Denzel Washington delivered in a big way at the box office this weekend with “The Equalizer.” He’s one of Hollywood’s most bankable male stars and nearly always delivers, but the $35 million opening of the gritty action saga was something special.
It was the biggest opening for an R-rated movie ever in September and Washington’s biggest since “Safe House” debuted to more than $40 million in February of 2012.
That “The Equalizer” was going to dominate the weekend was a given, since the only other wide opener was the animated family film “Boxtrolls,” but not many people anticipated this powerful of a debut. Sony is already prepping a sequel, which would be the first in Washington’s more than 30-year film career.
There were several factors that contributed to the film’s supersized success:
Denzel Delivered: “The Equalizer” proved the latest example of audiences embracing Washington, whether he plays a good or bad guy. “Even when he’s playing nasty or flawed characters, you find yourself rooting for him,” said Rentrak senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “The Equalizer,” in which he rescues a young prostitute from the Russian mob with righteous fury, proved just the right mix of Good Denzel and Nasty Denzel for a lot of moviegoers. African-American and Hispanic moviegoers made up roughly 40 of the crowd.
The Fuqua Factor: “The Equalizer” re-teamed the star with Antoine Fuqua, the director of the gritty 2001 hit “Training Day,” for which Washington earned the Best Actor Oscar. Their synergy came across on screen, and audiences plainly didn’t forget what the duo was capable of. It’s easily the best opening of Fuqua’s career.
“Guts Over Fear”: That’s the name of Eminem‘s latest single, which plays over the end credits of “The Equalizer.” Sony’s Dwight Caines-led marketing team created a special trailer featuring the tune, which Eminem sent out to his 18.7 million followers and nearly 95 million Facebook fans, and that helped the film connect with younger moviegoers in addition to Washington’s older fan base.
The Big Picture: IMAX and premium large format (PLF) screens delivered nearly 20 percent of the domestic grosses. That’s a very high number for a film that didn’t necessarily scream “giant screen,” so kudos to Sony and the filmmakers for seeing the potential and capitalizing. IMAX alone brought in $3.3 million, a new record for a September opening, and accounted for seven of the film’s highest-grossing locales. The PLF total was estimated at $3.7 million.
Smart Date: Earlier this year, Sony shifted the release date for “The Equalizer” from April 11 — one week after the debut of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” — to this weekend. That took some nerve, since it put it just a week after “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” a similar action film starring Liam Neeson. But many action fans opted to wait a week, justifying the confidence shown the film by Sony distribution chief Rory Bruer. “We believed in this film from the very start,” he said.