In new release news for Friday, Sony and 300 Pictures’ Where the Crawdads Sing posted $7.25 million on Friday, including $2.3 million in Thursday previews. That positions the Daisy Edgar-Jones vehicle, based upon a very popular (12 million copies sold) Delia Owens novel, for a solid $17 million debut weekend. Considering the film, produced by Reese Witherspoon and Lauren Neudstadter and featuring a new song from Taylor Swift, cost just $24 million, that’s an excellent start. Considering it’s the first and only “big” movie this summer aimed at adult women (an embarrassing bit of trivia), we can expect solid legs for this old-school potboiler/melodrama. The film, about a young woman raising herself in the marshlands after being left alone with her abusive father, is a stand-alone, character-focused “movie” aimed at adults sans any franchise aspirations.
It’s no secret that I’ve subconsciously graded “just a movie” releases on a comparative curve over the last several years. If we want theatrical movies that exist within their artistic vacuum, that feature exciting actors playing interesting characters amid interesting (and not always morally ideal) narrative circumstances, it doesn’t help to react to any unusual/unique/unconventional/immoral plot turn or character reveal as it’s the craziest or most offensive thing to ever occur in the history of cinema. This isn’t 1996 when a movie like Space Jam stood out alongside Ransom, Michael and Jerry Maguire. Now that almost every big movie is essentially Space Jam, the next Space Jam no longer gets afforded a “Wow, a big-budget, spectacular fantasy flick” handicap. Conversely, every theatrical studio programmer now feels like an accidental gift to be treasured and protected.
Paramount’s winning streak came to an expected end with Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank. Originally titled Blazing Samurai, this faithful animated remake of Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles couches its racism metaphorically (cats being prejudiced toward dogs). It keeps the 1974 classic’s essential moral about how rich “cats” use racism to convince poorer “cats” to ignore the clear and present danger to their survival. I saw the film when I was seven, perhaps because my parents saw how much I had enjoyed Spaceballs. It was A) the first time I heard the “n-word” and B) an early lesson in how institutional racism can be weaponized against victims of racism and other racists. They also took me to see Malcolm X on opening night when I was 12, so yes, my folks were cool.
Paws of Fury cost $45 million but was acquired by Paramount for around $10 million. Perhaps due to wanting to hide the connection to the now, uh “controversial” Cleavon Little/Gene Wilder comedy (because clearly, a movie co-written by Richard Pryor was secretly pro-racism), the trailers undersold both the clever wordplay and creative animation. It peaks in the first 20 minutes, and the “story” leads to a downturn in comedy, but it’s a painless and pleasant sit if you have kids who want to go or catch it on Paramount+ in a couple of months. Contractual obligations aside, I’m guessing this went to theaters precisely because Paramount understands that a theatrical release will juice its streaming prospects when the time comes. So, a $2.4 million Friday and $5.5 million weekend is “fine, I guess.”
Meanwhile, Focus Features’ Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris opened in 980 theaters. The Leslie Manville/Isabelle Huppert historical dramedy, based upon Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel, earned $700,000 on Friday for a likely $1.74 million opening weekend. That’s an indifferent $1,776 per-theater average, meaning those who want to see this one in theaters (I’ve heard good things and will play catch up on Monday or Tuesday) will have a few weeks to do so before it lives its primary life on VOD and Peacock. The documentary Gabby Giffords: Won’t Back Down will earn $98,000 in 302 theaters this weekend. That this documentary needs to exist 11 years after she was shot during a campaign appearance in 2011 shows how little things have changed for gun control. Hey, The Dark Knight Rises turns ten on Tuesday…