Fifth writethru Sunday AM after Friday/Saturday posts: It’s still a pretty decent September weekend at the box office with the top three movies pulling in over $20M. Nothing that exhibitors would be upset about, and surely not as bananas as when It opened to $123.4M three weeks ago.  This weekend’s ticket sales of $121M per ComScore are 16% ahead of the same FSS last year with the running total for September at $592.3M, +20% over the same period a year ago.

20th Century Fox and MARV’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle made an estimated $14.7M on Saturday, which if you back out the $3.4M out of Friday’s $15.3M, technically means yesterday was the pic’s biggest business day. But in this era we say it’s front loaded as previews are included in Friday’s total, and thus Saturday was -4% for Golden Circle with its weekend now at $39M. Worldwide start is at $100M. Finance sources believe this movie will still be fine profit wise, though it’s lower than the $40M-plus the industry was expecting. New Line/Warner Bros.’ is calling It‘s third weekend at $30M, down a sweet -50% for a running cume by Sunday of $266.3M. Hitting $300M should be feasible for It. 

Golden Circle‘s three-day is bigger than its first chapter, 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service ($36.2M), by 6% and that’s a little something for Fox to crow about. Secret Service opened during a holiday weekend where Valentine’s Day, a huge moviegoing day, fell on a Saturday. So the fact that the sequel can put up slightly better numbers on a non-holiday weekend is worth nothing. Rivals were betting that Golden Circle would arrive in the high $40Ms, possible $50M. But Fox always knew that they would be fortunate if Golden Circle crossed $40M. Essentially rivals’ bullish estimates stem from their over-assessment of the current marketplace, especially with It doing gangbusters business. In addition, reviews were softer on Golden Circle vs. Secret Service (50% rotten for the sequel, and 74% certified fresh for the original), so that slowed turnstiles despite the fact that moviegoers enjoyed the sequel as much as the first with a B+ CinemaScore.

Golden Circle edging out Secret Service can be attributed to the fact that the title is now a known quantity further bolstered by the audience it found in the post-theatrical marketplace. Fox has proved in its clips and TV spots that there’s a worthy enough reason for a sequel (London HQ blows up, there’s evil 1950s lovin’ Julianne Moore, plus the British spy society meets its cowboy U.S. counterpart which includes sexy stars Channing Tatum and Halle Berry). Relish Mix noticed the positive word of mouth on social media ahead of opening: “From the trailers, fans are impressed by the music, action and cinematography. Most of the excitement comes from fans of the original who can’t wait to see this team back on screen. There is also interest expressed for a sophisticated R-rated comic book film like this one…The main curiosity in the convo surrounds Colin Firth and how his return will be explained.”

Golden Circle drew a very similar demo split to Secret Service: 56% guys to 44% females. But men liked the movie a little less than the first, B+ to A-.  The over 25 crowd arrived in a big way to Golden Circle drawing 74% versus the first chapter’s 60%. Those under 25 (26%) loved Golden Circle as much as the first with a A CinemaScore. PLF accounted for 15% of Golden Circle‘s weekend while Imax repped 9% of domestic ticket sales or $3.5M at 384 auditoriums. PostTrak showed 58% guys leading with 65% over 25. Golden Circle was a big city movie with NY, LA, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, San Francisco, Vancouver, Washington DC, Calgary and Honolulu being the top markets. Canada rang up a strong 9.8% weekend market share for the sequel.

Warner Bros.

Similar to Fox, Warner Bros. wasn’t bullish as tracking about the opening for The Lego Ninjago Movie. Rival forecasts had the movie in the upper $30M range, but WB saw it between $27M-$32M. But the bad news is that Ninjago is coming in even lower than that with a $21.2M FSS per the studio. Oy. Business was +55% over Friday on Saturday with $9.1M. With a $70M net production cost, it’s like Storks all over again. That WB toon opened to $21.3M, and though it had a 3.4x multiple, fell short of $100M with only a $72.7M domestic take.

So why did Ninjago drop its sword? As a younger-skewing kid’s movie aka a “handholder movie” the cartoon is everywhere on TV and online. Ninjago is in its seventh season on TV, and available on YouTube. If another Lego movie is hitting the screen (this is the second one this year), Warners has to create something of added value that pull families out of the house. Because if they can get the same story on TV, why go to the movies? A total of nine writers between story and screenplay credits worked on Ninjago and for some reason they couldn’t crack it.

Relish Mix also saw the clouds in Ninjago’s mixed convo: “Fans have been quick to point out that the designs and voice actors are different from the show they have come to love.  So, any of the negative convo that exists is related to the discrepancy between the films and the TV show and whether or not they’re related.”

Within three years (really, one year), the Lego movies have quickly become an animated franchise of diminishing returns in regards to dollars, audiences and critics. The Lego Movie had a 3.7x domestic multiple, ($69M, $257.8M domestic, $469.1M global, $229M profit), A CinemaScore, and a 96% Rotten Tomatoes Score and earlier this year Lego Batman eased a tad to a 3.3x multiple ($53M opening, $175.8M domestic), A- CinemaScore, and 91% Certified Fresh. Now, Ninjago’s weekend opening is off –61% from Lego Batman, saddled with sour reviews at 52% Rotten, and an even lower CinemaScore of B+ (anything less than A- for an animated kids film is nothing to cherish).

If you have a great brand, protect it, be precious about it, while not diluting it in its exploitation. Employees at Marvel and Pixar likely have that creed tattooed somewhere on their bodies. Ninjago is significantly less brilliant according to critics than the huzzah that was The Lego Movie. That Phil Lord-Christopher Miller collaboration took critics by surprise with its comedic arrest of pop culture, not to mention the film yielded an Oscar-nominated song in the Tegan and Sara and Lonely Island performed “Everything Is Awesome.” Lego Movie was able to pull in high school and college students to late night shows, and it’s very clear that crowd isn’t in the theater with those showtimes being less robust. Close to half of Ninjago’s audience was under 18 compared to 41% for The Lego Movie and 38% for Lego Batman. 

The wane in reviewers’ attitude between Lego films is quite apparent. When the 2014 release hit theaters, Time’s Richard Corliss beamed, “Take the kids to The LEGO Movie – the funniest, cleverest, most exhaustingly exhilarating animated feature in ages – then leave them to play with their toys and see it again for your own wicked amusement.” Compare this to A.O. Scott’s review of Ninjago in the New York Times: “I’m sorry to report that the Lego movie enterprise has lapsed into intentional mediocrity”.

To date, these Lego movies do not make as much overseas when compared to other tentpole animated features. While that movie had As throughout its demos, we’re seeing Bs, B+s and B-s for Ninjago. Adults over 25, repping 48% of the audience, weren’t amused with a B CinemaScore, while under 18 and under 25 gave Ninjago its best grades of A-.

Entertainment Studios

A distributor can no longer crowbar a horror movie into the marketplace. Just because it’s made on a thrifty budget, doesn’t mean it’s an immediate cash cow. Fox figured that out with the Ridley Scott-produced Morgan a year ago which made significantly less in rental than its $8M net production cost.  I was once informed by a foreign sales maestro that when it comes to the genre, it just boils down to which studio will shell out the most on marketing and make an event out of the film. However, now critics and audiences have higher standards for horror. Even though Golden Circle was able to buck reviews this weekend, Friend Request is bleeding with $2.4M per Entertainment Studios on 2,573 theaters from bad reviews at 21% Rotten, a C+ CinemaScore, and the fact that it’s too close within the perimeter of It. Industry estimates believe the three-day is around $2M. The marketing and acquisition costs for this title by Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios exceeds an eight-figure threshold. Furthermore, if you’re making a horror film called Friend Request aimed at the social media crowd, why make it R? A missed opportunity pulling in teenagers with the under 18 crowd only repping 14% of last night’s ticket sellers and giving the film its best grade with a B. Overall 55% females showed up, 63% between 18-34.

Though aimed at a completely different audience, Jake Gyllenhaal in Stronger is making close to the same amount of money as Friend Request with $1.75M but on 574 screens with a per theater of $3K. Though that appears good, I’m informed for a critically acclaimed movie with a 95% certified fresh rating, this isn’t a good start. When a critically acclaimed indie film opens with this handful amount of theaters, than it has the potential to do $2M-$4M. More women watching this pic than guys at 65% to 35% in distributor’s polling. Stronger is based on the true story of Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman and how he became a symbol of hope. Gyllenhaal also served as one of the producers on the Roadside Attractions release.

Focus Features

Focus Features’ Victoria and Abdul has a great per theater of $38K off four New York and Los Angeles sites. Helping boosting this is the fact that Judi Dench and director Stephen Frears are doing Q&As in Los Angeles on Friday, and the ones at the Landmark on Pico Blvd. sold out quickly.

Fox Searchlight’s Battle of the Sexes is posting a great $25K per theater, second best of the weekend, off 21 venues for $525K this weekend.

Studio reported box office for weekend of Sept. 22-24:

1.) Kingsman: The Golden Circle (FOX), 4,003 theaters / $15.3m Fri. (includes $3.4m previews) /$14.7M Sat/$9M Sun/ 3-day cume: $39M /Wk 1

2.) It  (NL/WB), 4,007 theaters (-141) / $9.1M Fri. /$13.4M Sat/$7.5M  Sun/3-day cume: $30M (-50%)/Total: $266.3M/Wk 3

3.) The Lego Ninjago Movie (WB), 4,047 theaters / $5.8M Fri.  /$9.1M Sat/ $6.3M Sun/3-day cume: $21.2M /Wk 1

4.) American Assassin (CBS/LG), 3,154 theaters / $1.86m Fri. (-68%) /$2.7M/ $1.67M Sun/ 3-day cume: $6.2M (-58%) /Total: $26.1M/Wk 2

5.) Home Again (OR), 2,685 theaters (-351) / $1M Fri. (-38%) /$1.45M Sat/$831K Sun/3-day cume: $3.3M (-35%)/Total: $22.3M/Wk 3

Stronger Poster
Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions

6.) mother! (PAR), 2,368 theaters / $1M Fri. (-67%) /$1.39M Sat/ $870K Sun/ 3-day cume: $3.26M (-57%)/Total: $13.4M/Wk 2

7.) Friend Request(ES), 2,569 theaters / $750K Fri.  /$850K Sat/$800K Sun/3-day cume: $2.4M / Wk 1

8). Hitman’s Bodyguard (LG), 2.037 theaters (-1,235) / $523K Fri. /$851K Sat/ $476K Sun/ 3-day cume: $1.85M (-48%)/Total: $73.6M /Wk 6

9.) Stronger (RSA), 574 theaters/ $521K Fri./$701K Sat/ $526K Sun/3-day cume: $1.75M  /Wk 1

10.) Wind River (TWC), 1,431 theaters (-1,118) / $368K Fri. /$579K  Sat/$319K Sun/3-day cume: $1.265M (-51%)/Total: $31.6M/Wk 8

Battle Of The Sexes
Fox Searchlight

Notables:

Brad’s Status (AMZ/ANP) 453 theaters (+449)/$319K Fri  /$425K Sat/$257K Sun/ 3-day: $1M (+1095%)/Total: $1.2M

Battle of the Sexes (FSL), 21 theaters / $159k Fri.  /$221K Sat/$145K Sun/PTA: $25K/ 3-day cume: $525K /Wk 1 

Victoria & Abdul (FOCUS), 4 theaters / $56k Fri. / $56K Sat/ $40K Sun/PTA $38K/ 3-day cume: $152k / Wk 1

Second update, Friday 12:30PM: Among live action releases opening in September, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is bound to be the second-highest opening behind New Line’s mammoth It ($123.4M) with a current projected three-day of $40M-$44M per industry estimates. Note this figure does not come from Fox. Today alone, Kingsman should log around $17.5M including its $3.4M previews; still quite solid and the third best opening day for September behind It ($50.4M) and Insidious: Chapter 2 ($20.2M). Technically speaking, the second biggest opening among all September releases is Sony’s Hotel Transylvania 2 at $48.4M.

Warner Bros. has two films potentially fighting for second: The Lego Ninjago Movie at $30M for the weekend and It at $29M. They will draw, respectively, $8.3M and $9M today.

Entertainment Studios

Last weekend’s holdovers: CBS/Lionsgate’s American Assassin eyeing $2M today and a second weekend of $6.5M, -56% for a 10-day total of $26.4M. Paramount’s mother! is projected at $1M today, and $3M in its second weekend, -60% for a 10-day run of $12.6M.

Entertainment Studios’ horror release Friend Request is a total loner with $2M projected for the weekend after an $800K start today (including $110K in previews).

We’ll have more updates for you later.

First update, Friday, 7:27 AM: 20th Century Fox’s kickass spy sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle shot up a very notable $3.4M last night in previews from 3,100 locations. After It‘s massive $13.5M Thursday night, Golden Circle is officially the second best preview night for the month of September.

The first movie, released over Presidents Day/Valentine’s Day weekend two years ago, made $1.4M on its Thursday night at 2,569 venues. Kingsman: The Secret Service posted a $10.4M first day and $36.3M opening weekend, and Golden Circle is expected to beat that, which is mindblowing for a non-superhero sequel in this day and age.

In regards to last night’s previews, Golden Circle blows away previous September actioners’ Thursday nights, The Equalizer ($1.45M) and The Magnificent Seven ($1.75M).

WB

Golden Circle is expected to lead a fourth weekend in September with a high $40M-plus gross at 4,003 theaters (including Imax and PLF), with pics No. 2 and 3 (Warner Bros.’ The Lego Ninjago Movie and New Line’s It) making $25M-$30M-plus each — a record that the autumn month has never seen before. Already, Golden Circle has logged $12.7M overeseas from 50 markets including previews and opening days. Ninjago did not have any previews Thursday (it was a school night) but is playing at 4,047 theaters today. Also opening wide this weekend is Entertainment Studios’ horror title Friend Request which also previewed last night making $110K at 1,500 sites. Rivals believe Friend Request will gross around $4M, while the Byron Allen studio is hoping for at least double that.

New Line’s It became the highest grossing horror film at the domestic B.O. yesterday with a running cume of $236.3M, finally stepping over Warner Bros.’ 1973 classic The Exorcist ($232.9M).

Awards season is definitely alive and kicking on the specialty circuit with titles like Fox Searchlight’s The Battle of the Sexes, Roadside Attractions’ Stronger, and Focus Features’ Victoria and Abdul.