Sony’s The Equalizer 3 — reuniting director Antonie Fuqua and Denzel Washington — is closing out summer on a high note at the box office.
The movie’s opening is providing the final boost needed to push the domestic summer box office past $4 billion for the first time in the post-pandemic era in a much-needed boost for Hollywood studios and theater owners. Equalizer 3‘s estimated $42 million four-day opening also makes it the second-biggest Labor Day launch behind Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ($94.7 million). The holiday isn’t usually home to big tentpoles, but 2021’s Shang-Chi was an exception as the box office struggled to come out of the pandemic.
The industry looked to have achieved the $4 billion milestone on Friday in a key win for studios and theater owners. The final 2023 summer number could be nearly $4.1 billion by the end of the four-day Labor Day weekend, a 16 percent uptick over 2022 but still behind 2019 by 5.7 percent. (Before Barbenheimer, the deficit over 2019 was a huge 15 percent).
“For the industry, after a three-year hiatus, to generate enough summer box office heat to again reach the $4B benchmark for the season is a remarkable achievement made even more interesting by the unexpected and often confounding path that led to this key milestone,” says Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “From Barbenheimer to Sound of Freedom and a host of other high-profile hits and somewhat inexplicable misses, the unpredictable nature of this all-important 18-week corridor was on full display. Equalizer 3 is taking us out on a high note!”
Heading into the weekend, Equalizer 3 was tracking to take in $30 million for the four days but strong word-of-mouth kicked in as audiences bestowed the threequel with a glowing A CinemaScore. The film benefits from playing to an ethnically diverse audience. Caucasians made up 33 percent of Friday ticket buyers, followed by Blacks (31 percent), Latinos (20 percent) and Asians/Other (15 percent), according to PostTrak.
Equalizer 3 is assured of scoring the top start of the series by the time final weekend numbers are tallied, although the first two debuted over traditional three-day weekends. The first pic opened to $34.1 million, followed by $36 million for the sequel, not adjusted for inflation. The threequel’s estimated three-day take is around $35 million.
Greta Gerwig’s Barbie is easily holding at No. 2 in her seventh weekend with a projected four-day domestic gross of $13 million-plus. The Warner Bros. pic achieved yet another milestone on Friday when jumping the $600 million mark domestically and passing up the $1.359 billion grossed by Universal and Illumination’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie at the worldwide box office. Barbie has now become the top-grossing pic of 2023 and grossed $763.4 million overseas for a cume of $1.365 billion.
Elsewhere in the top five, DC’s Blue Beetle is pacing to come in No. 3 at the Labor Day box office with an estimated four-day gross of $9 million to $10 million for a domestic total approaching $60 million by end-of-day Sunday. The film is holding in better than expected after a soft opening.
Sony’s Gran Turismo: Based on A True Story is tumbling a steep 62 percent in its second weekend. The pic’s estimated four-day Labor Day haul is an estimated $8.5 million for a domestic cume of $30.4 million through Monday.
Oppenheimer, like Barbie, continues to make headlines in its seventh weekend. The film is clearing the $850 million mark at the global box office to become Christopher Nolan’s third-biggest film ever. In North America, it looks to place No. 5 with $7.2 million for the four-day holiday weekend, with a domestic total through Monday of $310.3 million.
More to come.
Sept. 3, 7:45 a.m.: Updated with revised estimates.
A version of this story was originally published Sept. 2 at 7:57 a.m.