The star-studded murder mystery, from Disney and 20th Century Studios, arrived on par with expectations, which had projected a three-day tally around $11 million to $14 million. But “Death on the Nile” cost a hefty $90 million to produce — not to mention the additional costs the film racked up across several pandemic-related delays — meaning it will not be smooth sailing to get out of the red.
Super Bowl weekend, usually the biggest TV event of the year, is never a busy time for moviegoing, and this Sunday’s matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals was no exception. That could be one of the reasons that Universal opted to open “Marry Me,” a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson, simultaneously in theaters — where it earned $8 million — and on Peacock. Both “Death on the Nile” and “Marry Me” were scheduled as can’t-miss counterprogramming against the big game, but their target demographic of adult, mostly female audiences have been less eager to go to the movies since COVID-19 hit.
That reality helps explain why “Death on the Nile,” director Kenneth Branagh’s follow-up to 2017’s whodunit “Murder on the Orient Express,” suffered a steep decline from the original, which opened to $28.7 million and eventually earned $102 million in North America.
Branagh returned to direct “Death on the Nile,” which received mixed feedback from critics (60% on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences (“B” CinemaScore). Adapted from Agatha Christie’s popular novel, the film follows renowned detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) as he attempts to solve a murder aboard a glamorous river cruise in Egypt. The cast includes Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Annette Bening, Russell Brand and Letitia Wright
“Super Bowl weekend is consistently down in overall business compared with other weekends, and we’re still coming off an enormous Omicron surge that peaked in mid-January.” says David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. He adds, “At a cost of $90 million, the movie will need strong overseas business.”
At the international box office, “Death on the Nile” brought in $20.7 million from 47 foreign markets. The movie has yet to open in China, which is currently the world’s biggest moviegoing market and, in 2017, dug up a solid $34 million for “Murder on the Orient Express.”
For similar reasons, “Marry Me” didn’t exactly find its happily ever after. The movie, starring Lopez as a musical superstar who weds a total stranger at her concert, debuted in third place with $8 million from 3,462 venues. Those initial receipts are not catastrophic considering “Marry Me” cost only $23 million to make and landed on NBCUniversal’s streaming service Peacock on the same day as its theatrical release. However, it’s less than box office experts had predicted heading into the weekend and it likely won’t inspire Universal Pictures executives to greenlight “Marry Me 2.”
Universal Pictures did not report viewership on Peacock, where “Marry Me” was available on the premium tier, so it’s impossible to know whether the studio mitigated losses by premiering the movie day-and-date online or if the hybrid release cut into box office ticket sales. Peacock has only 9 million paid subscribers (HBO Max launched around the same time and has 73.8 million subscribers), so it may not have kept too many interested viewers at home.
At the box office, “Marry Me” should become the de facto choice through Valentine’s Day on Monday. “Audiences have embraced Jennifer Lopez in this role. She has incomparable appeal,” says Universal’s president of domestic distribution Jim Orr. “It’s going to be a feel-good romantic comedy that people want to see in theaters throughout the spring.”
Ticket buyers, 67% of whom were female, awarded it a “B+” CinemaScore. The movie has gotten so-so reviews (it holds a 62% on Rotten Tomatoes), but Variety’s chief film critic Owen Gleiberman praised Lopez’s charm. “Once you accept the setup (I fought it for about 20 minutes), it’s easy to roll with the situations in the connect-the-dots script,” he wrote in his review.
Adds Gross, “Women, particularly older women, have been slower than others to return to moviegoing, and they are showing it again, here. The budget was reasonable, so the movie should not lose money.”
With “Marry Me” falling slightly short of expectations, last weekend’s box office champ “Jackass Forever” took the runner-up spot. Paramount’s fourth entry in the absurdist comedy franchise took in $8,050 from 3,653 screens over the weekend, a significant-but-not-surprising 65% decline from inaugural sales. “Jackass Forever” has earned $37.4 million to date — not bad for a movie that cost only $10 million to make.
“Marry Me” and “Death on the Nile” may have sold some moviegoers who weren’t all that interested in Super Bowl festivities, but that wasn’t the case for “Blacklight,” the umpteenth Liam Neeson action-thriller to play in theaters since the pandemic. Briarcliff Entertainment is distributing the film, which pulled in $3.6 million from 2,772 theaters. That’s a tepid result, but one that matches to Neeson’s other COVID capers like “Honest Thief” ($3.6 million debut) and “The Marksman” ($3.1 million debut).
“Blacklight” landed in fifth place behind “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which earned $7.1 million in its ninth weekend of release. Sony’s comic book epic has earned $759.001 million at the North American box office, putting “No Way Home” less than $1 million away from passing James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster “Avatar” ($760 million) to become the third-highest grossing domestic release in history (not adjusted for inflation).
Elsewhere, director Roland Emmerich’s disaster epic “Moonfall” collapsed in its second weekend of release. The sci-fi adventure dropped to the No. 7 spot and brought in $2.85 million from 3,446 theaters, plummeting 71% from its already-weak $10 million opening. The movie, which cost $140 million to produce, has generated a dismal $15.15 million so far.
See this weekend’s domestic box office estimates:
- “Death on the Nile” — $12.8 million
- “Jackass Forever” — $8,050 million
- “Marry Me” — $8 million
- “Spider-Man: No Way Home” — $7.1 million
- “Blacklight” — $3.6 million