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Wonka ends the year at number one at the US box office

Timothee Chalamet arrives at the premiere of Wonka in Westwood, California (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Timothee Chalamet arrives at the premiere of Wonka in Westwood, California (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Hollywood closed an up and down 2023 with Wonka regaining the number one position at the US box office.

There were also strong sales for The Color Purple and an overall nine billion dollars (£7 billion) in ticket sales that improved on 2022’s grosses but fell about two billion dollars (£1.5 billion) shy of pre-pandemic norms.

The New Year’s weekend box office this year lacked a true blockbuster. Instead, a wide array of films – among them Aquaman And The Lost Kingdom, The Boys In The Boat, Migration, Ferrari, The Iron Claw and Anyone But You – sought to break out over the year’s most lucrative box-office corridor.

The top choice, though, remained Wonka, Paul King’s musical starring Timothee Chalamet as a young Willy Wonka. In its third weekend, the Warner Bros release collected an estimated 31.8 million dollars (£29.9 million). That brings the film’s domestical total to 142.5 million dollars (£112 million).

LA Premiere of “Wonka”
Hugh Grant arrives at the premiere of Wonka at the Regency Village Theatre in California (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

That beat Warner Bros’s own Aquaman And The Lost Kingdom, which, like previous DC superhero films, is struggling. James Wan’s Aquaman sequel starring Jason Momoa took in 19.5 million dollars (£15.3 million) in its second weekend to bring its two-week haul to a modest 84.7 million dollars (£66.5 million) including New Year’s Day estimates.

The original Aquaman, which ultimately surpassed 1.1 billion dollars (£0.8 billion) worldwide, had grossed 215.4 million dollars (£169 million) over a similar period in 2018 – more than double that of the sequel. Internationally, Aquaman And The Lost Kingdom added 50.5 million dollars (£39.6 million).

The Color Purple, Blitz Bazawule’s adaptation of the 2005 stage musical from Alice Walker’s novel, debuted on Monday and grossed 50 million dollars (£39 million) through the week.

The roughly 100 million-dollar production, which boasts Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and Quincy Jones (all from the 1985 film) as producers, is nominated for several Golden Globes and expected to be in the Oscar mix.

“We saw this opportunity to go wide at Christmas since there were so few movies and we were confident the movie would be well received,” said Jeffrey Goldstein, distribution chief for Warner Bros.

“Going into the competitive landscape that’s so thin in January and February, the excitement of awards season could really help ignite a bigger box office.”

Film Review – The Color Purple
Taraji P Henson, Fantasia Barrino and Danielle Brooks in a scene from The Color Purple (Warner Bros Pictures via AP)

The last weekend of the year pushed the industry past nine billion dollars in box office for the year in US and Canadian cinemas for the first time since before the pandemic. Ticket sales on the year were up 21% from 2022, according to data firm Comscore.

Still, it was a mark that seemed more easily within reach during the summer highs of Barbenheimer when both Barbie and Oppenheimer were breaking box-office records.

The enormous success of those two films changed the trajectory of Hollywood’s 2023, but so did the monthslong actors and writers strikes. Those forced the postponement of some top films (most notably Dune: Part Two), diminishing an already patchwork fall lineup with few guaranteed ticket-sellers. One exception was the last-minute addition of Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, which set a new record for concert films.

The production delays caused by the strikes could have an even greater impact on 2024. Several top releases have already been postponed until at least the following year, including Mission: Impossible and Spider-Verse sequels.

YE Top Photos North America 2023
Taylor Swift performs during The Eras Tour (Chris Pizzello/AP)

After a rocky year for Marvel and a string of less predictable hits, Hollywood will have to hope it can adapt to changing audience tastes – and that another Barbie is lurking somewhere.

“It’s an $11 billion business. We’re climbing our way back,” said Goldstein. “This next year is going to be a big challenge because of the strikes. But we’re seeing very clearly in 2023, when there are movies out there that people want to see, they come.”

Meanwhile, a host of releases sought to capitalise over the holidays – and most succeeded.

“This crop of seven wide releases at the end of the year, they got us over the hump of $9 billion,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for data firm Comscore. “This final push of the year provided great insight into what audiences are looking for. It’s movies big and small. It’s different types of movies.”

Though Wonka won out as the family movie choice for the holidays, Universal Pictures’ Migration is attracting young audiences, too. The animated movie from Minions-maker Illumination notched 59.4 million dollars (£46.6 million) since opening.

The Boys in the Boat, the George Clooney-directed sports drama, grossed 24.6 million dollars (£19.3 million) since opening on Christmas Day. The Amazon MGM Studios release, about the US men’s crew in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, was not a smash with critics but audiences gave it an “A” CinemaScore.

Though romantic comedies have largely migrated to streaming platforms, Sony Pictures’ Anyone But You is proving the genre can still work in theaters. The film, starring Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell, collected 27.6 million dollars (£23.2 million) so far.

Sean Durkin’s wrestling drama The Iron Claw is also performing well. And Michael Mann’s Ferrari, a project the director sought to make for three decades, took in 10.9 million dollars (£8.5 million) since launching in cinemas on Monday.