Box Office: Nicolas Cages Renfield, Popes Exorcist No Match for Super Mario Bros. Movie

Expect “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” to capture the high score at the box office… again.

Despite the release of two new movies — Universal’s wacky Dracula horror-comedy “Renfield” and Sony’s R-rated demonic thriller “The Pope’s Exorcist” — Universal and Illumination’s animated adaptation of the popular Nintendo video game looks to loom large in its second weekend of release.

After its towering $146 million debut, “Mario” is estimated to bring in $58 million to $66 million, a 55-60% decline from its opening. The PG blockbuster, which cost $100 million and brought back the all-important demographic of family audiences, has generated $204.6 million in North America and $375 million globally since opening last Wednesday. It’s already the fourth-highest grossing animated movie in pandemic times, following “Minions: The Rise of Gru” ($939 million), “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” ($480 million) and “Sing 2” ($408 million).

Among newcomers, “Renfield” hopes to bring in $10 million from 3,300 theaters in North America. That’s not a great start for the film, which carries a $65 million price tag. “The Pope’s Exorcist” is also aiming to collect at least $10 million from 3,100 North American venues — a slightly better target since it cost just $18 million.

Chris McKay, the filmmaker behind “The Tomorrow War” and “The Lego Batman Movie,” directed “Renfield,” a modern take on the story of Dracula’s loyal servant. “The Menu” actor Nicholas Hoult stars as Renfield, the tortured henchman to the Nicolas Cage’s famed narcissistic vampire, who tries to end their co-dependent relationship after centuries of servitude.

Critics have been mostly complimentary to “Renfield,” which currently holds an 80% average on Rotten Tomatoes. Variety’s critic Owen Gleiberman wasn’t as high on the film (“there’s nothing much at stake”), though he praised Cage’s comedic interpretation of The Count (“it’s a witty and luscious performance, unhinged but never out of control”).

With “Renfield,” Universal continues the revamp of its monster-verse after finding success with 2020’s low-budget hit “The Invisible Man,” starring Elisabeth Moss. The studio was forced to retool its so-called Dark Universe, based on characters from its vast vault of legendary monsters, after the commercial failure of Tom Cruise’s remake of “The Mummy.”

Russell Crowe stars in “The Pope’s Exorcist,” inspired by the true story of the Vatican’s chief exorcist. In the film, directed by Julius Avery, Father Gabriele Amorth investigates a young boy’s terrifying possession and ends up uncovering a centuries-old conspiracy that the Holy See has tried to conceal.

Reviews for “The Pope’s Exorcist” weren’t all that enthusiastic (it has a 64% on Rotten Tomatoes), with Variety’s Guy Lodge calling the possession chiller “thin” and “by-the-numbers.” It’s good, then, that critical sentiments usually don’t affect the opening weekend turnout for horror movies. (Subsequent weekends are another story). The genre has been on a hot streak in theaters, though the $18 million production budget for “The Pope’s Exorcist” makes it slightly pricer than the average low-budget thriller.

In limited release, A24 is bringing director Ari Aster’s latest anxiety-inducer “Beau Is Afraid” to four locations — Lincoln Square and Alamo in NYC and Century and Burbank in Los Angeles. Described by one outlet as a “three-hour-long panic attack,” the Joaquin Phoenix-led film follows an anxious man’s odyssey to get home following a family tragedy.

As Aster, the director of “Midsommar” and “Hereditary,” likely intended, even critics have struggled to entirely make sense of “Beau Is Afraid.” Rolling Stone’s critic David Fear says, “It’s either the most terrifying comedy or the funniest horror film of 2023.”

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