UPDATED, Friday PM: “Youve got to hand it to STX, they cast this one up,” complimented a rival major studio marketing boss on how the Burbank, CA mini-major assembled Hustlers. Theres a star who appeals to every female moviegoer in this pic, and they bring their own cadre of fans: not just Jennifer Lopez, but Constance Wu and her Crazy Rich Asians and Fresh Off the Boat crowd, Cardi Bs followers and Lili Reinhart and her Riverdale gang. Tracking services saw the Hustlers wave coming, and, boy, were they right, with the Lorene Scafaria film now seeing an awesome, over-indexed opening of $32.5M, the best domestic debut ever for five-year-old STX and for a Lopez live-action film. Friday is bigger than the $11M we spotted earlier now at $13M (including Thursday $2.5M previews). For Wu, its bigger than her Crazy Rich Asians 3-day of $26.5M, and not far from that pics $35.2M five-day opening.
Yeah, yeah, New Lines It Chapter Two is still No. 1 with $40.1M, -56% in weekend 2, but thats a franchise and we always knew that pic was guaranteed to have a two-week grip on the top spot. Hustlers is more exciting to talk about. The pics success further underscores how low-to-mid-budget films, which were largely beaten down by Disney IP this summer, still work when they avoid a monster on the calendar; that streaming hasnt gobbled up every genre, and that moviegoers still leave the house to see original, intriguing fare. It helps when the pic is built for one particular strong demo: women and multi-cultural audiences. Its been STXs mission to develop product thats geared toward a specific demo, at less than major studio prices, and over-perform. Heres Hustlers at a production cost of $20.7M as an example of everything STX stands for. Bravo. Other major studios are envious of STX this weekend: They wish they had a little cash cow like Hustlers, especially Warner Bros. whose feature adaptation of Pulitzer-prize winning drama The Goldfinch is rusting with $2.7M at 2,542 theaters.
At Deadlines TIFF podcast for Hustlers, Lopez producer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas detailed how STX motion picture chair Adam Fogelson completely understood Scafarias vision. While the producers and the filmmaker received notes from rival male studio execs that suggested the strippers should only drug bad guys, Fogelson got why that shouldnt be the case. Not to mention –and the casting and social media power of Hustlers speaks to this– Fogelson knows how to eventize a movie (in all fairness, STX tried to stunt UglyDolls with its pop star cast of Pitbull, Janelle Monae and Kelly Clarkson, but the IP didnt fly with families).
Hustlers boasts a social media universe across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube views, Facebook of 432.8M which “is very rare for a drama crime title” says social media analyst RelishMix. In regards to social media followers, Lopez, Wu, Reinhart, Cardi B, Lizzo and more count close to 320M alone; thats free PR and marketing when it comes to propping Hustlers, and theyve all been active promoting the film. Viral video rate for Hustlers materials is 15:1, above the crime drama average, off 11 official clips. The pic is clocking 60K YouTube views daily, ahead of the genres 22K average.
“The campaign has done a fine job of leveraging its non-traditional story, its immensely social cast and promoted very efficiently over the past two months,” praises RelishMix about STXs digital push for Hustlers, especially in the last two weeks.
In regards to the buzz for the pic on social, RelishMix says, “Fans of the Hustlers cast have been sharing trailers and stories related to the film for weeks. The official trailer debuted on July 17, only two months prior to the movies opening. But, sneak looks on social media and Lopezs interviews about the dancing and her pole installed in her home fed lots of speculation. So, the positive side for Hustlers is comprised of fans of the cast calling out their favorite co-stars or from moviegoers that like the materials, the TIFF reviews and the idea of women in a non-traditional business taking advantage of The Man.” Hustlers CinemaScore of a B- is a notch above Showgirls C, and the same grade as Stripteases B-. PostTrak exits remain at 3.5 stars.
The other great thing about Hustlers is that it defies a subgenre box office handicap. Stripper movies, like pirate movies before Disney made Pirates of the Caribbean, historically havent worked at the B.O. The last two major titles back in the 1990s, Showgirls and Striptease, were box office poison. We havent had a major one since then, and the fact that its not an over-saturated subgenre gave Hustlers an advantage. Add in Lopez dazzling on the pole, and audiences line up. Maybe we can credit Fifty Shades of Grey for unwinding moviegoers and making adult content more mass-appealing. In any case, wah-la, stripper movies now work at the B.O. And thats the beauty and the irony of the film business: A certain type of film doesnt work — until it does. Check out Lopezs “How I Mastered the Pole video” which drew 3.5M views:
STX has had a lot of black ink spread on its teeth this past summer as the town has swirled with rumors about their financial situation and release slate changes. What we know now is that they opened Hustlers, and did a great job getting it there. Their investors havent bailed. The half billion that they are seeking is to expand their footing in the entertainment landscape. The company has a $300 million credit facility with JP Morgan Chase for productions, an estimated $100M in the bank for operations. Hustlers is STXs second success in less than 12 months after making The Upside their first No. 1 opener with $20.3M, and their second highest grossing film of all-time ($108.2M; yes…we know, the pic was a distribution deal of Lanterns film, STX didnt have any equity in it, but the fact is team Fogelson resurrected that shelved movie several months after its TIFF premiere and marketed and distributed it to be 2019s first mass-appealing hit). Nobody wants mini-majors to die, they want them to survive, and companies like Lionsgate, STX, MGM-UA are figuring it all out in the streaming era.
And big studios like Warner Bros. are figuring out how to handle adult fare like Goldfinch theatrically in the streaming era as well. Just as we celebrate one type of drama which isnt a franchise, and pretty much counterprogramming to It Chapter Two, another drama dies, and big. The only good news is that Goldfinch isnt Nicole Kidmans worst wide release opening of all-time: That belongs to 2014s Before I Go to Sleep ($1.8M). Goldfinch, starring a huge ensemble cast that includes Nicole Kidman, Ansel Elgort, Jeffrey Wright, Sarah Paulson, etc. cost $49M (before P&A). Why make it? Because its based on a Pulitzer Prize winning bestseller. So Warners made this story about a young boy whose mother is killed in a bombing and has a life thats on par to one in a Charles Dickens novel. They hire Brooklyn director John Crowley, Oscar-winning DP Roger Deakins and Oscar-nominated Her production designer K.K. Barrett. The problem? Condensing a near 800 page novel into a 2 1/2 hour movie, one which critics found the characters too cold, the pics pace too slow and the payoff anticlimactic. New York Times critic A.O. Scott said that Goldfinch “looks and sounds like a movie without quite being one. Its more like a Pinterest page or a piece of fan art, the record of an enthusiasm that is, to the outside observer, indistinguishable from confusion.” Deadlines own Pete Hammond thought that TIFF reviewers had it out for the film, “a lot of critics will predictably review the book instead of what is on screen”. Weve heard that the pic does play well with a 50+ skewing audience. CinemaScore exits gave it a B to Rotten Tomatoes 25% Rotten. Some marketing and PR folk believe that a studio shouldnt bring a movie to TIFF unless it has the goods. I mean, look how Goldfinch got killed there. At the same time, sometimes TIFF is the only moment that a prestige film gets to shine in the sun, meaning with a big premiere and global press — even if it has zero chances of survival at the B.O. and awards season.
Industry weekend estimates: