Why Jonathan Majors’ Back-to-Back Box Office Wins for ‘Creed III’ and ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ Is ‘As Rare as a Unicorn Sighting’

When “Creed III” punched its way to the top of the box office over the weekend with a massive $58.7 million domestic haul, it knocked out a host of records.

Directed, produced by and starring Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed, the MGM movie notched a franchise-best opening and the biggest domestic opening for a sports movie. With an additional $41.1 million Internationally, the film has already totaled more than $100 million worldwide. “Creed III” is also expected to become MGM’s first non-“Bond” film to gross $100 million domestically since the hit 2019 animated movie “The Addams Family.”

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There were other impressive stats, including the film’s “A-“ CinemaScore and ticket buyers reported to be 63% male, with 55% between the ages of 18 and 34. The statistics also illustrated a racially diverse audience where 36% were Black, 28% were Latino, 23% were white, and 13% were Asian, according to PostTrak data. The film, which Jordan shot with Imax cameras, also posted an impressive turnout on premium large format screens, with a huge 38% of the box office coming from those ticket sales.

But perhaps most notably, “Creed III” knocked “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” out of the No. 1 spot in its third week of release. (Despite a steep drop between its first two weeks, the Marvel film still topped “Cocaine Bear.”) With Majors starring in both movies — playing Creed’s friend-turned-adversary Damian “Dame” Anderson in the boxing movie and the MCU’s new big bad Kang — this feat is more than impressive, it’s extraordinary.

While the film racked up ticket sales, Majors was bouncing across the country. On Friday, the actor was honored by the Austin Film Society at the Texas Film Awards in his home state of Texas. Then, on Sunday night, at the ABFF Honors ceremony in Los Angeles, Majors surprised his “Lovecraft Country” co-star – and acting hero – Courtney B. Vance, by presenting him with the Excellence in the Arts Award.

“He’s done. He’s gone,” Vance told Variety on the red carpet, joking about Majors’ rapidly rising star before reflecting more seriously on what this all means. “He’s trying to leave that door open, to bring folks with him, and to become the power center that Michael B [Jordan] is. So the two of them are the future of Black Hollywood and of Hollywood.”

Images from ABFF Honors as photographed by Kelvin Bulluck
Courtney B. Vance and Jonathan Majors onstage at ABFF Honors

Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, agrees that this moment marks a major momentum shift for actor, who first broke out with the 2019 indie “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” followed by “The Harder They Fall,” “Da 5 Bloods” and “Devotion.”

“As rare as a unicorn sighting, landing the box office gold and silver medal in the same weekend puts any actor in a very exclusive club, as it is extraordinary for the cinematic planets to align in this way,” Dergarabedian tells Variety about the achievement. “Jonathan Majors now joins this rarefied group with this incredible one-two punch at the box office.”

In trying to calculate just how rare of an occurrence this is, Dergarabedian notes that it takes much more than a quick Google search.

“This is box office archaeology,” he explains. “It’s not like you just type into a system ‘Movies with the same star, in the top two films, three weeks apart,’ and that’s going to suddenly appear. It requires a much, much deeper dive into it.”

The type of success Majors is experiencing could’ve been more frequent during the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s due to the makeup of the Hollywood studio system and the contracts requiring actors to crank out a certain number of films per year.

“You could really get in the weeds [researching that time],” he adds. “But in the modern era, it’s just exceedingly rare.”

Here’s a few instances:

In Jan. 2013, Jessica Chastain had the No. 1 and 2 films with the debut of the horror film “Mama” topping “Zero Dark Thirty,” which got a boost at the box office following its nationwide expansion after earning five Oscar nominations. (Chastain was nominated for best actress.)

In March 1998, Leonardo DiCaprio claimed the top two spots with “The Man in the Iron Mask” opening just $300,000 behind “Titanic,” which opened in Dec. 1997 and was just getting started on its unprecedented run to a record-setting $1.8 billion. (With its subsequent re-releases, including its 25th anniversary screenings last year, the film has made more than $2.2 billion worldwide.)

Recently, Tom Holland came close. “Uncharted” opened at No. 1 in Feb. 2022, dethroning “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which had topped the charts for much of Dec. and Jan. However, “No Way Home” dropped to number three domestically, thanks to Channing Tatum’s “Dog” snagging the second spot.

Of course, there might certainly be cases where a supporting actor could appear in a smaller role in two mega-movies, but Majors is a co-lead in both “Creed” and “Quantumania.” And by and large, even the busiest actors appear in no more than a couple films a year, with months in between release dates. (Samuel L. Jackson, whose 150+ movies have made more than $27 billion at the box office, would be an exception. His yearly average is frequently much higher, especially considering that his Nick Fury pops up all over the Marvel Cinematic Universe, plus all the other high-profile franchises in which he stars.)

“It’s about quality, not quantity,” Dergarabedian says. “It really is more about having the proper runway to serve the marketing and get the release date in the minds of the movie goers and all that good stuff. Having too many films with the same actor can be disruptive.”

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA, (aka ANT-MAN 3), from left: Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, Jonathan Majors as Kang the Conqueror, 2023. ph: Jay Maidment / © Marvel / © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man and Jonathan Majors as Kang the Conqueror in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”

For example, when Will Smith went on his storied run as “King of the Fourth of July” — with “Independence Day,” the “Men in Black” trilogy, “Wild Wild West,” “I, Robot” and “Hancock” — he tended to release one movie a year or maybe two. In fact, one of the closest turnarounds in the actor’s filmography came in 2004, when Smith starred in “I, Robot” in July, while the animated movie “Shark Tale” was released in October.

But with the shift of “Creed III” from Nov. 23, 2022 — where it would’ve coincided with the release of Sony’s “Devotion,” after that film moved to the Thanksgiving weekend — to March 3, plus “Quantumania” flip-flopping release dates with “The Marvels” a couple times, Majors has starred in three movies within the last four months and two within three weeks.

“It’s the gods of the release calendar basically deciding the fate of all these movies in a sense,” Dergarabedian says. “The chess game that is moving the release dates around got discombobulated by the pandemic and production schedules, affecting the ability to release movies when they were originally slated.”

On this topic of scheduling, for comparison, Denzel Washington had the No. 1 film in the country with “The Pelican Brief” in Dec. 1993. In the film’s second week of release — and while it was still topping the charts – “Philadelphia” launched on four screens, landing at No. 20. By Martin Luther King-weekend in 1994, “Philadelphia” had vaulted to No. 1, with “The Pelican Brief” at No. 5.

DiCaprio, again, is a prime example of dual success. In 2002, the actor starred in “Gangs of New York” and “Catch Me if You Can” which opened on Dec. 20 and 25, respectively. Granted, both films were going up against “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” but “Catch Me If You Can” opened at No. 2, bumping “Gangs of New York” from fourth to fifth.

“It’s not the ideal,” Dergarabedian says of situations like that. “The reason that the release calendar is what it is, is because it has to be very strategic. You don’t want one movie cannibalizing the other movie with the same actor; you don’t necessarily want to compete against yourself. But it is a pretty high class problem to have.”

The bottom line is that Majors-starring films occupying the top two spots is “the box-office equivalent of Halley’s Comet.”

Dergarabedian explains: “The planets had to align. It’s like a 300 game in bowling, a perfect golf game. There aren’t really apt comparisons for something like this, but it’s a monumental achievement by virtue of its rarity.”

Jonathan Majors stars as Damian Anderson in
A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film
Photo credit: Ser Baffo
© 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved
CREED is a trademark of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Jonathan Majors as Damian Anderson in “Creed III”

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