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People Really Want a Good Shark Movie

Moviegoers craved another ‘Jaws’ wannabe, and they came in droves at feeding time. 
By  · Published on August 13th, 2018

Moviegoers craved another ‘Jaws’ wannabe, and they came in droves at feeding time.

Not only did The Meg devour the competition at the box office over the weekend, but the movie did double the business that experts were anticipating. Back in early June, trackers at Box Office Pro forecast a mere 1.5 million tickets being sold for The Meg. Earlier this month, they bumped up their prediction to a gross equivalent to 2.5 million. Last week, the number dipped to about 2.3 million. The actual opening weekend attendance for The Meg? According to Box Office Mojo: 4.7 million people.

That’s the best debut for any sort of “terror in the water” movie by a good measure. Outside of animated fare such as Finding Nemo and Shark Tale, The Meg also takes the record for best opening for a movie involving sharks. The triumph was a long time coming, as the previous champion was Jaws 3D, which debuted to about 4.3 million people way back in 1983. Before that, Jaws 2 sold 4.2 million tickets in its first few days — of course, that was remarkably achieved with only 640 screens showing the sequel.

Moviegoers took the bait hard with The Meg, which was marketed very well by Warner Bros. Maybe as too much of something it’s not, unfortunately. That resulted in the movie only earning a B+ grade from first-night audiences via CinemaScore polling. While it’s certainly not as bad as the C- given to Jaws: The Revenge 31 years ago, or the C grades earned by last summer’s 47 Meters Down and 2011’s Shark Night 3D, there was definitely some disappointment had by some of the crowd. Still, even The Shallows was graded B+ two years back. Shark movie fans may just want something they’re never going to get. Basically, another entry as good as the original Jaws.

The effect of such disappointment can also be seen in the drop in attendance already experienced by The Meg in just its first few days. Following an impressive wave of almost half a million people seeing the movie on Thursday night, tickets were selling in a frenzy on Friday to the tune of 1.8 million (that includes the Thursday night crowd). But the number should have gone up a good deal on Saturday. Instead, it went down ever so slightly to 1.7 million. Sunday’s attendance was, surprisingly, only 1.2 million.

That’s not the worst Friday to Sunday drop (it’s a 2.67x multiplier, where studios like to see a 3.00x). Whether the majority of the audience drawn in by ads teasing a spectacularly fun B movie all dove in as early as they could or word of mouth curbed some of that crowd from heading out the next two days, the easy presumption now is that The Meg won’t float for too long. Despite having the best opening weekend for a shark movie, it won’t even come close to having one of the biggest overall domestic turnouts for the subgenre.

Of course, either way, The Meg is expectedly doing very well overseas. Even with the movie’s astounding domestic debut, that figure is only 31% of its worldwide gross compared to the foreign ticket sales. The subgenre has mostly brought international grosses on par with or slightly better than the domestic numbers (Piranha 3D made about 70% of its money overseas, however), so this one is outdoing the norm. Chalk it up to a combination of bigger and better special effects, a very enticing ad campaign, and partly Jason Statham’s star power.

As far as movies doing well mostly thanks to one person’s star power, BlacKkKlansman proved that Spike Lee is still a relevant filmmaker. His latest brought his best opening weekend attendance in more than a decade, and ignoring his biggest movie (Inside Man), ticket sales are so far pretty close to the norm of Lee’s peak fame years. And that’s with the same modest-size theater count as his movies got back then. So the per-screen average (which was one of the best for its weekend) is similar to movies like Clockers and Summer of Sam.

Here’s a look at Lee’s movie attendance through his career, with opening weekend ticket sales and domestic totals:

She’s Gotta Have It (1986): 7,700 — 1.9 million
School Daze (1988): 438,600 — 3.5 million
Do the Right Thing (1989): 897,600 — 6.9 million
Mo’ Better Blues (1990): 1 million — 3.8 million
Jungle Fever (1991): 1.3 million — 7.7 million
Malcolm X (1992): 2.4 million — 11.6 million
Crooklyn (1994): 1 million — 3.3 million
Clockers (1995): 1 million — 3 million
Girl 6 (1996): 562,400 — 1.1 million
Get on the Bus (1996): 487,900 — 1.3 million
He Got Game (1998): 1.6 million — 4.6 million
Summer of Sam (1999): 1.2 million — 3.8 million
Bamboozled (2000): 35,400 — 0.4 million
25th Hour (2002): 18,700 — 2.2 million
She Hate Me (2004): 8,900 — 0.06 million
Inside Man (2006): 4.4 million — 13.5 million
Miracle at St. Anna (2008): 484,400 — 1.1 million
Red Hook Summer (2012): 5,200 — 0.04 million
Oldboy (2013): 106,000 — 0.3 million
Chi-Raq (2015): 137,800 — 0.3 million
BlacKkKlansman (2018): 1.2 million — n/a

BlacKkKlansman is also definitely going to have better legs than, say, The Meg. Not only is the movie Lee’s best-reviewed narrative feature ever with a 97% fresh Rotten Tomatoes score (his documentary 4 Little Girls is the only thing better, at 100%, though Do the Right Thing does win overall according to Metacritic), and not only did it receive Lee’s third-best CinemaScore grade with an A- (both Malcolm X and Get on the Bus received an A, while most of his movies were not graded), but it also had a very desirable 2.99x multiplier from Friday to Sunday.

In other box office news, Slender Man didn’t do so bad considering its dismal reviews and near-F grade via CinemaScore (its D- is pretty awful), though its attendance was heavily frontloaded on Friday (2.33x multiplier) and the horror movie will surely drop substantially next weekend. Meanwhile, the family film Dog Days bombed hard in 12th place with one of the worst debuts for a wide release of its size this year. Yet it received decent reviews and a CinemScore grade of A- so maybe it will find its audience over time if enough fans share positive buzz.

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 Meg – 4.7 million (4.7 million)
2. Mission: Impossible – Fallout – 2.1 million (17.3 million)
3. Christopher Robin – 1.3 million (5.3 million)
4. Slender Man – 1.21 million (1.2 million)
5. BlacKkKlansman – 1.15 million (1.2 million)
6. The Spy Who Dumped Me – 0.7 million (2.6 million)
7. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again – 0.62 million (11.1 million)
8. The Equalizer 2 – 0.59 million (9.6 million)
9. Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation – 0.5 million (15.7 million)
10. Ant-Man and the Wasp – 0.4 million (21.7 million)

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

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.