There was one key question gripping the box office heading into this weekend: would audiences be PAWing, or would they be Sawing? In a crowded September capper with four new wide releases, Paramount’s “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” looks to come out on top.
The animated feature is edging out Lionsgate’s horror entry “Saw X” to lead domestic charts. Meanwhile, Disney’s original science-fiction adventure “The Creator” will have to settle for third place, while Sony’s “Dumb Money” is floundering in its nationwide expansion.
After skipping Thursday preview screenings, the “PAW Patrol” sequel unleashed $6.8 million from 3,989 theaters on Friday. That’s an impressive boost above the 2021 original’s $4.5 million opening day — a testament to Paramount and subsidiary Nickelodeon’s careful cultivation of this property since its 2013 debut as a television series. “The Mighty Movie” is now looking to bark up a $22.5 million opening, coming in above initial projections that had predicted a high-teens bow. It’s not the splashiest debut for an animated feature, but it shows strong growth; and, besides “PAW Patrol” is really built for retail, where it’s done over $14 billion in sales over the years.
On top of that, producer Spin Master Entertainment has stayed economical, with this installment sporting a budget of only $30 million before P&A — a fraction of the cost for an average animated feature. Initial moviegoers are very positive, with the film fetching a glowing “A” grade through research firm Cinema Score. With little coming down the pipeline for family audiences in the coming weeks, it’ll probably be a while before “The Mighty Movie” plays dead.
The rescue dogs known as the PAW Patrol — an acronym: “pups at work” or “protect and wag,” per the fan wiki — return to save their metropolis of Adventure City once again, this time gaining superpowers. Along with the canine voice leads including McKenna Grace, Marsai Martin and Christian Convery, the films casts a pretty wide net across celebrities to fill out the ensemble — Taraji P. Henson, Kim Kardashian, Chris Rock, James Marsden, Kristen Bell and Serena Williams.
Though there was hope that the tenth “Saw” entry could knock the sawx off the competition, it’ll likely slide to silver come Sunday. The Lionsgate release took in $8 million from 3,262 theaters on opening day, which includes $2 million in previews. The horror entry’s debut should still come in ahead of the franchise’s previous two entries, 2017’s revival “Jigsaw” ($16.5 million) and 2021’s police corruption polemic starring Chris Rock, “Spiral: From the Book of Saw” ($8.7 million).
Rather unexpectedly, “Saw X” is also somewhat of a critical darling. It’s the first entry in the graphically violent series to score an overwhelming majority of positive reviews. Audiences are offering a response more standard for the franchise — a “B” Cinema Score, also a typically middling reception for the horror genre. But buzz is positive, which could help “Saw X” keep chugging as other scary competition crops up in October. The film cost only $13 million to produce, a figure that Lionsgate will make a good dent into by Sunday.
Weaseling its way into the “Saw” franchise’s baroque chronology, “Saw X” takes place between the 2004 original and its immediate sequel. Tobin Bell returns as the twisted craftsman Jigsaw, who takes on an ungenerous American medical industry by kidnapping doctors and placing them in death traps. Franchise regular Kevin Greutert directs.
Things are looking less auspicious for “The Creator,” a sci-fi epic that comes from Disney subsidiary 20th Century Studios. Director Gareth Edwards and producers managed to stay resourceful for the genre, working under an $80 million price tag. But as competitors project a $5.5 million opening day from 3,680 theaters, the heady action film likely won’t make more than $16 million within the three-day frame. Both reviews and the first round of ticket-buyers lean positive, but there isn’t exactly an evident wave of enthusiasm that could buoy box office prospects moving forward. Original sci-fi can draw some pretty awestruck responses, but “The Creator” isn’t hitting that pedigree upon initial release.
The epic takes place in a future world where an ongoing war between the human race and artificial intelligence has escalated, with a special agent (John David Washington) deployed to kill the titular Creator, who is said to have constructed an apocalypse-tier weapon. Gemma Chan, Ken Watanabe, Sturgill Simpson, Allison Janney and Madeleine Yuna Voyles also star.
That leaves “Dumb Money,” Columbia Pictures and Black Bear Pictures’ ripped-from-the-headlines feature about the GameStop stock price rollercoaster that took hold of certain corners of the internet during the COVID pandemic. The Craig Gillespie-directed film is now in its third and final stage of a platform release, which began with a solid limited opening of $220,000 across eight theaters two weeks ago.
Since then, the ensemble comedy has struggled, with a less-than-splashy $2.2 million haul in its first expansion to 616 theaters. Now going wide with 2,837 venues, the film made a slim $1.3 million on Friday and likely won’t place in the top five on domestic charts this weekend.
After premiering at the Toronto Film Festival to strong reviews, the plan was for “Dumb Money” to ride the wave of critical affection and meme-centric material all the way into awards season. Instead, the film faces a daunting uphill battle to sell enough tickets to recoup a $30 million production budget, which was funded by producer Black Bear Pictures. (Sony picked up distribution rights across many major territories outside of Western Europe and organized the platform release.) Even if the film sticks around the awards conversation, it’s not like Oscar players have been lighting up the box office since audiences have returned from the COVID pandemic.
After three weekends on top of domestic charts, “The Nun II” is falling to fourth place. The “Conjuring” spinoff will move past a $75 million gross in North America — one of the few unambiguous box office success stories since “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” salvaged a shaky summer.
“A Haunting in Venice” hopes to round out the top five. Kenneth Branagh’s haunted whodunit will push beyond a $30 million domestic gross through Sunday. Though it scored stronger reviews and a bigger opening than “Death on the Nile,” the threequel is now pacing behind its 2022 predecessor in North America.
“The Blind,” a Fathom Events release, could end up above “Venice” to reach the top five. The film is a biopic of sorts for “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson, examining his romantic relationship with Kay Robertson and his Christian faith. Competitors project a $3.9 million weekend gross across 1,715 venues.
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