How ‘The Woman King’ Can Turn Strong $19 Million Launch Into a Long Box Office Run

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Along with its promising $19 million opening at the box office, Sony/eOne’s “The Woman King” achieved something that only a precious few films do every year: The Viola Davis historical action film earned an A+ from audiences polled by CinemaScore, winning over moviegoers the same way it won over critics with a 94% Rotten Tomatoes score.

There’s only one other film this year that has earned an A+ on CinemaScore, and that’s the year’s biggest box office hit, Paramount’s “Top Gun: Maverick.” The two films couldn’t be more different. One is a $50 million historical epic with Black women in all the lead roles, including Oscar winner Viola Davis in her first major action role. The other is a $170 million tentpole legacy-quel featuring one of the most famous action stars of all time, Tom Cruise.

But despite the differences, there are some similar data points in the opening weekend audience for both films that shows how “The Woman King” could leg out to an excellent box office run over the next few weeks. It will have to do that in order to turn a profit, because while the $50 million production budget was co-financed by eOne, Sony put down a significant marketing campaign to get the word out about this non-franchise offering, including flying Davis, director Gina Prince-Bythewood, and the rest of the cast to a premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

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The key similarity between the opening weekend audiences of “Maverick” and “The Woman King” is its older-skewing demographic. While “The Woman King” was predictably driven by Black women with data reporting that ticket buyers were roughly 60% female and 60% Black, the age breakdown showed that 59% of opening weekend moviegoers were over the age of 35, with 40% over the age of 45.

When “Top Gun: Maverick” opened to the biggest Memorial Day weekend launch in industry history, 55% of moviegoers that weekend were over the age of 35, thanks to strong turnout from Gen X moviegoers who saw the original “Top Gun” back in 1986. In later weekends, younger audiences began showing up after the film quickly became the must-see movie of the summer, fueling its long box office run toward a $700 million-plus domestic gross.

The reason for “The Woman King” drawing more older moviegoers than younger ones is different. Prior to its release, “The Woman King” was primarily getting press from interviews with Viola Davis, a perennial awards contender, and its premiere at Toronto. The nature of that coverage tends to attract older audiences looking for the sort of quality, mature films that film festivals highlight.

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But as anyone who has seen “Woman King” knows, this film has loads of action. It opens with Davis as General Nanisca, leader of the all-female African military unit in the 19th century known as the Agojie, launching a nighttime raid on an encampment of soldiers from the nearby Oyo Empire to free their captives. From there, the film entertains with plenty of sword fights, military training scenes, and battle sequences.

While those who bought a ticket for “The Woman King” this weekend likely were interested in the film for its appeal as a rare action film led by Black women or to see Davis in another potential Oscar-nominated role, the overwhelming praise from audiences this weekend may attract younger moviegoers when they get word of how action-packed this mid-budget historical drama truly is.

The only other film coming to theaters between now and “Halloween Ends” on Oct. 14 with this much action is a re-release of “Avatar” next weekend, meaning that “The Woman King” will stand as a unique offering for moviegoers for nearly a month. Depending on how the word-of-mouth from this opening spreads, we could see stronger turnout from moviegoers from younger demographics and other ethnicities, even as Black women over 35 are expected to continue driving turnout.

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An A+ on CinemaScore isn’t necessarily a guarantee for strong box office numbers. In January 2020, the Warner Bros. legal drama “Just Mercy” earned such a grade with a $9.7 million opening, but fell out of the top 10 three weeks later and finished with a $35 million domestic total. Other films that have earned an A+ include documentaries that have a brief wide run in theaters and faith-based films that are popular among Christian moviegoers, particularly in the first weekend, but never find an audience outside that subset.

But as TriStar President Nicole Brown noted to TheWrap at Toronto, there’s never been a film like “The Woman King,” whether it is in its setting, its cast, or what it has to offer for moviegoers. That makes it difficult to predict exactly how its box office run will play out, but all signs point to an optimistic outlook.

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