Halloween Box Office Battle: ‘Last Night in Soho,’ ‘Antlers’ to End Roaring October on Muted Note

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Edgar Wright’s psychological thriller “Last Night in Soho” and the Guillermo del Toro-produced supernatural horror film “Antlers” will close out a surprisingly strong October at the domestic box office.

The spookiest month of the year isn’t always booming when it comes to box office ticket sales. But in pandemic times, as big-budgeted movies are regularly delayed and rescheduled to keep up with changing consumer habits, the season that celebrates all things Halloween and pumpkin spice has been busier than most. Already, October has generated $546 million in overall box office receipts, according to Comscore. In the next few days, it should surpass July ($583 million) to become the biggest revenue-generating month of the year.

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“October has become a rockstar of a month,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore, who referred to the milestone as “a most unusual outcome.”

Historically it’s summer, not fall, that brings in the major coinage to movie theaters. This year’s blockbuster season, stretching from May to August, was particularly challenged (and light on the blockbusters) because the Delta variant of COVID-19 disrupted much of the progress that movie theater owners had made in getting audiences back to the cinema. That carried through a sluggish September, where Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (a mighty $221 million so far) was essentially the only movie that audiences deemed worth watching in theaters.

To compare, May (A Quiet Place Part II” and “Cruella”) collected $215 million, June (“F9: The Fast Saga” “The Forever Purge” and “The Boss Baby: Family Business) brought in $408 million, and August (“Free Guy,” “The Suicide Squad” and “Candyman”) amassed $421 million. It’s a marked improvement on the first quarter of 2021 — January ($64 million), February ($56 million) and March ($116 million) — a span that was unprecedentedly slow because Americans were only starting to get access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

The unexpected October success is thanks to a string of well-timed hits, such as Sony’s comic book adventure “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” ($182 million to date), MGM’s James Bond finale “No Time to Die” ($121 million to date), Universal’s scary sequel “Halloween Kills” ($72 million to date) and the Warner Bros. and Legendary tentpole “Dune” ($41 million to date).

This year’s Halloween weekend is looking to deliver on the scares, but the month may end with a whimper rather than a bang. New nationwide releases “Last Night in Soho” and “Antlers” aren’t expected to jolt the box office, with both films tracking single-digit debuts around $5 million.

Without much competition, last weekend’s champion “Dune” is expected to dominate again. The Warner Bros. and Legendary sci-fi epic is projected to decline 55% from its $41 million opening weekend, which should put ticket sales around $17 million to $19 million between Friday and Sunday. Since “Dune” is playing simultaneously on HBO Max, its sophomore outing will indicate audience’s desire to watch the movie on the big screen. A sequel, from director Denis Villeneuve, is already in the works.

“Last Night in Soho” was directed by Wright, known for “Baby Driver,” “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead.” The Focus Features movie spotlights Thomasin McKenzie as Ellie, an aspiring fashion designer who somehow finds herself transported back in time to 1966 London, in the body of a night club singer named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). While in her body, Ellie begins to realize, to horrifying consequences, that Sandie’s life isn’t as glamorous as it appears to be. The movie has gotten mostly positive reviews (it has a 73% on Rotten Tomatoes), though Variety’s critic Guy Lodge was less enthusiastic. He wrote, “‘Last Night in Soho’ is a surprising misfire, all the more disappointing for being made with such palpable care and conviction.”

Searchlight Pictures’ “Antlers,” which will likely compete with “Last Night in Soho” for ticket buyers, has been similarly received, with a 65% on Rotten Tomatoes. Directed by Scott Cooper and starring Keri Russell, the twisty thriller centers on a small town school teacher and her police officer brother (Jesse Plemons), who become concerned about a student who is secretly keeping a supernatural creature in his house. According to some film critics, the creature feature delivers guts and gore but lacks substance. “‘Antlers’ is such a slow burn that at times it grinds to a halt,” critic Katie Walsh wrote in the Miami Herald. “This dark and dreary monster movie is indeed horrific, but it’s also undoubtedly a downer, for more reasons than it was likely intended.” Others were more slightly favorable, with the Washington Post saying “‘Antlers” obeys the rules of horror — many of which are familiar, even at times cliche — while also bending them. It’s a creature feature at heart, yes, but its footing is grounded in the tragedies we hear about in the news every day.”

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