Can ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ & ‘Avatar’ Re-Release Relieve The Box Office Blues?
The drought of tentpoles began in early August after the release of Bullet Train, and it will last until the mid-October release of Halloween Ends. Despite the lack of the main events, which has caused the overall box office to plunge below $60 million for four weekends straight and possibly three more to come, the season has had some solid counterprogramming, best exemplified by last weekend’s overperforming $19 million opening of The Woman King which should have strong legs given the film's exceptional word of mouth (including the rare A+ CinemaScore). This weekend, we get the release of Don’t Worry Darling, perhaps the season’s buzziest title, and it may be the biggest weekend gross for a film since Bullet Train’s $30 million debut seven weekend’s ago (the biggest since then is Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero’s $21.1 million opening five weekends ago).

Warner Bros.’ Don’t Worry Darling, which is getting a 4,000+ theater release including IMAX and other premium large formats, has been making headlines for some behind the scenes drama, and it’s been especially building hype amongst fans of music star Harry Styles as his first major film role (he was earlier seen as part of the ensemble in Dunkirk). Behind all of that, though, is what has increasingly become a rare beast, a mid-budget ($35 million), star-driven, R-rated, original high concept psychological thriller. The 1950s set story is about a housewife in a company town who grows suspicious about the mysterious company her husband works for. Florence Pugh Styles, Olivia Wilde, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll, and Chris Pine lead the cast, and it is Wilde’s sophomore effort as a director, following up her acclaimed 2019 debut Booksmart (which grossed $22.7 million domestically and another $2.28 million internationally off a $6 million budget).

The fundamentals here all look good, but if there’s a catch, it’s the poor critical reception. The 32% rating on Rotten Tomatoes may not make a dent in the box office if audiences like the film, as can often be the case for poorly reviewed franchise and genre films that end up playing well, but that’s less common for films in the same territory as Don’t Worry Darling. Still, the buzz and the large fanbase of Styles should get this at least a high teens/low 20s opening. We already saw numerous sellout shows from the special IMAX screenings on Monday with the live-streamed Q&A from the premiere, which IMAX says was their fastest selling live event ever. If the film can score some positive word of mouth and decent legs, then this and The Woman King will make a great one-two punch of successes with the kinds of films that Hollywood seldom makes anymore.

Second place should go to The Woman King, which is almost certain to stay in the double digits following its $19 million opening, with the killer word of mouth (represented in its A+ CinemaScore) leading to a strong hold. The Viola Davis starring historical epic set in West Africa will finish the weekend with a cume ahead of Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero’s $34.9 million, making it the top grosser so far of the current dry spell. Don’t Worry Darling could give it a run for its money in the long run, but given the rave reviews (94% on Rotten Tomatoes) and word of mouth, not to mention awards season potential, The Woman King looks like the horse to bet on.

The weekend’s other significant wide release, the remastered re-release of James Camerons 2009 3D sci-fi epic Avatar, should make third place. Avatar broke the all time domestic and global box office records when it came out, displacing Cameron’s own 1997 film Titanic from the top rung, and though Avatar has since fallen to fourth place on the domestic charts (with $760.5 million), it remains number one worldwide (Avengers: Endgame surpassed it in 2019, but Avatar retook the top spot last year with a $57.7 million China re-release that brought its total to $2.847 billion). The 1,850 theater (including IMAX and other premium large formats) re-release comes roughly three months before the film’s long awaited sequel hits screens on December 16. While it is hard to extrapolate from re-release numbers, if audiences turn out far more for Avatar than the usual re-release, then we may be in for another record breaker this winter. The re-release is global, playing on more than 8,000 screens overseas with around half of them showing the film in 3D.

Speaking of long awaited sequels, Railway Children is going semi-wide this weekend via Blue Fox Entertainment, 52 years after the release of The Railway Children. The original has become a family classic in the U.K., but the follow-up has grossed just $3.46 million in the U.K. (under the title The Railway Children Return) since its release in July. It is the fourth release for Blue Fox this year, the highest grossing being The Wolf and the Lion ($2.07 million).