‘Wonka’ waltzes to $39 million opening, propelled by Chalamet’s starring role

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Timothee Chalamet in a scene from "Wonka." (Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

NEW YORK — “Wonka” debuted with $39 million in box office sales in U.S. and Canadian theaters over the weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday. That made it a strong start for the Timothée Chalamet -starring Willy Wonka musical that underscored the young star’s draw.

Musicals have been tough sells in theaters in recent years, so much so that Warner Bros. downplayed the song and dance elements of “Wonka” in trailers. Instead, the studio emphasized Chalamet, the 27-year-old actor who, with “Wonka,” notched his second No. 1 movie following 2021’s “Dune.” The earlier film recorded a $41 million opening.


While “Dune” was a sprawling and star-studded sci-fi adventure, “Wonka” relies chiefly on Chalamet’s charisma.

“Wonka,” which cost about $125 million to produce and played at 4,203 locations, was also the first big Hollywood release to launch following the end of the SAG-AFTRA actors’ strike. Chalamet hosted “Saturday Night Live” just days after the strike ended. In his opening monologue, he sang to the tune of “Pure Imagination” about “returning to this magical world where actors can promote their projects.”

“It shows you the power of a star, and it also shows you the power of a star going out and working a movie,” said Jeffrey Goldstein, distribution chief for Warner Bros. “Having him out there after the strikes were over was a win for him and a win for the movie.”

Goldstein expects “Wonka” to be the go-to choice from families over the holidays. Its main competition for kids will be Universal Pictures’ animated “Migration.”

“Wonka,” directed by Paul King of “Paddington” and “Paddington 2,” is a prequel to 1971’s “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” with Chalamet starring as a young Wonka trying to open a candy store. Its ensemble cast includes Hugh Grant, Olivia Colman and Keegan-Michael Key.

Warner Bros. last revived Roald Dahl’s classic with the 2005 Tim Burton-directed “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” starring Johnny Depp. It debuted with $56.2 million and ultimately grossed $475 million worldwide.

To reach those numbers, “Wonka” will need strong legs through the lucrative holiday moviegoing period. On its side are mostly good reviews (84% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes) and positive audience reaction (an “A-” CinemaScore).

The only other new wide release in theaters was “Christmas With the Chosen: Holy Night,” from Christian-theme distributor Angel Studios.

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