NEW YORK – “John Wick: Chapter 4,” the fourth installment in the Keanu Reeves assassin series, debuted with a franchise-best $73.5 million at the box office, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The Lionsgate film, starring Reeves as the reluctant-but-not-that-reluctant killer John Wick, exceeded both expectations and previous opening weekends in the R-rated franchise. Since first launching in 2014 with “John Wick” ($14 million on its opening weekend), the Chad Stahelski-directed series has steadily grown as a ticket-seller with each sequel. The 2017 follow-up opened with $30.4 million, and the 2019 third chapter, “Parabellum,” debuted with $56.8 million.
But “Chapter 4,” running two hours and 49 minutes and costing at least $100 million to produce, is the biggest film yet in the once-lean action series. Critics also said it was a franchise high point, scoring 95% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The film, which drew a 69% male audience, added $64 million overseas. It's Lionsgate's biggest success of the pandemic era.
"When you make a fourth in an action franchise, you have to expect it to go down. That is the nature of these franchises," said Joe Drake, chairman of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group. “But we kept seeing signals and it was wonderful to see the movie they delivered. We saw the audience wanting more."
Though “John Wick” has been bigger at the box office with each new release — an enviable and rare trajectory among Hollywood franchises — “Chapter 4” brings some finality to Reeves' character. The actor hasn't entirely dismissed continuing the series, telling interviewers “never say never.”
Regardless, the franchise is set to keep humming. A spin-off titled “Ballerina” starring Ana de Armas and co-starring Reeves has already been shot. The miniseries “The Continental,” with Mel Gibson, is upcoming on Peacock.
“Chad and Keanu have created this world and that world continues to expand. I don't know what all the edges of that world are, still,” said Drake. “As best they can, they'll continue to try to seduce Keanu to come back and do things. He gets beat up in these shows. He really does. And at the end he's like, ‘I’m not doing it anymore.' Then you watch him sit in the theater and feel that audience.”
“So we're going to continue to look for ways to meet that demand.”
The release of “John Wick: Chapter 4,” which included a surprise premiere at SXSW, was also bittersweet. Lance Reddick, who plays the Continental Hotel concierge, Charon, in the films, unexpectedly died at the age of 60 a week before the film’s release.
But the success of “John Wick: Chapter 4” adds to a strong start in 2023 for Hollywood. After ticket sales rebounded to about 67% of pre-pandemic levels last year, the release lineup is steadier and more packed this year. Sequels have led the way, including “Creed III” and “Scream VI.” Ticket sales are up 28% from last year, according to data firm Comscore.
But there have been some exceptions. After its disappointing $30.5 million debut last weekend, the superhero sequel “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” slumped to second place with $9.7 million in its second weekend. The Warner Bros. release dropped steeply, tumbling 68% from its launch.
“Scream VI” took third place with $8.4 million in its third weekend, bringing its total thus far to $90.4 million domestic and $139.3 million worldwide. “Creed III” followed in fourth with $8.4 million. Michael B. Jordan's sequel is up to $140.9 million domestic.
The weekend’s other new releases were more modest.
Zach Braff’s “A Good Person,” starring Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman, opened on 530 theaters. The MGM release grossed $834,000. IFC Films' “The Lost King,” with Sally Hawkins and Steve Coogan, debuted with $575,000 in 753 locations.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. "John Wick: Chapter 4," $73.5 million.
2. “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” $9.7 million.
3. “Scream VI,” $8.4 million.
4. “Creed III,” $8.4 million.
5. “65,” $3.3 million.
6. “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” $2.4 million.
7. “Cocaine Bear,” $2.1 million.
8. “Jesus Revolution,” $2 million.
9. “Champions,” $1.5 million.
10. “Avatar: The Way of Water,” $1.4 million.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP