Universal’s critically acclaimed astronaut drama First Man faltered in its box-office blastoff, grossing $16.5 million from 3,640 theaters to come in well behind holdovers Venom and A Star Is Born. The hope now is that the adult-skewing film will be buoyed by a slow burn throughout awards season.
Conversely, Sony’s Venom, which stayed No. 1 as it crossed $378 million globally, and Warner Bros.’ A Star Is Born continued to rock the October box office in their sophomore outings with an estimated domestic payload of $35.7 million and $28 million, respectively. Venom fell less than expected at 56 percent, while Star Is Born dipped 35 percent.
Reuniting Oscar-winning filmmaker Damien Chazelle with his La La Land star Ryan Gosling, First Man is a visceral retelling of Neil Armstrong’s journey to the moon in 1969. Heading into the weekend, the biographical drama was tracking to open in the $18 million-$20 million range (some services had it slightly higher). Audiences liked the film less than critics, giving it a B+ CinemaScore.
“Our core audience, adult males, don’t necessarily run out on opening weekend,” says Jim Orr, Universal’s president of domestic distribution, noting that males made up 56 percent of ticket buyers, while more than half of the audience was over the age of 35. “We’ll have a great run for weeks and months to come.”
Internationally, First Man took in $8.6 million from its first 22 markets, led by the U.K. ($3.1 million), where it placed behind A Star Is Born ($3.8 million). That puts its global launch at $25.1 million.
During the publicity tour for First Man, there was a dust-up over Chazelle’s decision not to show the famous image of Armstrong planting the American flag.
Comparisons to La La Land (2016) or Chazelle’s Whiplash (2014) are tough, since both of those movies debuted first in select cinemas. First Man, costing a gross $70 million to produce (and $60 million net), co-stars Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll and Lukas Haas.
One comparison Universal is using internally is Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning Argo, which started off with $19.5 million in October 2012, and 2015’s Bridge of Spies ($15.4 million). First Man is expected to be more of an adult-skewing title than the space epics Gravity (2013) or The Martian (2015), which likewise launched in October, opening to $55.8 million and $54.3 million, respectively.