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Box Office: ‘Clifford’ Earns Doggone Decent $22M Debut

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at January 1, 1970

It was good news/ba… well, not quite “bad news,” but questionable news for Paramount this weekend. The good news is that their surprisingly winning Clifford: The Big Red Dog overperformed over the weekend with a robust $16.42 million Fri-Sun/$22.001 million Wed-Sun debut weekend. The “bad news,” relatively speaking, is that this “business as usual” debut implies that they didn’t need to delay their other 2021 releases into next year. Sure, maybe Tom Cruise didn’t want to fly around the world promoting Top Gun: Maverick in these conditions, but I’d argue Jackass Forever would have performed fine (relative to shifting expectations and a changed industry a decade after Jackass 3-D opened with a stunning $52 million in October 2011) had it remained in October as intended. Oh well, let’s stay positive for the moment.

With Top Gun: Maverick moved to Memorial Day weekend 2022 and Ghostbusters: Afterlife taking its previous November 19 slot, Paramount’s Clifford: The Big Red Dog was the top newbie over the weekend. The $64 million-budgeted comedy earned more in its Fri-Sun frame than did Tom & Jerry ($14 million in February while on HBO Max) and Paw Patrol ($13 million in August while on Paramount+). Despite Clifford also being available on Paramount+, and despite not containing even a single scene where Clifford rampages through the city, destroying the infrastructure and killing hundreds, before doing battle with another giant dog, this opening is on par with how it would have opened in non-Covid times. Credit an A from Cinemascore and that fact that the Walt Becker-directed flick is (DVD box quote…) surprisingly charming and utterly painless-for-adults.

Jokes aside, the adaptation of Norman Bridwell’s children’s book series offers a level-headed sincerity that isn’t concerned with being hip or topical in its humor. Darcy Camp stars alongside Jack Whitehall, John Cleese and Tony Hale, and the bright, vibrant, film is certainly much better than (offhand) Yogi BearAlvin and the Chipmunks or Tom & Jerry. I’d argue decent legs for this one save for the battering ram of kid-targeted flicks (Ghostbusters: Afterlife next week and Disney’s terrific Encanto over Thanksgiving). But if Clifford can weather the late-November storm, it’s clear sailing until Sing 2 (which I’m seeing this afternoon) at Christmas and we can expect and over/under $65 million domestic total. There is clearly a market for “in theaters and on streaming” kid-specific titles, as long as the budget is kept in check.

The only other “big” opener was Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast. The well-reviewed and thus-far well-received Focus Features release, loosely based on his childhood growing up during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, has been pegged as a “by default” Oscar frontrunner. It’s a movie that everyone likes even if not everyone loves. It’s an absolutely rock-solid character dramedy, with strong performances (including meaty turns from Caitríona Balfe, Ciarán Hinds and Jamie Dornan) and a cultural specificity which makes it all the more universal. The picture opened with $1.8 million over the weekend from a $640,000 Friday in 580 theaters. Oscar buzz notwithstanding, a star-free, black-and-white coming-of-age period piece drama was never going to break big on opening weekend, but its 2.8x multiplier is encouraging. Focus is clearly relying on strong word-of-mouth and long awards-season legs for this crowdpleaser.

Meanwhile, Fathom Events is reporting that their Thursday night showing of Rocky IV: Rocky Vs. Drago, was their most successful “live” event in 18 months. I wasn’t able to get actual grosses out of them, but there were sellouts at least in my general Ventura/LA area and the crowd was absolutely into it. The 91-minute director’s cut, which includes 40 minutes of deleted scenes, alternate takes and different editing choices (cut out most of the 80’s-era camp and jingoism), was released on digital this past Friday. It’s currently 14th on Amazon and sixth on iTunes. Rocky IV earned a then-stunning $31 million Wed-Sun Thanksgiving debut in 1985, ending with $127 million domestic and $300.4 million worldwide, right between Rambo: First Blood part II ($150 million/$300 million) and Back to the Future ($211 million/$381 million) for the year.

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