Zendaya tennis movie ‘Challengers’ scores at weekend box office

The sexy tennis drama “ Challengers ” won the box office this weekend with $15 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Zendaya and castmates Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor have been on a globetrotting press tour to get the word out about Italian director Luca Guadagnino’s original film, which opened in 3,477 locations in the U.S. and Canada.

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“We’re obviously very, very happy with the number,” said Kevin Wilson, who heads theatrical distribution for Amazon Studios and MGM. “Looking at the audience who showed up, it’s really encouraging. It’s not the easiest audience to get to theaters.”

Women made up 58% of ticket buyers, who also skewed younger overall: 41% were between the ages of 18 and 24.

Ticket sales from large format screens, including IMAX, made up about 40% of the opening weekend grosses. According to PostTrak exit poll reported by Deadline, 55% of audiences said they went to see the film because of Zendaya. In fact, this weekend, Zendaya movies accounted for around 26% of the overall box office with the re-release of “ Dune: Part Two ” in IMAX, which made nearly $2 million.

The 27-year-old actor has been part of some of the most successful franchises of the last few years, including the “Spider-Man” and “Dune” movies. In both cases those were supporting roles in massive brand-name properties, but her eye-catching red carpet looks also often make headlines. “Challengers” would be the first real test of her ability to “open” a film on her own star and MGM and Amazon were not going to risk doing it without her.

The studio had originally planned to release “Challengers” in the fall of 2023, with a picturesque launch at the Venice Film Festival. But when the actors went on strike last July, the studio made the decision to scuttle the festival premiere and move the film to this weekend when they could safely assume the strike would be resolved. Zendaya sported many tennis-themed looks, styled by Law Roach, for her appearances.

“It would be hard to argue that we should have released this movie when she wasn’t able to support,” Wilson said.

He gave special credit to the studio’s publicity and marketing teams for orchestrating a world tour that resulted in several viral fashion moments.

Reviews have been largely positive for the R-rated movie, which teases a steamy and competitive love triangle between the tennis players. It currently has an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes and got a B+ CinemaScore from opening day audiences.

Guadagnino’s last film “ Bones and All,” starring Zendaya’s “Dune” co-star Timothée Chalamet, made $15.2 million in its entire run. By midweek, “Challengers” expected to surpass “Call Me By Your Name” ($18 million) to become Guadagnino’s highest grossing film.

For Amazon MGM Studios, the value also extends beyond the box office driving a “downstream value” for Amazon, including when “Challengers” eventually makes its way to Prime Video.

“I’ve always believed that theatrical is the best way to launch some of these films,” Wilson said. “When this thing gets to Prime Video, it’s obviously going to perform at a level that would be much greater than had it just gone directly to the platform. Theatrical is only a piece of it.”

Second place went to the faith-based film “Unsung Hero,” which made an estimated $7.8 million from 2,832 locations. It’s based on the true story of the Smallbone family, and the rise of their children Rebecca St. James, and sons Joel and David (for KING + COUNTRY) in the country music scene. Joel Smallbone directed, co-wrote and portrays his father David.

The Lionsgate film, which was made for only $6 million, scored a rare A+ CinemaScore and has a 100% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. The critic’s score is a much more tempered 58%. Audiences were overwhelmingly female (69%) and over 25 (91%).

Third place went to “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” with $7.2 million in its fifth weekend. In fourth place, A24’s “Civil War” also added $7 million in its third weekend, bringing its domestic total to $56.2 million. And rounding out the top five was the horror movie “Abigail” with $5.3 million.

“April of 2024 provided an opportunity for interesting, innovative and critically acclaimed films to be at the top of the box office,” said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for Comscore. “It was a great month for moviegoers looking for something beyond the typical summer blockbusters.”

The box office might not compare to last year when “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” was still dominating, but Dergarabedian said establishing audience goodwill is important as well.

Next weekend the summer movie season kicks off with the Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt action-comedy “ The Fall Guy.”

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

1. “Challengers,” $15 million.

2. “Unsung Hero,” $7.8 million.

3. “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” $7.2 million.

4. “Civil War,” 7 million.

5. “Abigail,” $5.3 million.

6. “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” $3.9 million

7. “Kung Fu Panda 4,” $3.6 million.

8. “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” $3.3 million.

9. “Dune: Part Two,” $2 million.

10. “Boy Kills World,” $1.7 million.

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