By Rebecca Rubin
LOS ANGELES, (Variety.com) - Sam Mendes' "1917" marched to box office victory, earning a solid $36.5 million from 3,434 theaters in its first weekend of wide release.
Universal and DreamWorks' World War I drama also defeated Disney's "Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker," the final chapter in the sequel trilogy that has ruled box office charts since debuting in late December. The tentpole slid to second place, generating another $15 million for a domestic haul of $478 million.
"1917" is undoubtedly capitalizing on awards season attention, a promising sign on the eve of Oscar nominations. In a surprise Golden Globes victory last Sunday, the film beat odds-on favorites "The Irishman" and "Marriage Story" to take home the statue for best motion picture - drama. Mendes also nabbed the best director prize. Amblin Partners and New Republic backed the $90 million film, which has enjoyed critical raves.
To movie theater owners and studio executives, "1917" is emblematic of the kind of experience ticket buyers can only get on the big-screen. The slice-of-life war epic unspools to look like one unbroken shot, resulting in an edge-of-your-seat journey that makes audiences feel like they, too, are in the trenches. Moviegoers, most of whom were older males, appear enthusiastic about the film, awarding it with an A- CinemaScore.
Another Oscar hopeful, Warner Bros.' legal drama "Just Mercy," also expanded nationwide this weekend, picking up $10 million from 2,375 venues. The film scored a rare A+ CinemaScore from audiences, signaling word of mouth could be strong moving in coming weeks, especially if it sees any Academy Award love come Monday morning. So far, the awards prospects of "Just Mercy" have been limited to a SAG nomination for Jamie Foxx for his portrayal of a wrongfully convicted man on death row. Michael B. Jordan and Brie Larson also star in the drama, which cost $25 million.
"Just Mercy" is in a close race with fellow new release, Paramount's R-rated comedy "Like a Boss" for fourth place on box office charts. Some rival studios are projecting "Just Mercy" debuts to $9.8 million, which would allow "Like a Boss" to pull ahead if those estimates hold.
Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne star in "Like a Boss," a film that's been more embraced by audiences than critics. It pulled in $10 million from 3,078 locations, a modest result but one that could point to profitability given its $29 million price tag. Miguel Arteta directed the film about two best friends struggling to run their own cosmetics company.
Meanwhile, "Underwater," a sci-fi thriller starring Kirsten Stewart, tanked after debuting with $6.9 million from 2,791 screens. That's a catastrophic result given its $50 million budget. "Underwater" is the latest dud from Fox, which has saddled Disney with a series of disappointments since the companies merged last spring. However, Disney is only distributing "Underwater," limiting its exposure. "Underwater" was produced by Chernin Entertainment and financed by TSG.