‘First Man’ opens at No. 3 despite flag controversy, fails to topple ‘Venom’ and ‘A Star is Born’

Despite much-talked-about controversy over its omission of the American flag being planted on the moon, the Neil Armstrong film “First Man” settled in at No. 3 at the box office, failing to break through the ongoing tug-of-war between “Venom” and “A Star is Born.”

The Ryan Gosling-starrer and a host of newcomers, like the family-friendly “Goosebumps” sequel and the neo-noir mystery “Bad Times at the El Royale,” couldn’t unseat last week’s top two films. “Venom” and “A Star Is Born” again took first and second place.

First Man” ran into some intense controversy weeks back after it was revealed that the film would omit the moment when Armstrong planted the American flag on the moon. Canadian-born Gosling defended the decision to not show the flag noting that the film sought to show it as a human achievement rather than an American achievement.

“I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that’s how we chose to view it,” he told reporters. “I also think Neil was extremely humble, as were many of these astronauts, and time and time again he deferred the focus from himself to the 400,000 people who made the mission possible.”

Although Neil Armstrong’s children defended the choice, the decision didn’t sit well with some people, including President Donald Trump and Buzz Aldrin.

As the month of October careens toward a box office record, the crowded marketplace can be a blessing or a curse for some films in their first weekends, although the hope is that they will play for weeks to come. Such is the case for Universal Pictures’ “First Man.”

While the movie outperformed other newcomers over the weekend, its $16.5 million in North America and $25 million worldwide is only on par with expectations but nowhere close to a breakout hit for its almost $60 million price tag. However, Universal President of Domestic Distribution Jim Orr believes the box office intake for a film like “First Man,” which appeals primarily to older audiences not inclined to rush out to a movie theater on the first weekend, is going to be “a marathon not a sprint.”

“What we know is for these types of adult, fall films for discerning audiences, it’s not about the opening weekend,” Orr said. “We’re very comfortable that it’s going to have a long life at the domestic box office.”

Audiences for the PG-13 rated “First Man” were primarily older (52 percent over 35), male (56 percent) and Caucasian (67 percent) and gave the film a B+ CinemaScore.

“I never expected ‘First Man’ to have an opening weekend trajectory that was off the charts,” said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for box-office tracker comScore. “This is a film that has a lot of awards season buzz. It will attract a lot of older viewers and it’s going to keep rolling along and getting more and more accolades. ‘First Man’ will be standing many weeks down the road.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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