‘El Camino’ Might Have Beaten ‘Joker’ at Weekend Box Office If Released in Theaters Nationwide

Obviously Netflix isn’t a night at the movies, but Aaron Paul’s “Breaking Bad” epilogue had a large enough audience to open No. 1

Aaron Paul El Camino Breaking Bad
Photo credit: Netflix
Comparing the performance of Netflix films to full theatrical releases is like comparing apples to Macbooks, but Nielsen’s numbers for the “Breaking Bad” epilogue film “El Camino” show that it had a large enough audience that it might have taken the No. 1 at the box office if it had gone wide in theaters.

On Thursday, Nielsen reported an average minute audience of 6.5 million viewers watched “El Camino” this past weekend. Also Thursday, the National Association of Theater Owners reported that the national average movie ticket price for the third quarter of 2019 clocked in at $8.93.

If every person who saw “El Camino” this weekend bought a ticket at that price, the film would have earned an opening weekend total of approximately $58 million. That would have been enough to make it the No. 1 film of the weekend, beating the strong second weekend total of $55 million by the top movie of the month, “Joker.”

By comparison, another movie continuation of a beloved tv series, “Downton Abbey,” earned a $31 million opening in September from 3,079 screens. It was a record for distributor Focus Features, who worked with show creator Julian Fellowes to turn the film into a grand theatrical event for fans. Netflix and “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan did the opposite, keeping marketing and plot hints to a minimum and just letting the film’s existence build the hype among the show’s still passionate fanbase.

Of course, all of this comes with the usual caveat that pressing a button to stream a film from the comfort of one’s home requires much less time and effort than actually driving out to a movie theater and buying a ticket. But between the Nielsen ratings, strong YouTube metrics for the film’s trailer, and the sold-out limited screenings Netflix arranged at movie theaters, there are signs that “El Camino” would have been quite a box office hit.

Instead, Vince Gilligan brought it to Netflix as a TV event, in part as a nod to the streamer for helping turn “Breaking Bad” into one of the first must-binge shows of our current digital age.

“I think Netflix kept us on the air,” Gilligan told reporters after winning Best Drama at the 2013 Emmys. “Not only are we standing up here (with the Emmy), I don’t think our show would have even lasted beyond Season 2. … It’s a new era in television, and we’ve been very fortunate to reap the benefits.”