The Incredible Box Office Evolution of ‘John Wick’

Finally knocking Avengers: Endgame off the throne, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum topped the box office over the weekend. And the sequel overperformed substantially, at that. Not only did the movie open better than the previous two John Wick movies, but Chapter 3 sold more tickets in North America in its first three days (plus Thursday night previews) than the first John Wick sold in its entire domestic release.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum drew 6.3 million fans in its debut, compared to the original’s opening weekend attendance of 1.7 million and its total domestic attendance of 5.2 million. John Wick: Chapter 2 sold a little more than half as many tickets as Chapter 3 in its own debut, with 3.4 million. That first sequel capped out around 10.4 million people at home. Chapter 3 has also already grossed more worldwide than the first movie, $93.3 million versus $88.8 million and will surely quickly beat Chapter 2‘s global total of $171.5 million.

Who foresaw the John Wick franchise leaping so far into blockbuster movie territory with the latest installment? Back in March, Box Office Pro made a long-range forecast of somewhere between $30-40 million, which would be closer to the attendance of Chapter 2‘s opening (maybe a little more with around 3.5 million). Last weekend, the same site was a lot closer to the actual figure, predicting anywhere between $44-59 million. Chapter 3 did $56.8 million, almost the top of the range.

While the new movie’s reviews were on par with the rest, its 88% Rotten Tomatoes score falling between the 2014 original’s 86% and the 2017 follow-up’s 89%, critical favor was not likely too influential on this series ramping up so much on its third installment. Chapter 3‘s Cinemascore grade of ‘A-,’ the result of polling opening-night moviegoers, which is equal to that of Chapter 2 and better than the first movie’s ‘B’ grade, this only guarantees the latest sequel will continue to perform well in theaters.

Movie franchises escalating in box office success isn’t a rarity, of course, and really it’s traditional for the third movie to do very well and then for the series to begin a dive with the fourth part (too bad for that teased John Wick: Chapter 4!). There are plenty of precedents where a small comedy or action movie breaks out but mostly finds its audience on home video and then sequels arrive and turn the property into a blockbuster. But with such an exponential increase?

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery was pretty much an indie film, then its first sequel, Austin Powers; The Spy Who Shagged Me nearly sold as many tickets in its first weekend as the original sold its whole North American theatrical run. Later, the third movie, Austin Powers in Goldmember, did, in fact, top the first movie’s total in its debut. It’s surprising that there was never an Austin Powers 4.

Before that was Robert Rodriguez’s Mexico Trilogy, which kicked off with the tiny indie El Mariachi. The sequel Desperado easily sold more tickets in its debut than the first movie’s lifetime total, and that was followed by Once Upon a Time in Mexico, which has the distinction of having the most-improved box office of a second sequel over the first. Other movie franchises with significant jumps include Clerks, The Evil Dead, and the Fast and the Furious, if we look at just the bounce beginning from part four (Fast & Furious) onward.

John Wick may want to quit while he’s ahead, unless it does manage to go the F&F route with new directions, including spinoffs, the planned TV series, and sequels that expand in ways that they don’t seem to be in the same franchise as the original — John Wick: Chapter 3 is already a whole different kind of movie than the first installment. If it keeps on getting bigger in scope and adding crazier and crazier set pieces, perhaps John Wick can continue to evolve into a billion-dollar franchise, too.

In other box office news, A Dog’s Journey did not have the same kind of luck with the furthering of its franchise. The new W. Bruce Cameron adaptation sold only about 900,000 tickets in its debut compared to A Dog’s Purpose drawing an opening-weekend crowd of 2.1 million. Perhaps it’s A Dog‘s franchise fatigue or confusion over there already being an unrelated Cameron adaptation out earlier this year called A Dog’s Way Home, which opened with 1.2 million tickets sold.

Here are the weekend’s estimated top 12 domestic release titles by the number of tickets sold with new and newly wide titles in bold and totals in parentheses:

1. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum – 6.3 million (6.3 million)
2. Avengers: Endgame — 3.3 million (85.6 million)
3. Pokémon: Detective Pikachu – 2.8 million (10.5 million)
4. A Dog’s Journey – 0.9 million (0.9 million)
5. The Hustle — 0.7 million (2.6 million)
6. The Intruder – 0.5 million (3.1 million)
7. Long Shot — 0.4 million (2.8 million)
8. The Sun Is Also a Star – 0.3 million (0.3 million)
9. Poms— 0.24 million (1.1 million)
10. UglyDolls — 0.198 million (1.9 million)
11. Breakthrough — 0.12 million (4.3 million)
12. The Curse of La Llorona — 0.099 million (5.9 million)

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

Christopher Campbell: @thefilmcynic 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.