LOS ANGELES (AP) — "Maze Runner: The Death Cure" is the highest grossing film of the weekend, but according to studio estimates Sunday, many moviegoers also chose the first weekend after Oscar nominations to catch up with some awards contenders like "The Shape of Water" which had its highest grossing frame with $5.7 million.
In first place, "The Death Cure" took in a higher than expected $23.5 million. It's the third and final installment in the "Maze Runner" series based on James Dashner's dystopian young adult novels and the weakest opening of the three (the first opened to $32.5 million and the second to $30.3 million). Part of that may be attributable to stalled momentum and a two-and-a-half-year gap between the second and third film. "The Death Cure's" release was delayed a year by 20th Century Fox after star Dylan O'Brien's on-set injury in early 2016.
It was still enough to push "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" back down to second place for the first time in three weeks. Down only 16 percent, "Jumanji" added $16.4 million, bringing its total to a robust $338.1 million.
"It was going to take a big franchise film to knock 'Jumanji' off the top of the chart," said comScore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian.
In third place, the Christian Bale Western "Hostiles" expanded wide to 2,816 theaters in its sixth weekend and earned $10.2 million. The Hugh Jackman musical "The Greatest Showman" kept going strong in fourth with $9.5 million, down only 11 percent, and now boasting a total of $126.5 million.
Many audiences also took advantage of the added theater counts of many Oscar hopefuls following nominations Tuesday. Steven Spielberg's Pentagon Papers drama "The Post," from 20th Century Fox, placed fifth in its third weekend in wide release with $8.9 million.
Guillermo del Toro's fantasy romance "The Shape of Water," which had a leading 13 nominations for Fox Searchlight, added 1,001 theaters which put it back in the top 10 in its ninth weekend of release. The film is nominated for best picture, best director, best actress (Sally Hawkins), supporting actress (Octavia Spencer) and supporting actor (Richard Jenkins), among others and has grossed $37.7 million to date.
Fox Searchlight also added theaters for "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," which scored seven Oscar nominations Tuesday, and earned $3.6 million over the weekend (an 88 percent boost). And Focus Features upped the theater count for "Darkest Hour" and "Phantom Thread," which both took in $2.9 million after getting 6 nominations each.
"The Oscars offer the greatest marketing hook in the history of movies. These are films that would usually be played out," said Dergarabedian. "For audiences, it's a validation. If anyone is on the fence, a best picture nomination is a pretty good way to push people in the direction of the movie theater."
With six weeks to go until the Oscars, there is plenty of time to catch up on the best picture nominees, but they won't be without competition — the third installment of the "Fifty Shades of Grey" franchise opens Feb. 9 and on Feb. 16 the highly anticipated "Black Panther" roars into theaters.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to comScore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1."Maze Runner: The Death Cure," $23.5 million
2."Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle," $16.4 million.
3."Hostiles," $10.2 million."
4."The Greatest Showman," $9.5 million.
5."The Post," $8.9 million.
6."12 Strong," $8.6 million.
7."Den of Thieves," $8.4 million.
8."The Shape of Water," $5.7 million.
9."Paddington 2," $5.6 million.
10."Star Wars: The Last Jedi," $4.2 million.
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