviegoers for that matter) want to see from Hollywood and the Entertainment Industry [is] Good conquering evil, Truth vanquishing falsehood, Justice prevailing over injustice, and Beauty overcoming vileness,” Movieguide®’s Report to the Entertainment Industry reads.

Last year, Movieguide® analyzed 170 theatrical releases and found that “family-friendly movies reflecting strong Christian, redemptive, moral, biblical, traditional, or conservative principles and values usually do significantly better at the box office in the United States and Canada than those movies that don’t have such strong content.”

Hollywood, though, continues to focus on opening weekend takes as a benchmark for a movie’s success.

“It would be lovely to say opening weekends don’t matter. Unfortunately, based on the cost of movies and inflation, reliance on opening weekend is Hollywood’s only strategy. There is no alternative,” said Stephen Galloway, Dean of Chapman University’s film school.

David A. Gross of Franchise Entertainment Research added, “The domestic theatrical performance is the locomotive pulling the train, and the opening weekend sets the pace. I don’t see it changing.”

However, that logic seems to be shifting as several movies in the last year continued to reign at the box office despite an unimpressive debut.

For example, because of word-of-mouth, family-friendly MIGRATION made a quiet but major impact at the box office for months after its weak opening in late December.

“Although the movie opened at No. 3 with a paltry $12.4 million (the worst-ever debut for an Illumination movie), it has become a major sleeper hit and has already climbed past the $250 million mark worldwide,” Screen Rant reported in February.

By its tenth weekend in theaters, it surpassed TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: MUTANT MAYHEM, “becoming the 21st highest-grossing movie of the year.”

“Most movies perform best in their first week,” Stephen Follows noted in a blog post. “However, this does not mean that the subsequent weeks are not important to their overall total gross.”

Movie research analyst Larry Gerbrandt “argues that though the focus remains on the opening weekend, the second weekend of a movie’s release might be a better indicator of its long-term success,” How Stuff Works reported.

Part of achieving a successful second weekend depends on word-of-mouth, as viewers tell others whether or not a new release was worth their time and money.

“Clearly, no matter how you slice it, movies fitting Movieguide®’s high Christian, moral, biblical, theological, spiritual, production, aesthetic, and entertainment principles, values and standards do much better or significantly better with moviegoers than those movies consistently violating those principles, values and standards,” Movieguide®’s report concludes. 

Ultimately, box office success depends on the values communicated by a movie, not by its opening weekend take.

Movieguide® previously reported that moral, family-friendly movies dominated the box office last year:

While Hollywood often celebrates and promotes immorality, redemptive and moral worldviews dominated 2023’s top 25 movies. 

Last year, 80% of the top 25 movies at the domestic box office had strong or very strong biblical or moral content, Movieguide®’s Report to the Entertainment Industry found. 

Movies like THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIESPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSEGUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3THE LITTLE MERMAIDANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA and SOUND OF FREEDOM dominated the top 10. 

INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINYMISSON: IMPOSSIBLE — DEAD RECKONING PART ONETRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTSCREED IIIELEMENTALFAST XWONKATEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: MUTANT MAYHEMTHE FLASHTROLLS BAND TOGETHER and M3GAN all had either a strong or very strong Christian, redemptive, biblical or morally uplifting worldview. 


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