'Death on the Nile' tops a quiet box office weekend
NEW YORK — Hollywood's Super Bowl weekend largely fizzled with the muted debut of Kenneth Branagh's long-delayed Agatha Christie whodunit, "Death on the Nile," a tepid reception for the Jennifer Lopez romantic-comedy "Marry Me" and modest box-office bumps for Oscar nominees.
"Death on the Nile," Branagh's follow-up to the 2017 hit "Murder on the Orient Express," led all films with $12.8 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates Sunday. Produced under 20th Century Fox before its acquisition by the Walt Disney Co., "Death on the Nile" had been delayed by the pandemic and by scandal that engulfed one of its stars, Armie Hammer.
Last March, Hammer was put under investigation by Los Angeles police in a sexual assault. Hammer has denied the allegation.
After considering other avenues, reportedly including reshooting parts of the film without Hammer, Disney opted to release "Death on the Nile" as it was — albeit with less fanfare on a weekend the film industry often yields to football. The $90 million film, which also stars Gal Gadot, Emma McKay and Branagh, reprising his role as detective Hercule Poirot, had once seemed a reliable money-maker. "Murder on the Orient Express" launched with $28.7 million in 2017 and ended up grossing $352.8 million worldwide against a $55 million budget. "Death on the Nile" added $20.7 million in international receipts.
Hollywood's biggest pitch to moviegoers over the weekend wasn't in theaters but in television ads. After two years of the pandemic, a heavy-hitting lineup of blockbusters were set to roll out trailers during the Super Bowl broadcast and try to lure still-reluctant moviegoers back to theaters. Last year, when many theaters were still shuttered and few films were being released, Hollywood largely sat out the game. Jordan Peele's "Nope" kicked off the day with its first trailer early Sunday.
"Marry Me" opened with $8 million while simultaneously streaming on Peacock. The Universal Pictures release, which was timed to Valentine's Day on Monday, stars Lopez as a pop star who, after finding out her fiancé has been cheating, marries a stranger (Owen Wilson) at one of her concerts.
In recent years, streaming platforms have increasingly been the rom-com's primary home. Netflix, in particular, has pumped out a constant stream of new entries in the genre. On Friday, Amazon Prime Video debuted its own: "I Want You Back," with Charlie Day and Jenny Slate.
The lukewarm performance of "Marry Me" allowed last week's top film, "Jackass Forever," to narrowly edge it for second place. Johnny Knoxville's sequel dropped a steep 65% from last weekend, coming in with an estimated $8.1 million for Paramount Pictures. It's grossed $37.4 million in total.
Another once dependable ticket-seller at the box office — a Liam Neeson thriller — also struggled. Briarcliff Entertainment's "Blacklight," a poorly reviewed action film starring the 69-year-old Neeson as a shadowy government agent, opened with $3.6 million.
Few films were set to capitalize in theaters on Tuesday's Academy Awards nominations. As nominations came later than usual this year, most Oscar contenders — a field that Netflix led with 24 nominations — have been available for weeks, if not months, in the home. But a few films sought a post-nominations lift at the box office, even if the once expected "Oscar bump" is all but dead.
Paul Thomas Anderson's "Licorice Pizza," up for three awards including best picture, had its widest week of release in its 12th week of release, playing in 1,977 theaters. It managed $922,500 in ticket sales, bringing its cumulative total to $14 million.
Branagh's other film in release, "Belfast," followed up its seven nominations by playing in 928 theaters and adding $285,000 to its $7.9 million gross. Other best-picture contenders — "Nightmare Alley" ($85,000) and "West Side Story" ($235,000) — made only minor blips.
The biggest bumps out there may have been for a few of the international contenders. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi's "Drive My Car," which is nominated for four Oscars including best picture, saw a 92% spike in grossing $192,000 from 127 theaters. Joachim Trier's "The Worst Person in the World," nominated for best original screenplay and best international film, earned $255,395 on 49 screens in its second weekend.
The film expected to lead the box office next weekend — Sony's video-game adaptation "Uncharted," staring Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg — began its release overseas, where it took in $21.5 million in 15 territories.