Box office on MLK weekend: a plane, a house party and a man named Otto

“Plane,” “House Party” and “A Man Called Otto” are reasons to believe MLK weekend can sustain its box office momentum.

We started the year strong with the retention of “Avatar: The Way of Water” (Disney) and the low-budget horror film “M3EGAN” (Universal) starting at $30 million. It’s Martin Luther King weekend, historically one of the strongest before May. This time around, he faces some obstacles – lack of hold, little prize money, and no top opener. Pre-Covid MLKs like “Bad Boys for Life,” “American Sniper,” “Glass,” and “Ride Along” opened to more than $40 million.

Between 2018 and 2020, the three-day MLK weekend totaled $130 million to $166 million (not counting the 20 percent increase in ticket prices). This year will be closer to $100 million. Still, that would be a significant improvement over last year ($72 million) and would continue the upward momentum from earlier in the year.

This weekend offers many opportunities to encourage long-term optimism and suggests that better times are ahead in 2023.

Is the market expanding?

Last weekend’s best news was that “The Way of Water” dropped just 31 percent after a holiday weekend, while “M3GAN” opened with an impressive $30 million. This provided evidence that James Cameron’s film was not a market disaster (as the otherwise weak Christmas totals suggest), nor did it specifically benefit from the lack of competition.

With the expansion of “A Man Called Otto” (Sony) and the wide opening of “Plane” (Lionsgate), this weekend will see four films grossing more than $10 million. This hasn’t happened in nearly six months and would be a sign that multiple films can open successfully at the same time – a critical factor in box office recovery.

AVATAR: THE WAY OF THE WATER (aka AVATAR 2), Tuk (voiced by Trinity Jo-Li Bliss), 2022. © Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Everett Collection

“Avatar: The Path of Water”

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Everett Collection

Can originality overcome resistance?

Although the top 10 domestic releases of 2022 are tied to franchises, six stand-alone titles grossed more than $100 million. That said, often (“Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” “Babylon” last month) original success outside of horror films remains the exception. This week features the original “Plane” and “Otto” (though it’s a remake of the 2015 Swedish film “A Man Called Ove”); there’s also “House Party,” which might seem like a novelty to those under 35 (the last title in the initial franchise was released in 1994). None of these films can claim more audience quarters, but the success of at least two of them would be a victory for cinemas.

“A Man Called Otto”

After a disastrous one-week platform (not helped by mixed-to-bad reviews), the Tom Hanks comedy’s limited expansion last weekend fared better than expected with a theater average of $6,597. If the word of mouth is good, this title can be a pleasant surprise. Tracking suggests he’ll be No. 3 heading into the weekend with a chance to gross in the mid-teens. Not a hit, but respectable, especially if it beats “The Fabelmans” (Universal) and “The Banshees of Inisherin” (Searchlight), which disappointed despite the awards.


Initial reviews of this Gerald Butler deal aren’t bad. It’s not clear if the marketing was connected, but if audiences find this to be suitably silly fun, it could surpass low expectations. $10 million is currently possible. Butler took “Greenland” to decent reviews in late 2020, when theaters were just reopening, and 2019’s “Angel Has Fallen” (an odd favorite of Robert Downey, Jr.) opened to $21 million. This type of film used to be Lionsgate’s bread and butter, but last year its biggest hit brought in only $20 million. It should return to form and theaters to Lionsgate.


It’s a wild card. It was originally slated to go directly to HBO Max, but it hit theaters on December 9th, later fulfilling this weekend’s tradition of a black-oriented film. This has a more limited release (around 1,200 theaters), and exhibitors expect early PVOD availability before HBO Max, within 45 days. That will reduce the gross, which industry forecasts say is about $5 million. It’s a comedy (rare) aimed at a younger audience (even rarer).

M3GAN, (aka MEGAN), from left: Amie Donald as M3gan (voiced by Jenna Davis), Violet McGraw, 2023. © Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection


©Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection

“Avatar: The Way of Water” and “M3GAN”

Any drop below 35 percent would be great for “The Way of Water” and push domestic expectations to $700 million or more, potentially making “Maverick” the top release of 2022. Horror films typically drop 50 percent in their second weekend. If “M3GAN” can keep that to 40 percent or less, especially with increased competition, it’s a sign that it could unexpectedly reach $100 million.

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