Bob Marley Film Has a Strong Start, but ‘Madame Web’ Unravels

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The sleepy United States box office finally lifted its eyelids over the holiday weekend. “Bob Marley: One Love,” a feel-good musical biopic, was on track to take in $33.2 million from Friday through Monday, for a strong total of roughly $51 million since opening on Valentine’s Day, according to Paramount Pictures.

“Excuse me while I light my spliff,” read a celebratory post on the official X account for Marley, who died in 1981.

“One Love,” which cost about $70 million to make, landed in what has emerged over the last year as a box office sweet spot — stories that feel both nostalgic and new — allowing it to overcome weak reviews, box office analysts said. (Marley has never before been the subject of a big-screen musical biopic.)

But the movie business, for the most part, was anything but euphoric. The weekend’s other new wide-release movie, “Madame Web,” based on a minor character from the Spider-Man comics, added to what has recently been a clear message from ticket buyers: The comics-character boom is over. “Madame Web” was on track to sell $17.6 million in tickets from Friday through Monday, for a total of $25.8 million since arriving on Valentine’s Day, according to Sony Pictures.

Ticket sales for “Madame Web” were among the lowest ever for a superhero movie — a genre that, for decades, has been one of Hollywood’s most reliable moneymakers. To compare, “Elektra,” considered a hall-of-fame superhero misfire, collected $12.8 million over its first three days in 2005, or about $21 million in today’s dollars.

It’s not that superhero movies are finished. Rather, “the superhero universe is no longer expanding,” said David A. Gross, a film consultant who publishes a newsletter on box office numbers. The most popular characters will continue to attract audiences, he said, pointing to early interest in “Deadpool & Wolverine,” a coming superhero sequel from Marvel Studios. The first “Deadpool & Wolverine” trailer, released during the Super Bowl, generated more than 365 million views online in its first 24 hours, setting a record.

“Madame Web” received disastrous reviews; one critic called it the “Cats” of superhero movies. The film, directed by S.J. Clarkson, whose previous experience was mostly in television, and starring an all-female ensemble led by Dakota Johnson, was also undercut by some of the same misogyny that thwarted female-oriented films like “The Marvels” and “Ghostbusters” (2016). Social media users and some movie sites reveled in slashing apart “Madame Web” in general and Ms. Johnson in particular.

In financial terms, it was not a catastrophe for Sony — not compared with “The Marvels,” which cost Disney an estimated $220 million to make and collected only $200 million worldwide last year. (Studios receive about 50 percent of ticket sales, with theaters keeping the balance.) “Madame Web,” intended as a thriller for young women, cost about $80 million to make, partly because it did not rely on lavish visual effects. (Her only superpower is clairvoyance.)

“Madame Web” collected an additional $26 million in partial international release over the weekend.

“Bob Marley: One Love,” directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green (“King Richard”) and starring Kingsley Ben-Adir, sold about $29 million in tickets overseas, where it was also playing in partial release.

Theaters have been ghost towns on some weekends this year, a result of big-budget movies like “Argyle” that failed to entice ticket buyers, Oscar-oriented art films that have not crossed over to the mainstream and fewer wide releases. For the year so far, theaters in the United States and Canada have sold about $764 million in tickets, down 15 percent from the same period last year, according to Comscore, which compiles box office data.

The slowdown was particularly pronounced on Super Bowl weekend, when domestic theaters collected just $38.9 million, the worst result for a Super Bowl weekend — excluding the pandemic year of 2021 — since at least the mid-1980s, when comprehensive box office records began to be compiled, according to Comscore.

Several big movies, including “Dune: Part Two,” will arrive in the weeks ahead. But the box office is expected to continue to struggle, partly because studios pushed several films off the March release calendar as a result of the union strikes that shut down production for much of last year. “Disney’s Snow White,” for instance, was once set to arrive on March 22. Citing production delays, Disney bumped it to March 2025.

“This isn’t another industry existential crisis — we had those and we’re past them,” Mr. Gross said. “Moviegoing has proven itself during the last couple of years. This is a release schedule, product-driven problem that will take some time to fix.”

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