Instead of a new tentpole coming to theaters this weekend, the box office will see a family film (Paramount’s “Clifford the Big Red Dog”) and an awards contender (Focus Features’ “Belfast”) try to carve out a niche against the second weekend of Marvel Studios’ “Eternals.”
Neither of the newcomers are expected to challenge “Eternals” for the No. 1 spot, though it is still uncertain how much director Chloé Zhao’s superhero epic will earn this weekend given the film’s cooler-than-usual reception by critics and first-week audiences. The film, which has grossed $75 million through Monday, will need to gross above $28.5 million this weekend or risk dropping 60% from opening weekend grosses.
“Clifford,” meanwhile, is holding preview screenings all day Tuesday ahead of a nationwide opening on Wednesday in theaters and on Paramount+. According to the studio, the Wednesday release was seeking to take advantage of Veterans’ Day on Thursday with the hope of bringing in families with kids who have the day off from school. Box office trackers are projecting an extended opening of $17-20 million.
Such a start would be consistent with how recent family films have performed in theaters of late, including “Addams Family 2,” which had a $17.3 million 3-day opening last month, and “Paw Patrol: The Movie,” which also opened day-and-date on Paramount+ and notched a $13.1 million opening in August.
“Belfast,” meanwhile, is being released on around 500 screens on Friday and does so as one of the early Oscar contenders. Directed by Kenneth Branagh and based in part on his childhood in Northern Ireland, “Belfast” won the Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, an award that has seen 12 of its last 13 recipients go on to at least get nominated for Best Picture.
But for both “Clifford” and “Belfast,” expectations will be lower than what would normally be expected during pre-pandemic times. While COVID vaccines have recently been approved for use in children ages 5-11, films like “Paw Patrol” and “Boss Baby 2” have shown that when a streaming option on family films is made available, many families will take that option both out of financial and COVID considerations.
That has put a ceiling on the box office grosses for animated films aimed at families, with the highest grossing this being “Space Jam: A New Legacy” with $67.4 million. Thanksgiving will see the genre getting its first serious test as Disney will release “Encanto” as a theatrically exclusive title for 30 days.
“Belfast,” meanwhile, must try to continue the slow but steady return of audiences over 35 to cinemas. While “No Time to Die” and, to a more limited extent, “The French Dispatch” have seen noticeable turnout from older audiences, the melancholy Princess Diana drama “Spencer” grossed just $2.1 million this weekend from 996 theaters, an average of just $2,113 per theater.
Like “Spencer,” “Belfast” will try to leg out through the winter and build strong word-of-mouth, though it’s unclear how much of a factor COVID will play in moviegoing interest in the coming months or whether interest in seeing films based on their Oscar contender status will see a post-pandemic decline. For their part, executives at Focus tell TheWrap that they don’t see “Belfast” as a film catering specifically to older audiences but as a drama that will appeal to adults of all ages.