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Taylor Swift bests Martin Scorsese at box office, but Killers Of The Flower Moon opens strongly

In a movie match-up almost as unlikely as Barbie and Oppenheimer, Martin Scorsese took on Taylor Swift in cinemas over the weekend. And while the North American box office belonged for a second time to Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, Scorsese’s Killers Of The Flower Moon got off to a strong start in Apple Studios’ first major theatrical gambit.

After a record-breaking opening weekend of US$92.8 million (S$127.4 milion), Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour took in an estimated US$31 million over the weekend from 3,855 locations, according to AMC Theaters. In an unconventional deal, the theatre chain is distributing Swift’s concert film, and playing it only Thursdays through Sundays.

Most Swifties rushed to see the film on opening weekend, when a large per cent of sales were driven by advance ticketing. Sales dropped a steep 67 per cent in its second weekend, potentially signifying that The Eras Tour was predominantly an opening-weekend phenomenon.

But The Eras Tour has still proved to be a movie event unlike any other. Within days, it became the highest grossing concert film ever in North America, not accounting for inflation. It’s quickly accumulated US$129.8 million domestically.

More was riding on Killers Of The Flower Moon, a historical crime drama about a string of murders against the Osage nation in the early 1920s. The film, which cost at least US$200 million to make, is the largest production yet from Apple Studios. The streamer partnered with Paramount Pictures to release Scorsese’s adaptation of David Grann’s bestseller in 3,628 theatres, with plans to later stream it on a not-yet-announced date on Apple TV+.

Killers Of The Flower Moon debuted with US$23 million, marking the third best opening for the 80-year-old Scorsese, following Shutter Island (US$41 million in 2010) and The Departed (US$26.9 million in 2006). Though Scorsese’s latest opus, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone and Robert De Niro, will have a hard road to reaching profitability, it’s a successful launch for a 206-minute-long adult-skewing drama – a type of movie that, outside Oppenheimer, has struggled mightily at the box office in recent years.

And Killers Of The Flower Moon, with rave reviews, an “A-” CinemaScore from audiences and the backing of a robust Oscar campaign, should continue to play well over the long haul. It added US$21 million overseas.

Killer Of The Flower Moon also marks the best wide-release debut for a film from a streaming company. While Netflix (which backed Scorsese’s last narrative feature, The Irishman, in 2019) has charted a mostly limited approach to theatrical release, Apple and Amazon, which last year closed its purchase of MGM, have pursued more expansive theatrical strategies.

Earlier this year, Apple said it plans to spend US$1 billion a year making movies that will have theatrical releases before reaching its streaming service. Apple is also behind Ridley Scott’s upcoming Napoleon, with Joaquin Phoenix, which Sony Pictures will distribute Nov 22, and has partnered with Universal for Matthew Vaughn’s Argylle, due out Feb 2.

Paramount had initially signed on to produce and distribute Killers Of The Flower Moon, but transitioned into the deal with Apple when costs of project, shot during the pandemic, rose.

“If ‘flexibility’ is the new mantra of the theatrical movie business, then this is a significant success – it establishes a viable option for the companies,” David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, said of the Killers Of The Flower Moon launch.

As dissimilar as Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour and Killers Of The Flower Moon are, they’re alike in their extended run times. A double feature of the weekend’s top two movies would have taken you six hours and 14 minutes, not counting ads and trailers.

Killers Of The Flower Moon also reeled in more young moviegoers than you might have expected. Paramount said 44 per cent of ticket buyers were under the age of 30.

Exorcist: The Believer, the horror sequel directed by David Gordon Green, came in a distant third with US$6.7 million in its third weekend of release. The Universal, Blumhouse film has grossed US$54.2 million domestically.

PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie came in at No 4 with US$4.3 million in its fourth weekend. The fifth spot went to the rerelease of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, which collected US$4.1 million 30 years after it first landed in theatres.

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