The top contenders at the box office for the weekend of April 6, 2018, were a lot closer to a lineup you’d have seen in April 1998. In place of sequels, reboots, and superhero blockbusters, the two biggest movies that opened this weekend dealt with parenthood, in situations apocalyptic (alien monsters in a thriller!) and realistic, but no less apocalyptic (teen girl virginity sex pact at prom night in a raunchy comedy!). In a welcome sight, both performed above their expectations.
The biggest winner of the weekend was A Quiet Place, the high-concept horror film from John Krasinski that was also beloved by critics (97 percent “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes). The film, set in a terrifying dystopian future—or if you really hate your noisy neighbors, a utopia—where monsters with an acute sense of hearing stalk anyone who makes a sound, opened to $50 million, the second-best debut of the year behind Black Panther and the third-best horror opening of all time, just short of Paranormal Activity 3 ($52.5 million) and the Stephen King adaptation It ($123 million). A Quiet Place is the latest in a recent trend of acclaimed horror films breaking out at the box office; just last year, the Oscar-winning Get Out and It both had record-breaking hauls. Horror films are quickly becoming a Hollywood hotbed, combining young, up-and-coming filmmakers (Krasinski, Jordan Peele for Get Out) with original concepts at much smaller budgets than most studio tentpoles.
With its meager $17 million budget, A Quiet Place is already a huge win for Paramount, a studio that sorely needed a breakout. In the past year, Paramount’s slate has seen critically maligned box-office flops (Monster Trucks, Baywatch, Suburbicon) and acclaimed but divisive movies (Mother!, Annihilation) fail to find a large audience relative to their budgets. In fact, A Quiet Place is Paramount’s best opening since 2016’s Star Trek: Beyond, which speaks to how well the movie fared and how disappointing Paramount’s performed recently. With a sixth Mission: Impossible on the way this summer, 2018 is already looking like a better year for the studio, if only because 2017 was such a letdown.
Meanwhile, Universal’s R-rated comedy Blockers opened in third—behind the second weekend of Steven Spielberg’s CGI extravaganza Ready Player One—with an estimated $21.4 million. The movie follows three parents (played by the underrated Leslie Mann, John Cena, and Ike Barinholtz) with early-onset empty-nest syndrome who discover their three daughters plan to lose their virginity on prom night and set out to stop it from happening. (Minor spoiler: John Cena butt chugs; it’s that kind of movie.) Blockers’ debut is slightly better than Game Night, another critically acclaimed R-rated comedy from February of this year that made $17 million in its first weekend and is a good benchmark for Blockers’ box-office expectations moving forward (Game Night has made $67 million domestically to date). While many have whispered about the death of the studio comedy—and movies like last year’s The House and Snatched certainly looked like evidence of that belief—2018 has already shown there’s still some life left with the right execution.
The other winners of the weekend also had a retro feel, with the historical drama Chappaquiddick and indie thriller You Were Never Really Here both debuting with strong openings. Chappaquiddick—based on the 1969 incident at Martha’s Vineyard when Ted Kennedy drove into a lake and killed a female staffer on his brother Bob’s campaign—debuted to $6.2 million, and, according to Box Office Mojo, performed best with the 55-and-older crowd. You Were Never Really Here, featuring a Cannes-winning performance from Joaquin Phoenix as a hammer-wielding mercenary, had the best per theater average of the weekend, bringing in $129,911 from three theaters for a $43,304 average.
Weekends such as this—with a diverse range of debuts that weren’t tethered to reboots or a larger cinematic universe—are not the start of some retro box-office takeover, however; just a rare, pleasant exception to Hollywood’s new normal. In a couple of weeks, Avengers: Infinity War will debut—and in May we’ll get the Deadpool sequel and Solo: A Star Wars Story to boot. Still, for one weekend, going to see new movies at the multiplex felt like stepping into a time capsule. And the movies weren’t bad, either.