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Over the Weekend: Spider-man Becomes First Movie to Hit $1B During Pandemic, Filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée Dies


Jean-Marc Vallee
Jean-Marc Vallée (Photo by Alan Langford)

This being my last “Over the Weekend” and it being a weekend where most of the industry is on holiday break, I thought this would be a far more compact version where I just focused on the news that Sony Pictures‘ Spider-Man: No Way Home became the first movie to hit a billion worldwide since the pandemic struck.

Unfortunately, we got the news late Sunday night that filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée, probably best-known for his Emmy-winning HBO limited series, Big Little Lies, had died suddenly at the young age of 58 at his cabin outside Quebec City. (UPDATE: It’s being reported that Vallée died of a heart attack while preparing for people coming to visit the cabin for Christmas.)

Coming from the world of music videos, Vallée directed and produced nine movies, including 2009’s The Young Victoria, but it was his 2013 film, Dallas Buyers Club, that put him on the map as he directed Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto to their first Oscar gold.  Vallée himself was nominated for his only Oscar for editing the film.  Vallée went on to direct Reese Witherspoon in her real-life drama, Wild, based on the life of Cheryl Strayed, for which both she and Laura Dern received Oscar nominations. Vallée’s next movie was Demolition with Jake Gyllenhaal, but it was his transition to television, directing the entire Big Little Lies limited series (or at least its first season) for which Vallée received two Emmys, one for his direction and another as one of the producers. Vallée then received two more Emmy nominations for its follow-up, Gillian Flynn‘s Sharp Objects, starring Amy Adams.

There aren’t any details of the cause of death but HBO released the statement, “Jean-Marc Vallée was a brilliant, fiercely dedicated filmmaker, a truly phenomenal talent who infused every scene with a deeply visceral, emotional truth,” HBO said in a statement. “He was also a hugely caring man who invested his whole self alongside every actor he directed. We are shocked at the news of his sudden death, and we extend our heartfelt sympathies to his sons, Alex and Émile, his extended family, and his longtime producing partner, Nathan Ross.” 

His producing partner, Nathan Ross, said:  “Jean-Marc stood for creativity, authenticity and trying things differently. He was a true artist and a generous, loving guy. Everyone who worked with him couldn’t help but see the talent and vision he possessed. He was a friend, creative partner and an older brother to me. The maestro will sorely be missed but it comforts knowing his beautiful style and impactful work he shared with the world will live on.”

The filmmaker is survived by his sons, Alex and Émile, and siblings Marie-Josée Vallée, Stéphane Tousignant, and Gérald Vallée.

Tom Holland in Spider-Man: No Way Home (Sony Pictures)

Getting into box office, our only other item for the day, Spider-Man: No Way Home had a huge impact last weekend when it became the third highest-opening movie of all time with $260 million, which was also more than twice the opening of the next biggest opener since the pandemic began. That was also a Sony movie, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, which opened with $90 million back in October.

Christmas weekend brought five new wide releases and Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Licorice Pizza expanding nationwide after a platform release, but Spider-Man: No Way Home remained on top of the box office despite a steep 69% tumble, which can either be accounted to the number of people who rushed out to see it last weekend, including the $50 million it made in Thursday previews; the fact that its second Friday was the notoriously slower Christmas Eve; and of course, the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID that may have kept more people at home at a time when movie theaters are normally teeming with moviegoers.

No Way Home ended up grossing $81.5 million* in its second weekend, which was still more than all but one movie made in their opening weekend this year (again, Venom), and that brought the movie’s domestic tally to $467.3 million in 12 days, meaning that it’s already the 19th highest grosser in North America with many months ahead. With that sort of drop, it’s doubtful the movie will surpass Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens or Avengers: Endgame as the top two grossers ever, but it will be eying the Top 10 all-time highest-grossing films with $600 million or more. (*Updated: Actuals have come in for the superhero movie, saying that it actually ended up making $84.5 million over the weekend, which is only a 67.5% drop.)

Even so, with the amount of money made overseas, No Way Home did indeed become the first movie during the pandemic to hit 1 billion globally, and that was after just 12 days in theaters, becoming the third-fastest movie to hit that amount. (Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame hit that amount in just five days in 2019.) No Way Home is also the first movie to hit that worldwide milestone since Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker two years ago i.e. pre-pandemic. It’s also Sony Pictures’ second-biggest movie of all time after 2019’s Spider-Man: Far from Home, which grossed $1.13 billion worldwide. (No Way Home is currently at $1.05 billion but has an entire holiday week in most countries to kick that number up a lot.) It’s also one of the only movies to reach a billion without being released in China, which may or may not happen depending on whether the government backs down and allows its release.

Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment‘s animated sequel, Sing 2, opened on Wednesday and made $8.1 million on its first day and then another $7.5 million on Thursday. That’s $17.2 million, including another $1.6 million in earlier previews, and after a slight drop on Christmas Eve, it was back in 2nd place for the weekend with an estimated $23.7 million. That is compared to the $35.3 million of the original movie over Christmas in 2016. The original movie went on to make $270.3 million domestic and another $362.1 million overseas, so we’ll have to see if and whether COVID impacts its sequel very much. (Universal has a deal with many theater chains that allows them to release movies on VOD in a certain period after its theatrical, so we’ll have to see if Sing 2 appears on VOD sometime in January or a month later. So far, it has grossed $41 million in five days, which is respectable in a year where few animated movies were given a theatrical release.

Another sequel didn’t fare even that well, as Lana Wachowski‘s sequel to her blockbuster sci-fi trilogy from the early aughts, The Matrix Resurrections, was released by Warner Bros. Pictures, once again starring Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss, joined by Yahya Abdul-Mateen IIJessica HenwickJonathan Groff, and Neil Patrick Harris. After opening with $6.4 million on Weds., it fell to $4.1 million on Thursday, and made $2.7 million on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t able to pick up as much business on Christmas Day or Sunday, so it ended up with just an estimated $12 million over the three-day weekend. That added up to just $22.5 million over its first five days, which is less than many prognosticators (including myself) thought it would make over the three-day holiday. The reason for that action sequel’s decline is far more obvious, because it was available on HBO Max at the same time it was released into 3,552 theaters and was heavily advertised by the WarnerMedia streamer, so one presumes many HBO viewers rewatched the original trilogy and then just hit “play” on the fourth part of the story. The reboot also received a “B-” CinemaScore, which is worse than the grade given to its horrible predecessor, The Matrix Revolutions, in 2003.

Another franchise prequel, Matthew Vaughn‘s The King’s Man, fared even worse, opening on Tuesday night with previews which added up to a Wednesday opening day of $2.3 million. It then took in $1.4 million on Thursday and another $6.4 million over the three-day weekend — roughly half what The Matrix made — adding up to roughly $10 million in its first five days. Considering that both of the previous movies in Vaughn’s franchise, Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kingman: The Golden Circle, each grossed more than $100 million domestically, this could signal the tragic end of a series that Disney picked up when it bought 20th Century Studios. It then delayed the movie so many times even before the COVID pandemic hit, and then a few more times after it did, opening it on a busy Christmas weekend against far stronger action fare, the movie just never stood a chance.

The Kurt Warner football biopic, American Underdog, opened on Christmas Day with previews on Christmas Eve, and it fared decently in 2,813 theaters, grossing $6.2 million in its first two days of release. Its $2,204 per-theater average in two days was better than The King’s Man in three days, and like No Way Home AND Sing 2, it received a promising “A+” CinemaScore, which clearly is no longer as rare as it once was.

As mentioned above, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest, Licorice Pizza, expanded into 786 theaters (from just four) on Christmas Day, and making $2.3 million over the weekend to take seventh place. It has grossed $3.7 million since opening in late November.

Denzel Washington directed the drama, A Journal for Jordan, starring Michael B. Jordan and Chanté Adams, and Sony released it into 2,500 theaters on Christmas Day with previews the night before. It ended up taking in $2.2 million to take eighth place, but it has a strong, inspirational story that should play well over the holidays. (Washington also starred in Joel Coen‘s The Tragedy of Macbeth with Frances McDormand, which A24 released into select theaters on Saturday but did not report box office.)

Disney’s animated Encanto took a bigger plunge than Spider-Man, dropping from second to ninth place with $2 million grossed over the Christmas weekend. It probably didn’t help that it was released on the streamer Disney+ on Christmas Eve, giving families no reason to take the kids out to see it on Christmas Day. Instead, they went to see Sing 2It has grossed $88.3 million, and it’s looking highly unlikely it will even reach $100 million with the streaming option being readily available.

The top 10 was filled out with the Bollywood cricket film, 83, released by Reliance Entertainment into 481 theaters, where it grossed $1.8 million or $3,662 per theater, better than all but the Top 2 movies in the Top 10.

The only other major new release was Pedro Almodóvar‘s Parallel Mothers, starring Penélope Cruz, which Sony Pictures Classics released into 3 theaters in New York and L.A. where it grossed $41,000 or just under $14,000 per theater.

(*Note: All of the above numbers are estimates, and they might be higher, or lower, when actuals are announced Monday afternoon, since it’s hard to determine the bump movies might normally get on the Sunday after Christmas Day. We’ll try to update this accordingly later in the day.)

Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas has written about movies for print and the internet for over 20 years, specializing in box office analysis, reviews, and interviews. Currently, he writes features for Below the Line and Above the Line, acting as Associate Editor for the former and Interim Editor for the latter.
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