A slow weekend with no major new releases saw a familiar face return to the top of the North American chart. Joker, now in its fourth week in theaters, came in first place after having slipped below Disney’s maligned Maleficent: Mistress of Evil last session. Joker took $18 million in the US and reached a domestic cumulative gross of $277.5 million. It added $47.8 million abroad as well, taking its global tally to $849 million. Warner Bros.’s dark study of a troubled man’s descent into madness is now the highest-earning rated-R movie of all time having passed Deadpool 2’s $785 million record earlier this week. Top foreign markets include the UK at $57.8 million, Mexico at $39.8 million, South Korea at $35.9 million, and Japan at $32.8 million. One factor that makes its global total even more impressive is a conspicuous lack of China plays. Joker, with its highly anti-establishment themes and scenes of rioting against a corrupt and morally bankrupt social order, has no chance of passing the PRC’s censorship board. Deadpool 2 meanwhile benefited from a specially sanitized version made for and distributed in the Middle Kingdom, called Once Upon a Deadpool. This PG-13 cut made $42.5 million in mainland China (and $6 million in the US.)
Staying in the PRC, local title Better Days opened to $85.2 million and topped the worldwide charts with this hefty single market take. This high school drama from director Derek Tsang focuses on students dealing with the immense pressure of the two-day Gaokao national college entrance exam. School bullies and a classmate’s desperate suicide weigh heavy on senior student Chen Nian as she tries to prepare for the grueling test that will mean the difference between pursuing her dreams or being condemned to a life of modest labor.
Back in the US, two newcomers with modest ambitions entered the box office panorama. Horror entry Countdown from STX was the most successful of the pair, taking fifth place with $9.1 million. The premise is a slightly updated, more frantic riff on 1998’s Ring (and its more popular 2002 American remake, The Ring.) A nurse downloads an app, instead of watching a VHS tape, and it tells her that she’s going to die in three hours instead of seven days. Foreign plays brought its worldwide gross to $10.7 million.
Next up among newcomers is cop drama Black and Blue from Sony. This one took sixth with $8.3 million. B&B stars Globe nominee Naomie Harris, Tyrese Gibson, and Frank Grillo. Harris pays an Army vet who joins the police force when she comes back to her native New Orleans and quickly finds that the streets of the Big Easy can be just as treacherous as the ones she braved in Baghdad. Production costs reported at 12 million dollars leave this film in a tight spot after its debut weekend.
Holdover Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, which slid into second in the US, fared better abroad and finished second overall in the combined chart with $82.8 million. Total sales for this big-budget sequel now sit at $293 million and are giving hope for first-run profitability, even with its substantial sans-advertising budget of around $185 million.
Next week’s big domestic opener Terminator: Dark Fate carries enough weight to have kept this weekend’s slate relatively light, but initial numbers are generating concern. T: DF managed just $12.8 million from 10 foreign territories that include majors France, Germany, and the UK. Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman will join it in the US next frame in limited theaters, along with Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn and mid-budget animated entry Arctic Dogs, with its improbably impressive cast including James Franco, Jeremy Renner, Alec Baldwin, Michael Madsen, Heidi Klum, John Cleese, and Anjelica Huston.