BOX OFFICE: ‘Argylle’ in the top drawer, but fails to pack any sock

The spy thriller "Argylle" topped the domestic box office on its opening weekend, but some Hollywood insiders said it performed poorly based on its reported budget.

The film, produced by Apple Original Films and distributed by Universal, ranked No. 1 and brought in $18 million over the weekend, according to Comscore estimates. "This is a weak opening for a new action comedy that was written to be the first in a trilogy of films," wrote David Gross in movie franchise industry newsletter FranchiseRe. "At an estimated cost of $200 million, as the start of a series, the weekend opening is below average."

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

"Argylle," which stars actors Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell and Henry Cavill, was panned by critics and found little interest from moviegoers, receiving a 35% score on Rotten Tomatoes. It generated a higher 70% audience score on the movie review aggregator site.

The results come as movie theaters are struggling to bring in audiences in 2024. The domestic box office year to date is down 13% in revenue, compared to last year, in part due to movie slates reshuffled amid last summer's dual Hollywood strikes, said Paul Dergarabedian, Comscore senior media analyst.

Although Apple has been in the original film business since 2019 and won the Oscar for best picture with 2021's "CODA," the company has only recently produced its own lineup of big-budget releases. The first two -- Martin Scorsese's "Killers of the Flower Moon" and Ridley Scott's "Napoleon" -- could be called successful.

"No way to sugarcoat it," he said. "This is a tough go so far this year."

The growth of streaming services during the pandemic has also given consumers alternate ways to watch new and original films.

Trailing "Argylle" at the domestic box office last weekend was the faith-based streaming series "The Chosen," which brought the first three episodes of its fourth season to theaters for an estimated $6 million, according to Comscore. In third place was action movie "The Beekeeper," which debuted on Jan. 12 and generated about $5.3 million, the research firm said. The Jason Statham-starring film has grossed $49.4 domestically in its first four weeks.

Dergarabedian said he's hopeful that marquee titles such as "Dune: Part 2" coming out in March will help bring in more audiences to movie theaters.

"Once we get there, I think we'll start really building momentum as we head into the summer, because there's really a lot of great movies on the release calendar for 2024," he said.

On another quiet weekend in cinemas, the rest of ticket sales went mainly to holdovers and awards contenders.

Warner Bros.' "Wonka," in its eighth week, crossed $200 million domestically. After four weeks in theaters, Paramount's "Mean Girls" crossed $100 million.

Although many Oscar contenders hit theaters months ago, the top choices of those in theaters remain Cord Jefferson's "American Fiction" ($15 million thus far for MGM), starring Jeffrey Wright, and Yorgos Lanthimos' "Poor Things" ($28.2 million, plus $40.1 million overseas), starring Emma Stone.

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