‘Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile’ & ‘Amsterdam’ Open As Dry Spell Winds Down
September turned out to be the lowest grossing month since May 2021, and by pre-pandemic standards it was the lowest grossing since 1996. Though a few individual films did okay, there’s no denying that the $319 million cume for the entire month was a horrendous return. Hopefully it will never be repeated, and thankfully the changing of the box office seasons is upon us. This weekend is the last of the doldrums, and the one-two punch of Halloween Ends next weekend and Black Adam the following weekend will bring the numbers back up to levels we haven’t seen since July, with the bigger fireworks show coming November 11 when Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opens. The year’s final quarter may not live up to pre-pandemic years, but it is still a huge relief after the two month dry spell. We just had 10 weekends in a row (11 after this weekend) below $100 million, with the past six weekends coming in under $65 million and this weekend likely continuing that trend.

Though there are two newcomers this weekend which both have a lot going for them, neither is primed to break out, and there is even the chance that they get upset by the hot horror film Smile as it follows up its $22.6 million opening. With that said, Sony’s family musical Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is a good candidate to win the weekend. Based on the classic kid’s book of the same name, the mostly live action film tells the story of a family who moves to New York City only to discover a crocodile in the attic that can sing but otherwise cannot speak. The cast is headlined by Constance Wu and Javier Bardem as humans while the CG crocodile has a vocal performance by music star Shawn Mendes. Songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (of The Greatest Showman fame) did the soundtrack and are executive producing.

The Will Speck and Josh Gordon directorial opens in 4,300 theaters, and though only 11 reviews are in so far, it’s leaning positive at 73% on Rotten Tomatoes. A mid teens opening is expected, but that’s not an ideal start for the $50 million budgeted film. Working in the film’s favor, though, is that it has the family market to itself until Disney’s Strange World opens before Thanksgiving. That under-served audience led both The Bad Guys and DC League of Super-Pets to $90+ million grosses after $23-24 million openings. Those numbers are a long shot for Lyle, but a similarly long legged trajectory wouldn’t be surprising.

Also opening wide is Amsterdam, the first film from writer/director David O. Russell since 2015. 20th Century’s $80 million budgeted, 1930s set comic murder mystery stars Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington, and the supporting cast is just as star studded with Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldaña, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, Taylor Swift, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alessandro Nivola, Rami Malek, and Robert De Niro. The 3,000 theater launch includes 390 IMAX screens and hundreds of other premium large format screens. Unfortunately, this one isn’t critic proof, and the 30% on Rotten Tomatoes is quite a buzzkill coming from a filmmaker whose name typically signals quality.

O. Russell has become one of the industry’s few auteur hit-makers, and his string of films The Fighter ($93.6 million domestic, $129 million worldwide), Silver Linings Playbook ($132 million domestic, $236 million worldwide), and American Hustle ($150 million domestic, $251 million worldwide) all had a combination of box office success, critical acclaim (all were over 90% on Rotten Tomatoes), and major awards (the films altogether collected a total of 25 Oscar noms and the three wins). The 2015 release Joy was a big step back by every metric, garnering just one Oscar nom, 60% positive reviews from critics, and a gross of $56.5 million domestic and $101 million worldwide. It also lacked the phenomenal legs of the earlier films. The Fighter and American Hustle both grossed nearly eight times their wide openings, while Joy had a solid but not sensational 3.3 multiplier (Silver Linings Playbook had a paced out platform release but played well for months and had remarkably durable holds). Joy’s disappointing box office relative to those earlier films and its $60 million budget was before the adult audience stopped showing up, and such numbers would feel like an impressive showing for Amsterdam right now, even though they’d still be a disaster given the lofty budget. Maybe the lavish period piece will catch on more overseas, where it’s releasing on roughly half of its footprint this weekend, but the odds are not great here. On the domestic front, expect an opening in the low double digits/high single digits.

Notable in limited release this weekend is Focus Features’ Tár, which marks the return of writer/director Todd Field following a 16 year gap from his last film Little Children in 2006. Since its premiere at Venice, critics have been raving (98% on Rotten Tomatoes) about the drama which stars Cate Blanchett as a world renowned orchestra conductor. The film will expand later in the month.