Paramount’s “Smile” opened this weekend with $22 million, easily topping the domestic box office. The horror flick edged out the weekend’s other big release, Universal’s LGBTQ romantic comedy “Bros,” which came in fourth place with a pittance of $4.8 million.
“Smile” ranks as one of the best original horror releases of the year, beating 20th Century Studios’ “Barbarian” ($10 million) and Sony’s “The Invitation” ($7 million). As the box office heads into October, the horror genre will continue to take center stage with Universal’s “Halloween Ends” releasing in two weeks and hoping to cash in on the seasonal thirst for thrills and chills.
The box office result for “Smile” is awfully good, as it cost a measly $17 million to produce and had originally been seen as a streaming release.
“Honestly, it’s sensational,” said Chris Aronson, Paramount’s head of distribution. “I don’t like to use hyperbole, but this exceeded our wildest expectations.”
But “Smile” has exceeded expectations throughout its production. Paramount opted to give the film a full theatrical release after it was rated by audiences during test screenings. The company used some clever marketing tactics this week by strategically placing paid actors, with huge, creepy grins plastered on their faces, behind home plate during televised Major League Baseball games. Social media users quickly caught on. the brooding fans, wearing “Smile” T-shirts, as cameras focused on batters approaching home plate.
Last weekend’s champion, “Don’t Worry Darling,” fell sharply in its second weekend, dropping 62%. The Warner Bros. thriller earned $7.3 million for a runner-up finish, bringing its domestic total to $32.8 million. Sony’s “The Woman King” finished in third place with $7 million, bringing its US haul to $46.7 million. Disney’s re-release of “Avatar” rounded out the top five, earning $4.7 million. By bringing James Cameron’s fantasy back to theaters, the studio hopes to whet appetites for the December debut of the long-awaited return to Pandora, “Avatar: The Way of Water.”
“Smile” is the latest hit in what has been a hot streak for Paramount. Six of the studio’s last seven movies have now opened in first place, including box office winners like “Top Gun: Maverick,” “The Lost City” and “Sonic the Hedgehog 2.”
“We’ve been very careful in our release dates and we’ve been very strong in our campaigns,” Aronson said.
The horror film stars Sosie Bacon, (daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick) as a therapist who is plagued by horrific, grinning hallucinations after witnessing one of her patients die by suicide. The cast also includes Kyle Gallner, Kal Penn, Jessie T. Usher, Caitlin Stasey, Rob Morgan, and Robin Weigert. “Smile” attracted an audience that was 52% male, with the majority of ticket buyers, 68%, aged between 18 and 34.
“Bros” did not represent a huge financial risk for Universal, with a modest production budget of $22 million. The movie got rave reviews, but clearly struggled to connect with audiences. Its opening is about half of the $8 million to $10 million that Universal projected “Bros” would earn.
While it may have fallen short commercially, the Billy Eichner film is already in the record books: It’s the first gay romantic comedy to be released theatrically by a major studio, the first with an openly LGBTQ cast, and Eichner is the first male openly gay to write and star in a Hollywood movie. Universal expressed optimism that critical notices and positive audience reaction (“Bros” earned an “A” CinemaScore) will boost word of mouth and help the film stay in theaters.
“We’re incredibly proud of ‘Bros,'” said Jim Orr, president of domestic distribution for Universal. “Everyone who saw it, he loved it. And given that answer, I think the movie will continue to find an audience and have some legs.”
In “Bros,” Eichner plays Bobby, a smart, down-on-his-luck museum executive who falls in love with Luke Macfarlane’s Aaron, a muscular lawyer who can change everything for him. The film is directed by Nicholas Stoller with a cast that includes Guy Branum, Ts Madison, Dot-Marie Jones, Bowen Yang, and Jim Rash. Romantic comedies were once a reliable theatrical genre, but with the notable exception of “The Lost City,” which featured the combined star power of Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum, it’s been a while since one scored at the box office. Universal will try again this month with the release of George Clooney and Julia Roberts’ “meet cute,” “Ticket to Paradise.” We’ll see if that movie does any better when it opens on October 1. twenty-one