‘The Whale’ Sets 2022 Specialty Box Office Record With $60,000 Per Theater Average

Sam Mendes’ “Empire of Light” struggles while “The Fabelmans” finds its legs


A24 released Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale” in six theaters in New York and Los Angeles this weekend and set a new per theater average record for the year, bringing in $60,000 per venue.

There have been few glimmers of hope for the struggling specialty box office, but indie distributor A24 served one up this weekend, reporting $360,000 in grosses for “The Whale,” giving it an average of $60,000. That tops the previous record of $50,000 set by fellow A24 release “Everything Everywhere All at Once” back in March.

As encouraging as this result is the fact that a $60,000 theater average is enough to set an annual record shows how much the specialty market has collapsed. In pre-pandemic years, record averages would regularly top $100,000. In 2019, the top per theater average belonged to eventual Best Picture Oscar winner “Parasite,” which opened in three theaters in October and averaged just over $131,000.

“The Whale” has received mixed-to-positive reviews since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival with a 67% Rotten Tomatoes score. But while critics are split on Aronofsky’s direction, even negative reviews have typically reserved praise for Brendan Fraser for his performance as a morbidly obese man struggling to reconnect with his teenage daughter, putting him in the early frontrunner spot to win the Best Actor Oscar. A24 will expand the film’s screen count on Dec. 21.

The other big specialty release of the weekend was Searchlight Pictures’ “Empire of Light,” which stars Oscar winner Olivia Colman and is directed by “1917” filmmaker Sam Mendes. Despite this pedigree and a premiere at the Telluride Film Festival, the film was tepidly received by critics with a 46% Rotten Tomatoes score and grossed a mere $152,000 from 110 theaters for a poor theater average of just $1,379.

Focus Features also saw some dismal numbers as it expanded Michael Showalter’s romantic comedy “Spoiler Alert” to 781 theaters and grossed just $700,000, bringing its total to $800,000.

There was slightly better news for Universal and Steven Spielberg with “The Fabelmans,” which only dropped 7% from last weekend as it added $1.18 million from 973 theaters in its fifth weekend. While the film’s overall total is still shockingly low for a Spielberg film at just $7.3 million, the strong hold preserves hope that older audiences will continue to trickle out to see the film as the holiday season nears.

Though “The Fabelmans” hits premium on-demand next weekend, insiders at Universal have told TheWrap that they don’t believe this will hurt theatrical revenue as the film is still not getting a streaming release. Universal will hold the film’s screen count at just under 1,000 theaters until after more awards nominations are announced, with the Golden Globes nominations set to be announced on Monday.