ENTERTAINMENT

‘Wonka’ ends the year No. 1 at the box office, 2023 sales reach $9 billion in post-pandemic best

Jan 1, 2024, 10:57 AM | Updated: 10:59 am

Timothée Chalamet attends the "Wonka" Canadian Fan Screening at Cineplex Cinemas Yorkdale on Decem...

Timothée Chalamet attends the "Wonka" Canadian Fan Screening at Cineplex Cinemas Yorkdale on December 13, 2023 in Toronto, Ontario. (Jeremy Chan, Getty Images)

(Jeremy Chan, Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) — Hollywood closed out an up and down 2023 with “Wonka” regaining No. 1 at the box office, strong sales for “The Color Purple” and an overall $9 billion in ticket sales that improved on 2022’s grosses but fell about $2 billion shy of pre-pandemic norms.

The New Year’s weekend box office this year lacked a true blockbuster. (This time last year, “Avatar: The Way of Water” was inundating theaters.) Instead, a wide array of films – among them “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” “The Boys in the Boat,” “Migration,” “Ferrari,” “The Iron Claw” and “Anyone But You” – sought to break out over the year’s most lucrative box-office corridor.

The top choice, though, remained “Wonka,” Paul King’s musical starring Timothée Chalamet as a young Willy Wonka. In its third weekend, the Warner Bros. release collected an estimated $24 million Friday through Sunday and $31.8 million factoring in estimates for the Monday holiday. That brings the film’s domestical total to $142.5 million.

That bested Warner Bros.’ own “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” which, like previous DC superhero films, is struggling. James Wan’s “Aquaman” sequel starring Jason Momoa took in $19.5 million in its second weekend to bring its two-week haul to a modest $84.7 million including New Year’s Day estimates.

The original “Aquaman,” which ultimately surpassed $1.1 billion worldwide, had grossed $215.4 million over a similar period in 2018 – more than double that of the sequel. Internationally, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” added $50.5 million.

Weekend sales only tell part of the story this time of year. From Christmas through New Year’s, when kids are out of school and many adults aren’t working, every day is like Saturday to film distributors.

“The Color Purple,” Blitz Bazawule’s adaptation of the 2005 stage musical from Alice Walker’s novel, debuted on Monday and led all movies on Christmas with $18 million. Through the week, the Warner Bros. release has grossed $50 million, including $13 million Friday through Sunday. That’s a strong start for the crowd-pleaser starring Fantasia Barrino, Taraji P. Henson and Danielle Brooks. Audiences gave it an “A” CinemaScore.

The roughly $100 million production, which boasts Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and Quincy Jones (all from the 1985 film) as producers, should play well through awards season. It’s nominated for several Golden Globes and expected to be in the Oscar mix.

“We saw this opportunity to go wide at Christmas since there were so few movies and we were confident the movie would be well received,” said Jeffrey Goldstein, distribution chief for Warner Bros. “Going into the competitive landscape that’s so thin in January and February, the excitement of awards season could really help ignite a bigger box office.”

Despite a blockbuster-less holiday frame, the last weekend of the year pushed the industry past $9 billion in box office for the year in U.S. and Canadian theaters for the first time since before the pandemic. Ticket sales on the year were up 21% from 2022, according to data firm Comscore.

Still, it was a mark that seemed more easily within reach during the summer highs of Barbenheimer when both “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” were breaking box-office records.

The enormous success of those two films changed the trajectory of Hollywood’s 2023, but so did the monthslong actors and writers strikes. Those forced the postponement of some top films (most notably “Dune: Part Two” ), diminishing an already patchwork fall lineup with few guaranteed ticket-sellers. One exception was the last-minute addition of “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” which set a new record for concert films.

This year, Hollywood needed Swift and every penny to reach $9 billion. It crossed that threshold Saturday, with one day to spare. That total, though, still doesn’t come close to the $11 billion-plus years that preceded the pandemic. The number of wide releases in 2023 came about 20 films shy of those released in 2019.

The production delays caused by the strikes could have an even greater impact on 2024. Several top releases have already been postponed until at least the following year, including “Mission: Impossible” and “Spider-Verse” sequels. After a rocky year for Marvel and a string of less predictable hits, Hollywood will have to hope it can adapt to changing audience tastes – and that another “Barbie” is lurking somewhere.

“It’s an $11 billion business. We’re climbing our way back,” said Goldstein. “This next year is going to be a big challenge because of the strikes. But we’re seeing very clearly in 2023, when there are movies out there that people want to see, they come.”

Meanwhile, a host of releases sought to capitalize over the holidays – and most succeeded.

“This crop of seven wide releases at the end of the year, they got us over the hump of $9 billion,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for data firm Comscore. “This final push of the year provided great insight into what audiences are looking for. It’s movies big and small. It’s different types of movies.”

Though “Wonka” won out as the family movie choice for the holidays, Universal Pictures’ “Migration” is attracting young audiences, too. The animated movie from “Minions”-maker Illumination notched $17.2 million in 3,839 theaters in its second weekend, and $59.4 million since opening.

“The Boys in the Boat,” the George Clooney-directed sports drama, grossed $24.6 million since opening Dec. 25. The Amazon MGM Studios release, about the U.S. men’s crew in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, wasn’t a smash with critics (58% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes) but audiences gave it an “A” CinemaScore. “The Boys in the Boat,” which cost about $40 million to make, could hold well in coming weeks.

Though romantic comedies have largely migrated to streaming platforms, Sony Pictures’ “Anyone But You” is proving the genre can still work in theaters. The film, starring Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell, collected $9 million in its second weekend to bring its total to $27.6 million through Monday.

Sean Durkin’s wrestling drama “The Iron Claw” is also performing well. The A24 film, starring Zac Efron, Holt McCallany and Jeremy Allen White, has grossed $18 million since opening Dec. 22, including $5 million on the three-day weekend. The film dramatizes the tragic story of the Von Erich family.

Michael Mann’s “Ferrari,” a project the director sought to make for three decades, took in $10.9 million since launching in theaters on Monday, including $4.1 million for the weekend. While that ranks as one of the biggest debuts for indie distributor Neon, it’s nowhere near what a movie that cost close to $100 million to make needs to turn a profit.

The film, starring Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari, has been celebrated by critics, but appears likely to follow Mann’s previous film, 2015’s “Blackhat” ($19.6 million worldwide against a $70 million budget), as a commercial disappointment.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

1. “Wonka,” $24 million.

2. “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” $19.5 million.

3. “Migration,” $17.2 million.

4. “The Color Purple,” $13 million.

5. “Anyone But You,” $9 million.

6. “The Boys in the Boat,” $8.3 million.

7. “The Iron Claw,” $5 million.

8. “Ferrari,” $4.1 million.

9. “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” $2.9 million.

10. “The Boy and the Heron,” $2.5 million.

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‘Wonka’ ends the year No. 1 at the box office, 2023 sales reach $9 billion in post-pandemic best