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The Weekend Movie Takeaway: 'Abominable' Dominates the Weekend's Box Office

September 30, 2019
2 min read time

In a weekend indicative of the relatively fallow period between the summer movie season and when the awards contenders take over the cineplex, a humble animated film managed to dominate the box office.

Abominable, a collaboration between DreamWorks Animation and Pearl Studio, opened to a take of just over $20 million at the domestic box office. A healthy haul, considering the film's somewhat low profile.

The narrative takeaway here is that some storytelling formats—especially ones that could be described as “family-friendly”—are evergreen at the box office. This takeaway is underscored by the fact that Abominable opened exactly one year after the last animated movie revolving around yetis (Smallfoot), and only six months after the delightful sasquatch-centric Missing Link. Which also—wait for it—featured abominable snowmen.

Sometimes, familiarity can be a beneficial narrative trait. And it can prove to be an access point for audiences as well. Abominable is being hailed for telling a (relatively) authentic Chinese story, featuring a predominantly Asian voice cast.

Narrative familiarity continued to prove its worth with Downton Abbey, as well. The film opened to an unexpected box office bonanza last week and showed a degree of staying power at the box office over the weekend, coming in second place with $14 million. It’s demonstrating legs that track with the perception that the film is benefitting from its appeal to older cinemagoers, an oft-neglected demographic which doesn't place as much emphasis on seeing movies in their opening weekend as younger viewers.

The out-of-nowhere box office phenom Hustlers took the third spot with an $11 million weekend take, bringing its three-week total to a staggering (when you factor in the film's pre-release profile) $80 million. As with Downton Abbey, its success highlights the narrative—not to mention commercial—benefits of appealing to an underserved demographic. In this case, female cinemagoers.

It's a lesson Hollywood seems to need to learn multiple times a year, but maybe one of these days, it'll really take.

Further down the chart, a film that is sure to be front-and-center come awards season, made an impact in limited release: the Renée Zellweger-starring Judy, in which the Oscar®-winner plays Hollywood legend Judy Garland.

The film took in $3 million on 461 screens, and more importantly, generated a lot of early conversation about Zellweger being on track to take home a second Academy Award®. It's not ideal in a creative sense, but it's clear a huge driver of big screen narrative is any given film's potential to procure awards for its cast.

Beyond the box office results, there was some entertainment news being discussed over the weekend that provides some notable narrative takeaways: it emerged late last week that Disney and Sony had patched up their differences to allow the current incarnation of Spider-Man (played by Tom Holland) to appear in two more Marvel Cinematic Universe films. One is a Spidey-centric movie, and the other will be a core MCU film in which Spider-Man's exit from the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be explained.

The above says a lot about how the modern audience views recurrent characters on the big screen: we never used to talk about “current incarnations” or debate which universes characters exist in, but that is the nature of modern populist storytelling. That the machinations behind such decisions now play out in the public eye is also notable also. It's no longer just the stories themselves that define characters, but also the stories behind the stories. There's no denying that the drama around whether or not Spider-Man will get to remain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe affects the audience's enjoyment of the resulting narratives—it's human nature to cherish something more if you know you may lose it.

What it does do is place an extra onus on the tellers of those stories to move beyond the off-screen drama and get us to be believe in the characters on the big screen. It's a task MCU head and producer Kevin Feige has proven highly adept at. He's the most famous big screen storyteller around, and he doesn't have a single screenplay credit to his name.

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