Kenneth Branagh returns to the Agatha Christie-verse as writer/director/star with Death on the Nile. Joining Branagh (who plays the iconic Belgian detective Poirot) in the ensemble murder mystery (which takes place…on the Nile) are Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, and Russell Brand, amongst others. In addition to IMAX and other PLF screens, Nile is also going to be shown on 70mm film prints on select screens.
The 20th Century film follows up 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express which grossed $103 million domestically off an opening of $28.7 million, and it had a worldwide total of $353 million. Nile is expected to fall short of Orient Express, which had an older skewing audience that has been difficult to pull in lately. The film is seeing strong pre-release traffic on IMDb, though, and a solid comp for it is House of Gucci, which opened to $14.4 million and grossed $53.5 million, becoming the biggest adult success of the pandemic.
The 70/30 international to domestic split for Orient Express makes Nile’s overseas launch a bigger factor in recouping its $90 million budget. It opens in most markets day and date, though the releases in Spain, Japan, and China are coming later in the month. For the previous outing, China was the biggest territory outside of the U.S. and it made up around 10% of the global gross, so the release there is a welcome sign. Reviews for the film are leaning positive at 65% on Rotten Tomatoes, close to Orient Express’ 60%, with many critics saying it lives up to and even improves on its predecessor.
However the cards fall for Death on the Nile, it will be the best Super Bowl opening in many years. 2017’s Rings was the last Super Bowl opening to even get above $10 million, and if Death on the Nile can best Rings’ $13 million, which seems likely, it will be the biggest Super Bowl opening since 2013 when Warm Bodies opened to $20.3 million (holdovers have done better: Kung Fu Panda 3 grossed $21.2 million in its second weekend and American Sniper grossed $30.6 million in its third wide weekend). Less likely for Nile is beating Warm Bodies, but if it overperforms it could be the biggest Super Bowl opening since 2011’s Chronicle ($22 million) or 2010’s Dear John ($30.5 million).
Romantic comedy Marry Me from Universal has a good shot at number two, and it should get a nice Valentine’s Day bump on Monday despite also being available on Peacock. It stars Jennifer Lopez as a pop star who makes a sudden, impulsive decision to marry an ordinary math teacher (played by Owen Wilson) after discovering that her fiance (played by Colombian star Maluma) is cheating on her. The film, which co-stars John Bradley and Sarah Silverman, features an original soundtrack from Lopez and Maluma.
J.Lo is coming hot off her last film Hustlers which was the best opening of her career with $33.2 million and went on to gross $105 million domestically and $158 worldwide. A better comp, though, would be her 2018 film Second Act, which opened to $6.5 million over the weekend before Christmas and legged out to $39.3 million with an additional $33 million overseas. Marry Me, which Lopez also produced, is at 59% on Rotten Tomatoes, making it her second best reviewed film since the 1990s.
Also opening wide is Liam Neeson starrer Blacklight. Briarcliff/Open Road is releasing the action thriller after having some reliably modest success with Neeson’s films The Honest Thief (also from Blacklight director Mark Williams) and The Marksman, which both grossed circa $15 million in the dark box office days of the pre-vaccine era of the pandemic. At 6% on Rotten Tomatoes, Blacklight is the worst reviewed film of Neeson’s career.
Now that Oscar nominations have been announced, we may see some bubbles rise up in the specialty box office in the coming weeks, though with most titles having been out for months it is unlikely that we see any breakout hits at this point. Among the films expanding their runs are West Side Story, Licorice Pizza, Belfast, Dune, and Nightmare Alley.