‘Knives Out 2’ Leaves Millions on the Table – The Hollywood Reporter
Talk about a whodunit.
Rian Johnson’s sequel Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery was the most popular new film opening at the Thanksgiving box office — at least for adults — but Netflix brass would only allow the sequel to be booked in fewer than 700 North American theaters for one week. (Ted Sarandos has made it clear he’s focused on Netflix subscribers, not theatrical.)
The streamer doesn’t report box office grosses, but veteran Hollywood studio executives who are in close touch with theater owners believe Glass Onion earned between $12.7 million and $13 million domestically over the five-day holiday (Wednesday-Sunday). That’s better than any other film besides Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ($64 million) and Disney Animation’s Strange World (a flop at $18.6 million). To put things in perspective, Steven Spielberg’s Oscar contenderThe Fabelmans posted a five-day Thanksgiving gross of $3.1 million from 638 theaters.
But whether or not Glass Onion managed to outshine a legendary Hollywood director such as Spielberg, the larger question is the tens of millions of dollars in box office ticket sales that Netflix left on the table by not opening the movie in more than 3,400 theaters. In 2019, the first Knives Out, distributed by Lionsgate, turned into a sleeper hit after opening to $41.4 million from 3,461 locations over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday. The film topped out at $164.5 million domestically and nearly $313 million globally.
Savvy box office analysts believe Johnson’s movie could have opened to $40 million to $50 million over Thanksgiving had it been given a more traditional theatrical release by Netflix, which paid a massive $469 million for rights to Johnson and producing partner Ram Bergman’s next two Knives Out films, beginning with Glass Onion.
“It’s a lost opportunity for Netflix in terms for extra money,” says Wall Street analyst Eric Handler. “They had a big chance and they whiffed.”
Johnson, like many directors, wanted some sort of theatrical presence. Ditto for franchise star Daniel Craig. On Oct. 6, Netflix chief Scott Stuber and the filmmakers happily announced that Glass Onion would play in hundreds of theaters — including the country’s three largest chains — for one week over Thanksgiving before hitting the streamer Dec. 23. Multiple sources said Glass Onion was described as the first of several real tests trying to determine what kind of financial windfall an exclusive run in theaters could generate for Netflix, and what impact it would have on subscriber numbers, in either direction.
Sarandos, however, later downplayed the significance of the Glass Onion theatrical deal during an earnings call Oct. 18. “There are all kinds of debates all the time, back and forth. But there is no question internally that we make our movies for our members, and we really want them to see them on Netflix,” Sarandos said. “Most people watch movies at home.”
Sources close to Netflix stressed Sunday that the turnout for Glass Onion in theaters is a great barometer for how well it will do on the streamer.
Exhibitors, who are starving for product, would most certainly have been happy to keep playing Glass Onion as they await the debut of James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water in mid-December (and there’s no reason why the Christmas marquee couldn’t have supported both films). The first Knives Out racked up solid numbers throughout December 2019 despite the entry of year-end tentpoles Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Jumanji: The Next Level. And it remained in more than 1,000 theaters until mid-February.
“Would it have increased churn had Netflix played the movie [Glass Onion] in theaters longer? Probably not,” says Handler.
The Knives Out sequel would have no doubt come in No. 2 at the Thanksgiving box office had it debuted in the same number of theaters that Knives Out did, and officially reported grosses. If estimates are correct, the movie scored a per location average of around $19,000, the best of any film.
“Glass Onion is the unquestionable headline-stealer this Thanksgiving. Without its official grosses, there is an incomplete picture of this weekend’s box office results. Rough estimates from outside Netflix prove that the film is a big winner in its limited theatrical engagement, though. It frankly deserves more theaters and a longer window,” says box office analyst Shawn Robbins. “Let us also remember that the film’s success came about in large part due to the first Knives Out’s goodwill — a traditional theatrical release.”