LOS ANGELES, (Variety.com) - Five years after Angelina Jolie’s “Maleficent” cast a spell over the box office, the villainous enchantress has returned to the top of domestic charts. Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” a sequel to 2014’s fantasy adventure based on the “Sleeping Beauty” sorceress, debuted to $36 million from 2,790 North American theaters, nearly half of what the first movie made in its inaugural weekend ($69 million).
Despite opening below projections heading into the weekend, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” easily towered over competition including holdover from Warner Bros.’ “Joker” and newcomer Sony’s “Zombieland: Double Tap.” The “Maleficent” follow-up did benefit as one of the few offerings catering to younger female moviegoers in a marketplace that’s been largely dominated by male-skewed titles like “Joker” and Paramount’s “Gemini Man.” Women represented 56% of ticket buyers, about 50% of which were under the age of 25.
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” marks the lowest opening weekend of the year for Disney and will now rely on the international box office to recoup its $185 million budget. The film had much more promising showing overseas, lifting off with $117 million for a global start of $150 million. The original pulled in an impressive $517 million from foreign markets and another $241 million from the domestic market.
Elle Fanning also returned for the sequel, joining newcomers to the series Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Skrein and Chiwetel Ejiofor. “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” was directed by Joachim Ronning (“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man Tell No Tales”).
Fellow new release “Zombieland: Double Tap” launched at No. 3 with a better-than-expected $26.7 million and should continue to build momentum in coming weeks as Halloween nears. The original “Zombieland” premiered to $24 million in 2009 and ended its box office run with a solid $102 million globally. Directed by Ruben Fleischer, the zombie comedy reunites stars Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin and Bill Murray. Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch, Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch joined the cast. “Zombieland 2” cost $42 million to make, roughly double what the studio spent on the original ($23 million).
After its two-week reign atop domestic box office charts, “Joker” slid to second place and added $29 million in its third weekend of release. That puts the dark supervillain origin story — starring Joaquin Phoenix and directed by Todd Phillips — close to the $250 million mark in North America, with ticket sales hitting $247 million. Overseas, “Joker” has scared up a mighty $490 million for a worldwide bounty of $737.5 million.
In other milestones, STX and Lorene Scafaria’s “Hustlers” crossed the coveted $100 million benchmark at the domestic box office. After six weeks in theaters, “Hustlers” pulled in another $2 million, boosting its haul to $101.8 million in North America and $128.8 million globally.
Meanwhile, Focus Features’ “Downton Abbey” has surpassed $88 million in the States and now stands as the studio’s highest-grossing movie ever at the domestic box office, a record previously held by “Brokeback Mountain” with $83 million.
Among awards season hopefuls, Fox Searchlight’s “Jojo Rabbit” bowed with a strong $350,000 from five theaters in New York and Los Angeles, averaging $70,000 from each location. Written and directed by Taika Waititi (who also stars in the film as an absurdist imaginary Adolf Hitler), “Jojo Rabbit” is set during World War II and follows a young boy eager to join the Hitler Youth, who discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. Critics have been mostly impressed with “Jojo Rabbit” (it holds a 77% on Rotten Tomatoes), while audiences have awarded it with an A CinemaScore.
“There are many reasons to be very optimistic about the future of ‘Jojo Rabbit,’” said Frank Rodriguez, Fox Searchlight’s president of domestic distribution. “Notably, the very good performance at the box office this weekend, the excellent CinemaScore of A, and the interest that we see from exhibitors and moviegoers who are eager to play and see the film in the coming weeks.”
“Jojo Rabbit,” based on the novel “Caging Skies,” will continue its paced rollout next weekend in eight new markets, including Denver, Austin, Phoenix, Washington DC, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Toronto. The studio is aiming for a nationwide release by Nov. 8. The cast includes Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Rebel Wilson and Sam Rockwell.
Elsewhere, Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse” took in $419,764 from eight venues. The darkly comedic drama, led by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, will continue to expand nationwide next weekend, where it will play on 500 screens.