‘The Equalizer 3’ nabs No. 1 on Labor Day weekend

Robert McCall (double Oscar-winner Denzel Washington), dispatches some anonymous baddie with routine precision in “The Equalizer 3,” which predictably led the box office last week.

Columbia Pictures' "The Equalizer 3" premiered in first place at the domestic box office this past holiday weekend, on pace to rack up $34.5 million through Sunday, according to estimates from the measurement firm Comscore.

The third installment in the action franchise is exceeding early projections, which ranged from about $28 million to $30 million for U.S. and Canadian theaters. Internationally, the sequel has amassed $26.1 million for a worldwide cumulative of $60.6 million -- the best global launch of the "Equalizer" saga.

The feature has fared well with critics and moviegoers, scoring a solid 76% fresh rating on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes and an A grade from audiences polled by CinemaScore.

"The appeal of this film is watching Washington do what he does best," writes film critic Katie Walsh for Tribune News Service, "and he's having a hell of a lot of fun here, quietly threatening bad guys, flashing toothy grins, pontificating about good and evil and the necessity to do evil in order to be good, putting the hurt on swaggering psychos."

The latest "Equalizer" came out during what is typically a slow weekend for movie theaters as the summer film season winds down: Families are busy transitioning back to school, and other entertainment -- such as college football -- lure people away from cinemas.

The ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike meant Washington was unable to stump for the movie, which was directed by his frequent collaborator Antoine Fuqua and brings his vigilante character Robert McCall to Italy's Amalfi coast. While the lack of a major star on a promotional tour would normally be considered a liability for a film's box office potential, "Equalizer 3" may be the rare exception that could withstand a rollout without Washington's help simply because it's a recognizable franchise.

"One of the biggest movie stars in the world took us out on a high note," said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for Comscore. "Studios often coast to Labor Day, but [Columbia] was smart to choose this weekend to open 'The Equalizer 3.'"

"It's uncanny the consistency of the Equalizer franchise," Dergarabedian said.

Rounding out the top three at the domestic box office were Warner Bros.' "Barbie," which added $10.6 million in its seventh weekend for a North American total of $609.5 million; and Warner Bros.' "Blue Beetle," which grossed $7.3 million in its third outing for a North American cumulative of $56.6 million.

Globally, director Greta Gerwig's "Barbie" passed Universal Pictures' "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" as the highest grossing title of 2023 with a worldwide cumulative of $1.38 billion, per studio estimates. "Mario" sits at $1.36 billion, according to Box Office Mojo.

Labor Day signals the end of Hollywood's summer movie season, which will surpass $4 billion in ticket sales for the first time since the pandemic thanks in no small part to "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer," which are still netting records even after seven weeks in theaters. Last weekend, Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer" sailed past $850 million globally to become the No. 3 movie of the year and Nolan's third highest grossing.

At No. 4 was "Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story," coming in at $6.6 million.

"Oppenheimer" landed in fifth place on the domestic charts with an estimated $5.5 million from 2,543 theaters. This brings its domestic total to $310.3 million.

That the 18-week summer movie season hit $4 billion is significant for an industry still recovering from the pandemic and facing uncertainty in the fall if the actors and writers strikes continue. Before the pandemic, $4 billion summers had become the standard for the industry and generally accounted for at least 40% of the total box office for the year. Last summer netted out with $3.4 billion.

And this summer had its share of hits, flops and surprises, with "Barbenheimer" accounting for over $900 million of the $4 billion haul.

"The summer box office is vitally important and a strong indicator of the health of the industry," Dergarabedian said. "Many were really skeptical that we could get to $4 billion. We're hitting it literally in the final days of the summer. It's a reminder that any hit or miss makes a profound impact on the bottom line."

Opening in wide release this week are Focus Features' "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3" and Warner Bros.' "The Nun II."