Seeking distraction after a long week of politics, Americans hit the cineplex this weekend, uniting in the name of hot popcorn and cold theaters.
Voting with their dollars, audiences made Marvel origin story Doctor Strange their top pick. The superhero movie won the box office for a second weekend in a row, pulling in $43 million for a domestic total of $153 million. The Benedict Cumberbatch-led film has earned almost a half-billion dollars worldwide ($492.6 million).
"Escapism was the order of the day," says Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. "This is definitely people getting out of their post-election blues — or euphoria. But people just really wanted to get away from politics this weekend."
With Veterans Day falling on a Friday, the weekend was up a whopping 46% compared to a year ago. "There's no better way to unplug and avoid politics than to go out to the movies for a couple of hours. It's a sanctuary," says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore.
Family-friendly animation soared with Trolls repeating in the No. 2 spot with $35.1 million (and $94 million total). And thanks to strong reviews and a 93% positive reviews on aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, the new sci-fi film Arrival, starring Amy Adams, had a solid launch at No. 3 with $24 million.
"Word of mouth was really big for this film, and, obviously, the trailers did a great job building up suspense," says Bock. "It didn’t give a lot away. Arrival was sort of clouded in mystery."
The diversity of box-office offerings is key to competing with streaming services, analysts say. "Right now, it’s a veritable Thanksgiving feast of movies in theaters," says Dergarabedian, noting that Veterans Day alone was up 80% from the same Friday last year. "This is the kind of lineup that can draw people out of their houses and into the movie theater."
With Thanksgiving around the corner, the holiday spirit started early with Almost Christmas, "the first real Christmas movie of the season," says Dergarabedian. The comedy/drama about a dysfunctional family gathering made its debut at No. 4 with $15.6 million.
Rounding out the weekend's top five was Mel Gibson's World War II drama Hacksaw Ridge, which earned $10.8 million ($32.3 million total).
Art-house fare remained strong, with the coming-of-age film Moonlight continuing to climb (earning $1.4 million this weekend, for $4.8 million total). In limited release, interracial love story Loving earned $532,000 in 46 theaters, while French-language film Elle earned $56,000 in two theaters in its first weekend.
Ang Lee's Iraq War drama Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk kicked off in just two theaters with $120,000, a strong per-theater average of $60,000.
Final figures are expected Monday.