It doesn't have to be all sequels and superheroes.
"The Woman King," an original war drama starring Oscar-winner Viola Davis, collected a strong $19 million in ticket sales last weekend, at least 25% more than analysts had expected. It was the best September opening for a similar film -- pedigreed, awards-oriented, based on historical events -- since Clint Eastwood's "Sully" in 2016.
"The Woman King" was released by Columbia and TriStar in 3,765 locations and carries a reported production budget of $50 million, which was co-financed by eOne. The film, about the Agojie, the all-female army of the Kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa in the 1800s, got glowing reviews after its debut at the Toronto Film Festival. It currently boasts a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And theatrical audiences seem just as enthusiastic, giving it a rare A+ CinemaScore suggesting that word of mouth will be strong in the coming weeks.
"This one has great reviews, an epic story and a great star in the lead role," said Paul Dergarabedian, Comscore's senior media analyst. "People want to go to the movie theater and audiences are back in the habit of expecting new movies in theaters."
The film is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood from a screenplay by Dana Stevens. The trailer and other preview materials for the film prompted calls for a boycott on social media over concerns that it glossed over or ignored aspects of the slave trade. But "The Woman King" received rapturous reviews.
With little competition for older ticket buyers in the weeks ahead, "The Woman King" could ultimately generate in the vicinity of $100 million in the United States and Canada, box office analysts said. "These movies play to healthy multiples during their holdover weeks," said David Gross, who runs Franchise Entertainment Research, a film consultancy.
About 58% of the audience for "The Woman King" was older than 35, according to Columbia, with 39% older than 45. Black moviegoers made up 59% of the audience, with white ticket buyers the second-largest group.
The R-rated "Barbarian" (20th Century Studios) was second at the domestic box office over the weekend, with about $6.3 million in ticket sales, for a two-week total of $20.9 million. The low-budget slasher prequel "Pearl" (A24) arrived in third place, collecting $3.1 million.
It was a jam-packed week for new releases at the domestic box office that included the A24 horror prequel "Pearl"; Searchlight's starry mystery pic "See How They Run"; NEON's David Bowie documentary "Moonage Daydream"; Paramount and Miramax's "Confess, Fletch," with Jon Hamm; and Focus Features' "The Silent Twins." But even though most boasted good reviews, it was still a slower week for the business overall.
"See How They Run," a 1950s-set murder mystery with Saoirse Ronan and Sam Rockwell, is estimating a $3.1 million domestic debut from 2,404 locations.
Ti West's "Pearl" also took in estimated $3.1 million. A24 released the film starring Mia Goth as a farmgirl who dreams of movie stardom on 2,935 screens. The first film "X" opened $4.3 million in March and the studio has already greenlit a third film, "MaXXXine."
Brett Morgen's Bowie documentary "Moonage Daydream," meanwhile, debuted exclusively on IMAX screens this weekend, where it made $1.2 million in North America and landed in 10th place.
"This may not be a blockbuster-filled corridor, but this [was] a great weekend," Dergarabedian said. "There's all this talk of the post summer doldrums or slowdown, but there's a lot of new movies out there. You just have to look for the gems."
This week will see the release of Olivia Wilde's much-discussed "Don't Worry Darling," which could give a boost to the box office. But blockbuster numbers likely won't return until October and even November when the superhero movies return with "Black Adam" and "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."