By Associated Press
NEW YORK — Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis Presley biopic “Elvis” shook up theaters with an estimated $30.5 million in weekend ticket sales, but — in a box-office rarity — “Elvis” tied “Top Gun: Maverick,” which also reported $30.5 million, for No. 1 in theaters.
Final figures Monday, once Sunday’s grosses are tabulated, will sort out which film ultimately won the weekend. With a high degree of accuracy, studios can forecast Sunday sales based on Friday and Saturday business, though numbers often shift by a few hundred thousand dollars.
But for now, the unlikely pair of “Elvis” and “Maverick” are locked in a dance off (if you favor “Elvis”) or a dead heat (if you prefer “Maverick”). That it was this close at all was due to both a better-than-expected opening for “Elvis” and remarkably strong continued sales for “Top Gun: Maverick.” The “Top Gun” sequel reached $1 billion in worldwide box office in its fifth week of release.
“Elvis,” starring newcomer Austin Butler as Presley , came into the weekend with expectations closer to $25 million. Among recent music biopics, a $30.5 million debut puts the King ahead of the pace of Elton John (“Rocketman” launched with $25.7 million in 2019) though not in the same class as Freddie Mercury (“Bohemian Rhapsody” opened with $51.1 million in 2018).
“I’m less concerned with who’s number one and who’s number two, and I’m more concerned that we hit this big number given that this audience has been the slowest to return to movie theaters,” said Jeff Goldstein, distribution chief for Warner Bros. /zigman2/quotes/200511275/composite WBD 0.00% .
About 60% of the audience for “Elvis” was over the age of 35. Older audiences have been among the most hesitant to return to theaters in the pandemic but that’s changing — in part, Goldstein noted, because of “Top Gun,” which brought back fans of the 1986 original.
“Elvis,” which cost about $85 million to make, was propelled by strong reviews (78% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), good word of mouth (an A- CinemaScore) and a glitzy Cannes Film Festival premiere . It added $20 million overseas over the weekend.
“Elvis” ranks as Luhrmann’s second best opening after 2013’s “The Great Gatsby” ($50.1 million). Luhrmann was on the cusp of beginning production in Australia when, in an indelible early moment in the pandemic, star Tom Hanks tested positive for COVID-19.
“‘Elvis’ was a risky proposition: the music is dated, the character is not directly familiar, and the lead actor is unproven on the big screen,” David A. Gross of Franchise Entertainment Research wrote in a newsletter. “But critics and audiences are responding. This is the Baz Luhrmann show, a music, dance and sex appeal spectacular — it’s a hit.”
Meanwhile, “Top Gun: Maverick” continues to soar. The Paramount Pictures /zigman2/quotes/200340870/composite PARA +1.62% film became the first 2022 release to reach $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales, and the first starring Tom Cruise to do so.
In its fifth weekend of release, “Maverick” dipped just 32% domestically to bring its total so far to $521.7 million in U.S. and Canadian theaters. It continues to move up the record books, sitting 15th all-time domestically, not accounting for inflation. Internationally, the “Top Gun” sequel added another $44.5 million.
The “Elvis”/”Top Gun” showdown — along with the new Blumhouse horror release “The Black Phone” and big holdovers in “Jurassic World: Dominion” and Pixar’s “Lightyear” — made for one of the most competitive, and busy, weekends in movie theaters in the pandemic era.
Most studios came away celebrating, though Disney’s /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS +3.98% “Lightyear” dropped a steep 65% in its second weekend. After opening softly last week , the “Toy Story” spinoff grossed $17.7 million domestically, falling to fifth place. “Lightyear,” which has made $152 million worldwide to date, will soon face more competition for families with the Friday release of “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”
Counterprogramming came from Comcast’s /zigman2/quotes/209472081/composite CMCSA +2.10% Universal Pictures’ “The Black Phone,” the Scott Derrickson-directed supernatural thriller starring Ethan Hawke as an escaped killer. The Blumhouse production rode strong reviews (84% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) to a better-than-expected launch of $23.4 million.
After two weeks in first place, Universal’s “Jurassic World: Dominion” took in $26.4 million, sliding to third. It’s now passed $300 million domestically, and hauled in $746.7 million globally.
A much smaller-scaled film, “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,” debuted with good sales in limited release. The warmly received stop-motion animation film, in which Jenny Slate voices a one-inch-tall mollusk with a googly eye , opened with $169,606 on six screens, for a per-screen average of $28,267.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.