Box Office: James Wan’s ‘Malignant’ Nabs Mere $2M Friday

Alas, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is not a “rising tide lifts all boats” movie. Not that it has to be, mind you, but it is worth noting amid the (not entirely incorrect) “Marvel’s Shang-Chi proves theaters aren’t dead!” celebrations over the last week. For example, this weekend in 2019 had both the $38 million second-weekend gross of It Chapter Two (following an $89 million Fri-Sun debut) and the $32 million launch of Hustlers, which would leg out to $109 million domestic. The overall domestic box office will be around $58 million, with 55% from Shan-Chi alone and a 49% down from this frame in 2019.

Of course, in pre-Covid times, a film like James Wan’s buzzy and over-the-top horror original Malignant (review) may have had a shot in hell at breaking out. In a skewed irony, I’m 94% sure that this weekend will be the first time where the top two movies are both helmed by Asian filmmakers. While Destin Daniel Cretton’s MCU flick is kicking butt, James Wan’s Malignant is… not. The (surprisingly great, in terms of its smaller-scale publicity campaign and held-to-the-last-minute press screenings) R-rated original chiller earned just $2 million yesterday for a likely $5.2 million weekend. Assured future cult classic status notwithstanding, that’s not exactly a #GoldOpen.

I’d like to think that a new, $40 million (with every penny onscreen dammit) original horror spectacular from the man who directed Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring, Furious 7 and Aquaman would have been a bigger deal in non-Covid times. But, hell, it’s not like Warner Bros. wasn’t been struggling even pre-Covid with releasing old-school movies (often very good and/or inclusive studio programmers no less) to mostly empty auditoriums. I gave them grief (justifiably, from a commercial point of view) for The Suicide Squad, but at some point it’s the audiences’ responsibility to actually show up for flicks like Reminiscence and In the Heights.

Or, if you don’t show up for The Way Back you don’t get to complain about Space Jam: A New Legacy. Malignant, about a woman (Annabelle Wallis) plagued by visions of gruesome murders committed by a third-party, is exactly the kind of studio-backed “one for me” flicks we should want from our big-scale blockbuster directors. Furious 7 ”saved” the Fast Saga after Paul Walker’s untimely death (that the movie works as well as it does is a miracle), The Conjuring 2 cemented The Conjuring Universe as the first successful post-MCU cinematic universe and Aquaman ”saved” the DC Films franchise after the Justice League fiasco.

James Wan could have spent $40 million in studio money for a movie co-written by his wife Ingrid Bisu (along with Akela Cooper) made only to be shown at private parties amid friends and still been fine and dandy. At worst, it’s a down-payment on Aquaman And The Lost Kingdom. There was hope two years ago that Wan’s blockbusters and popular horror hits would help make Malignant into a breakout original, essentially cementing him as a marquee director at least for horror, but Covid arguably put the kibosh on that. The film earned a 77% fresh and 6.6/10 on Rotten Tomatoes and a C (not awful for horror) Cinemascore grade.

The movie is already becoming a buzzy “see it before everyone spoils its twists” cult item at least in horror movie circles. I’ll be very curious as to if its HBO Max viewership numbers end up above the two million-household ceiling for non-event films. In normal times, a $40 million flick opening to $5 million would be an unmitigated disaster. While it’s still not “good,” the film’s “Look what we let our favorite filmmakers do!” existence can be exhibit A on convincing Chris Nolan to stick with Warner Bros. However, the gulf between the MCU flick and everything else is the definition of a good news/bad news situation.

Focus Features’ The Card Counter opened yesterday in 580 locations. Writer/director Paul Schrader’s newest “slow cinema” flick, starring Oscar Isaac as a convict-turned card shark who, well, this really isn’t a movie concerned with plot, earned $420,000 yesterday. That sets the dramatic thriller, co-starring Tiffany Haddish and Tye Sheridan, up for a likely $1.05 million opening weekend. That’s obviously not “good,” but it’s not like it would have broken out in normal times either. Even First Reformed, which had rave reviews and at least some awards season buzz, earned just $3.4 million in summer 2018. The Card Counter is pretty good as long as you understand that this isn’t Rounders.

The Tycoon Herald