‘Equalizer 3’ cleans up, while ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ score new records

The third installment in the Denzel Washington-led “Equalizer” franchise topped the domestic box office this weekend with $34.5 million according to studio estimates Sunday. By the end of the Monday holiday, Sony expects that total will rise to $42 million.

Labor Day signals the end of Hollywood’s summer movie season, which will surpass $4 billion in ticket sales for the first time since the pandemic thanks in no small part to “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” which are still netting records even after seven weeks in theaters. This weekend, Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” officially became the biggest movie of 2023 with over $1.36 billion globally, surpassing “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” while Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” sailed past $850 million globally to become the No. 3 movie of the year and Nolan’s third highest grossing.

“The Equalizer 3” arrived at a fraught time for Hollywood, with actors seven weeks into a strike for fair contracts with major entertainment companies and movie theaters bracing for a somewhat depleted fall season as a result.

The ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike meant Washington was unable to stump for the movie, which was directed by his frequent collaborator Antoine Fuqua and brings his vigilante character Robert McCall to Italy’s Amalfi coast. While the lack of a major star on a promotional tour would normally be considered a liability for a film’s box office potential, “Equalizer 3” may be the rare exception that could withstand a rollout without Washington’s help simply because it’s a recognizable franchise.

“One of the biggest movie stars in the world took us out on a high note,” said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for Comscore. “Studios often coast to Labor Day, but Sony was smart to choose this weekend to open ‘The Equalizer 3.'"

Sony opened the R-rated “Equalizer 3” in over 3,900 locations in North America, including on IMAX and premium large format screens, where it opened in line with the previous two films which both went on to make over $190 million globally. With co-financing from TSG and Eagle Pictures, the film carried a $70 million production price tag. The film received generally positive reviews from critics (76% on Rotten Tomatoes) and overwhelmingly positive reviews from audiences, who gave it an A on CinemaScore and a five-star PostTrak rating.

“It's uncanny the consistency of the Equalizer franchise,” Dergarabedian said.

Overseas, it made $26.1 million, contributing to a $60.6 million global debut.

In second place, “Barbie” added $10.6 million over the weekend in the U.S. and Canada, pushing its domestic total to $609.5 million. Warner Bros.' other main theatrical offering, “Blue Beetle" added $7.3 million to take third. The DC superhero film has grossed $56.6 million in three weekends in North America. Fourth place went to Sony's “Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story,” which is projecting $6.6 million through Sunday, down 62% from its first place opening weekend, and $8.5 million including Monday.

“Oppenheimer” landed in fifth place on the domestic charts with an estimated $5.5 million ($7.4 million including estimates for Monday) from 2,543 theaters. This brings its domestic total to $310.3 million and its global take to $851 million.

The Universal film opened in China on Wednesday, playing on 35,000 screens, where it is estimated to have made $30.3 million in its first five days. A significant portion of that ($9.3 million through Sunday) came from 736 IMAX screens.

IMAX CEO Rich Gelfond said in a statement that “Oppenheimer’s” China debut showed that “it’s nowhere near finished dazzling audiences worldwide.” Gelfond added that its success also offers “a powerful demonstration of our surging market share around the world.”

That the 18-week summer movie season hit $4 billion is significant for an industry still recovering from the pandemic and facing uncertainty in the fall if the actors and writers strikes continue. Before the pandemic, $4 billion summers had become the standard for the industry and generally accounted for at least 40% of the total box office for the year. Last summer netted out with $3.4 billion.

And this summer had its share of hits, flops and surprises, with “Barbenheimer” accounting for over $900 million of the $4 billion haul.

“The summer box office is vitally important and a strong indicator of the health of the industry,” Dergarabedian said. “Many were really skeptical that we could get to $4 billion. We’re hitting it literally in the final days of the summer. It's a reminder that any hit or miss makes a profound impact on the bottom line."

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Tuesday.

1. “The Equalizer 3,” $34.5 million.

2. “Barbie,” $10.6 million.

3. “Blue Beetle,” $7.3 million.

4. “Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story,” $6.6 million.

5. “Oppenheimer,” $5.5 million.

6. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” $4.8 million.

7. “Bottoms,” $3 million.

8. “Meg 2: The Trench,” $2.9 million.

9. “Strays,” $2.5 million.

10. “Talk to Me,” $1.8 million.