Denzel Washington's First Sequel Pays Off

Here's hoping we can now have another helping of 'The Equalizer.'

Denzel Equalizer

Here’s hoping we can now have another helping of ‘The Equalizer.’

Despite what the Rotten Tomatoes scores show, The Equalizer 2 is even better than The Equalizer. It’s not a perfect movie, and it’s understandable that even among our writers, opinions of the sequel are very different, but returning director Antoine Fuqua, writer Richard Wenk, and star Denzel Washington know what they’re doing as far as delivering a satisfying low-key follow-up to a niche character-driven action movie based on an old TV series. Mission: Impossible – Fallout has its lead doing what he does best, and The Equalizer 2 has its lead doing what he does best: waxing wise while methodically taking out bad guys. And those of us who like movies like this were far from disappointed.

How often do sequels earn better CinemaScore grades than the original, anyway? Opening night audiences for The Equalizer 2 — that would be the fans of the first movie (and/or Denzel) who needed to see the second one as soon as possible — gave the movie an ‘A’ via CinemaScore polling. The Equalizer received an ‘A-‘ back in 2014. For the record, other sequels that audiences apparently felt were improvements, according to CinemaScore, include Lethal Weapon 2, Toy Story 2, X-Men 2, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, 22 Jump Street, Magic Mike XXL, John Wick: Chapter 2, Addams Family Values, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, which itself was then topped by its follow-up, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

So the fans are glad Denzel returned for another installment — his first sequel ever. How did that translate to box office attendance over the opening weekend? According to Box Office Mojo, The Equalizer 2 came in first place in its debut with about 3.8 million tickets sold. That’s a bit below the 4.2 million people the first installment attracted four years ago. But the sequel, which overshot its expectations, actually picked up as the weekend went on. After coming in second place on Friday, behind fellow number-two Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, The Equalizer 2 dominated Saturday and Sunday, the latter seeing more tickets sold for the Equalizer sequel than the original sold on its own first Sunday. Not only is the core audience for this happy, they may be telling their friends.

Denzel is a one of a kind movie star these days. When he’s not garnering Oscar recognition for even his lesser-reviewed awards-season dramas, he’s filling a good amount of seats for solo vehicles. The Equalizer movies aren’t his biggest debuts. But they are up there. The first installment has only been topped, attendance-wise, by American Gangster (6.3 million), Safe House (5.1 million), Inside Man (4.4 million), and Crimson Tide (4.3 million). The sequel has also been topped by The Book of Eli (4.1 million), The Pelican Brief (4.1 million), The Magnificent Seven (4.1 million), Training Day (4 million), and Remember the Titans (3.9 million). For the most part, the numbers are pretty consistent for his wide releases.

Given that Sony didn’t really beef up the budget for the sequel (reportedly it remained around the $60 million price tag), The Equalizer 2 will probably be on par with the original as far as its profits go. Especially if the international box office is favorable (according to Box Office Mojo, Sony is already reporting a 30% increase in tickets sales in certain foreign territories over the original). Can we expect a “Threequelizer”? If Denzel wants to return for another, which would probably depend on the script. The actor has claimed it’s not a big deal that he finally did a sequel with The Equalizer 2, just that this was the first of maybe three times where he was asked where it made sense (Safe House 2 didn’t) and also panned out (Inside Man 2 was almost his first).

Wenk, who wrote both Equalizer movies, has already been thinking about a third. “The idea is to have an international setting,” he told Variety on the red carpet at the Equalizer 2 premiere. “[Robert McCall has] made peace, and he’s on to bigger adventures. We had so much mystery in the first movie that was never explained, and the second movie is more personal. There’s certainly enough for at least one more movie.” And it’s certainly now a safe bet for the studio, far more than their aims for superhero franchises and other attempts at presumptive “sure things” like Men in Black and Ghostbusters reboots. Plus an international setting is often great for international box office gross. I give Sony 16 seconds to make the right decision here on The Equalizer 3.

Could Mamma Mia! also go again? In other box office news, the other new sequel similarly debuted just slightly below the original. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again sold about 3.7 million tickets over the weekend in its debut, compared to the original’s 3.9 million exactly a decade ago. The follow-up musical did cost a bit more, but there’s a chance it could also make an even greater amount overseas (the first grossed 76% of its total box office outside North America). Obviously, members of the cast are saying they want to do another, because it’s probably a lot of fun to hang out on a Mediterranean island and sing ABBA songs with Meryl Streep. Of course, everyone also agrees they should get Mamma Mia! Part 3 out quicker than another 10 years later.

Here are the past weekend’s top 10 titles by the number of tickets sold with new titles in bold and totals in parentheses:

1. The Equalizer 2 – 3.8 million (3.8 million)
2. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again – 3.7 million (3.7 million)
3. Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation – 2.5 million (9.7 million)
4. Ant-Man and the Wasp – 1.8 million (17.6 million)
5. Incredibles 2 – 1.3 million (59.5 million)
6.Skyscraper – 1.21 million (5 million)
7. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – 1.2 million (41 million)
8. The First Purge – 0.5 million (6.4 million)
9. Unfriended: Dark Web – 0.4 million (0.4 million)
10. Sorry to Bother You – 0.3 million (1.1 million)

All non-forecast box office data via Box Office Mojo.

Christopher began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called 'Read,' back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials.