From Doctor Strange to Trolls to Denis Villeneuve's new cerebral sci-fi thriller Arrival, movies playing at the North American box office enjoyed a rare collective boost over the weekend as consumers flocked to the cinema seemingly seeking escapism following the conclusion of the 2016 presidential election and Donald Trump's surprise victory.
Arrival, starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, launched with $24 million, while holiday comedy Almost Christmas debuted nicely with $15.7 million. While neither were able to topple holdovers Doctor Strange and Trolls from the top two spots, both - and particularly Arrival - came in ahead of predictions (heading into the weekend, most thought Arrival would make $16 million).
Doctor Strange and Trolls likewise amassed more than predicted, as did a number of other holdovers. All told, domestic box-office revenue was up 45 percent to 50 percent over the same weekend last year, although this year had the advantage of Veterans Day falling on a Friday.
Marvel and Disney's Doctor Strange easily stayed at No. 1 in its sophomore outing, falling a mere 49 percent to $44 million. That's the lowest second-weekend decline among the last 10 Marvel Cinematic Universal titles, and the third-lowest among all MCU movies behind Iron Man and Thor.
"Two hours of moviegoing is like a massive, immersive group therapy session. No matter what side of the aisle you find yourself, going to the movies is a pastime that everyone can agree crosses party lines and conflicting political ideologies," said box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of comScore. "Veterans Day provided a huge 80 percent bump over the same Friday a year ago and thus the first post-election weekend will see a meteoric jump. There is no question that what the world needs now is the great escape that only the movie theater experience can provide."
Through Sunday, Doctor Strange's domestic total stands at $153 million for a global haul of $493 million after likewise topping the weekend chart overseas with another $60.2 million. (Disney has just hit its best year ever at the domestic box office with $2.3 billion, adding to its record year overseas and worldwide.)
Trolls, from DreamWorks Animation and Fox, placed No. 2 with $35.1 million for a 10-day domestic total of $94 million after declining just 25 percent, one of the lowest second-weekend drops for an animated film. Overseas, the pic took in another $18.3 million from 68 markets for a foreign total of $128.3 million and global cume of $222.3 million.
Arrival stars Adams as a linguistic expert who is recruited to communicate with aliens who have landed on Earth in mysterious pods. The initial performance of the critically acclaimed movie is a needed win for Paramount. It skewed slightly female (52 percent) and older, with 85 percent of ticket buyers over the age of 25.
Paramount worldwide president of marketing and distribution Megan Colligan agrees some sort of post-election bump was at play. "Denis Villeneuve's film is a potent reminder of what a great movie and great art can do - they can speak to our times and transcend them," she said. "This is a special film. The outpouring of love, for the film, Amy, Jeremy and the cast speaks to the power of the movie."
A number of filmmakers and stars tweeted that Arrival was a needed balm, including actress Megan Mullally: "This is a brilliant movie filled with optimism, hope for humanity and inspiration for the future. Opens today! Perfect timing."
Arrival began its life as an independent film before Paramount pre-bought North American rights to the adult drama for a record-breaking $20 million in 2014. It was produced and financed by FilmNation, Lava Bear and 21 Laps with a script by Eric Heisserer, based on Story of Your Life by author Ted Chiang. The $47 million film also stars Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg and Mark O'Brien.
Overseas, Arrival debuted to $10.2 million from its first raft of markets, where FilmNation and Sony Worldwide are divvying up distribution duties. FilmNation has the film in the U.K., where it took in $3.5 million.
Arrival came in third domestically, followed by Almost Christmas, Universal and producer Will Packer's ensemble comedy. The movie, targeting African-American audiences, stars Danny Glover as a patriarch of a large family that comes together for the holidays and deals with complicated family dynamics.
Kimberly Elise, Omar Epps, Romany Malco, Mo'Nique, Nicole Ari Parker, J.B. Smoove, Gabrielle Union, Jessie Usher and DC Young Fly also star in the pic, which grabbed an A- CinemaScore.
Rounding out the top five was director Mel Gibson's World War II drama, Hacksaw Ridge, which declined 29 percent to $10.8 million for a 10-day domestic total of $32.3 million for Lionsgate and its partners.
Even EuropaCorp's Shut In came in ahead of early projections with an estimated $3.7 million domestic debut. While it was still considered a bomb, some thought it would earn only $2.5 million. The thriller stars Naomi Watts, Oliver Platt and Jacob Tremblay.
At the specialty box office, Ang Lee's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk debuted in two theaters in New York and Los Angeles, grossing $120,300 for a theater average of $60,150. While that's the best location average of the weekend, it didn't come close to breaking any records, whether for the year or otherwise. Originally, Sony and TriStar were supposed to open Billy Lynn nationwide this weekend but dramatically curtailed its plans. Next weekend, Lee's drama will expand into a total of 800-plus theaters, which will project the film in digital, versus the groundbreaking technology Lee used.
Billy Lynn is making waves in China, however, where it launched to a stellar $11.7 million this weekend, toppling Doctor Strange to take the top perch at the box office. It also opened in other select Asian territories - including Taiwan, where Lee was born and raised, and where he has shot several of his movies - for a total weekend take of $13.2 million.
Nov. 11, 1:00 p.m. Updated with revised weekend estimates
Nov. 12, 8:15 a.m. Updated with revised weekend estimates
Nov. 13, 7:30 a.m. Updated with weekend results
Nov. 13, 8:45 a.m. A previous version of this article incorrectly characterized Doctor Strange's second weekend decline. THR regrets the error.