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‘The Flash’ opens to $55 million, a step off the typical superhero pace

Though a fair amount of money by normal standards and enough to take first place, it’s also muted by superhero standards

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Ezra Miller, left, and Sasha Calle in a scene from 'The Flash.'
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Ezra Miller, left, and Sasha Calle in a scene from 'The Flash.'AP

DC and Warner Bros.’s long-in-the-works superhero movie The Flash opened to $55 million in its first three days in North American theaters, according to studio estimates on Sunday.

Though a fair amount of money by normal standards, a sizable jump from DC’s last release, the Shazam! sequel, and enough for a first place start, it’s also muted by superhero standards where $100 million debut weekends are almost commonplace. The weekend also saw Pixar get its worst three-day opening ever with a $29.5 million bow by Elemental.

It was a crowded weekend at the multiplex overall. In addition to The Flash and Elemental, the horror-comedy The Blackening also opened wide. The only big win was Wes Anderson’s starry Asteroid City which earned $720,000 from just six theaters and the distinction of having the highest per-theater average ($132,211) since the start of the pandemic.

The Flash faced more complications than marketplace conditions. In addition to The Flash and Elemental, the horror-comedy The Blackening also opened wide. It has been in the headlines often over the past year, not because of the movie itself but because of its star Ezra Miller’s off-screen troubles, including arrests, erratic behavior and accusations of misconduct. Miller has apologized and said they are seeking mental health treatment. They also bowed out of participating in the normal publicity circuit, except for the premiere.

The studio’s leadership remained bullish on releasing their $200 million movie, however, confident in its quality and importance to future DC Studios storylines. The movie introduces the multiverse, which allowed for the return of Michael Keaton’s Batman in a movie that also had Ben Affleck’s Batman.

Going into the weekend, analysts expected The Flash to earn at least $70 million in its first three days, playing in 4,234 locations domestically. Now, it’s projected to net out with $64 million in its first four, including Monday’s Juneteenth holiday. Internationally, it made $75 million, giving it a $139 million global start.

“I think Warners did a fantastic job of dealing with the situation they had,” said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for Comscore. “It’s a very interesting case study of what can happen when the title character of a huge movie has these very public controversies. But it’s hard to reverse engineer it to know what effect it may have had.”

Another obstacle was that some of the main promotional outlets — late night talk shows — are still shut down as the Writers Strike continues. Also, with the knowledge that DC is undergoing a major reset, fans might have decided to move on and wait for that.

Critics were mixed but more positive than not, with a 67% on Rotten Tomatoes. AP’s Jocelyn Noveck wrote in her review that despite some “breezily clever and entertaining” moments, “the final act bogs down in what feels like an endless, generic CGI battle and a kitchen-sink resolution.”

Audiences polled for CinemaScore only gave the film a B, which has not historically been great news for word-of-mouth potential and longevity.

But there is a bit of a gap in the schedule before the next major blockbuster comes in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which opens on June 30. Next week’s biggest offering is the R-rated Jennifer Lawrence comedy No Hard Feelings and the nationwide expansion of Asteroid City.

Second place went to Elemental with an estimated $29.5 million from 4,035 locations in North America – a new low for Pixar’s three-day openings. Before, that title belonged to The Good Dinosaur and Onward, which both debuted to $39 million. Previous Pixar lows were The Good Dinosaur and Onward, which both debuted to $39 million.

“Elemental” was greeted positively by critics, with a 76% on Rotten Tomatoes, and audiences (A CinemaScore). AP’s Jake Coyle wrote that it’s “probably in the lower half” of the Pixar cannon but “sincere and clever, with a splash of dazzle,” it, “comes closer to rekindling some of the old Pixar magic than some recent entries.” Including $15 million from 17 international territories, Elemental launched to $44.5 million globally.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse was a very close third, in its third weekend, with $27.8 million. Sony is projecting that its domestic total will have reached $285 million through Monday.

It’s possible, Dergarabedian said, that Spider-Man’s formidable holding power — bolstered by reviews and word of mouth — ate into Elemental’s launch. Both are also rated PG.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts dropped a steep 67% in its second weekend, adding $20 million to take fourth place. The Little Mermaid settled into fifth place with $11.6 million in its fourth weekend.

The Blackening was the other big release this weekend – a bit of counterprogramming to the bigger branded releases with an original horror-comedy about a group of friends, who are Black, who get together for a weekend away and find themselves on the run from a killer. Lionsgate and MRC acquired the $5 million movie from director Tim Story after it debuted to positive reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival. Released in 1,775 theaters, The Blackening made an estimated $6 million.

“This is a fantastic weekend for movie theaters because there’s a depth and breadth of content that is amazing, but that means they’re sharing the wealth,” said Dergarabedian. “The collective box office was incredibly strong. But it’s creating a very competitive environment.”

Asteroid City was an undeniable bright spot in limited release. Focus Features set up Asteroid City pop-up experiences at theaters in New York and Los Angeles to help draw audiences.

“Wes Anderson is the pinnacle of specialty film. He’s the Marvel,” said Lisa Bunnell, Focus’ president of distribution. “This is a great shot in the arm for art theaters.”

Next week, “Asteroid City” jumps from 6 to about 1,500 theaters.

“After Covid, we’re trying to do things that are out of the box,” Bunnell added. “We feel like to get specialty films back on track again, you sort of need a new playbook.”

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