Can A Haunting In Venice Bring Kenneth Branagh's Hercule Poirot Back To Box Office Glory?


Kenneth Branagh is back both in front of and behind the camera for another Agatha Christie adaptation in the form of "A Haunting in Venice." Based on one of the author's lesser-known Hercule Poirot mysteries "Hallowe'en Party," this will give Branagh's trilogy a more overtly spooky spin than his previous two adaptations, "Murder on the Orient Express" and "Death on the Nile." The big question is how this entry will perform commercially. Will it be a surprise fall success story like "Murder" before it? Or will it suffer theatrically like "Death" did last year?

Box Office Pro currently has the star-studded "A Haunting in Venice" taking in anywhere between $11 and $16 million on its opening weekend. That would be much closer to "Death on the Nile," which opened to $12.8 million in February 2022, when it was competing directly with the Super Bowl. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 2017's "Murder on the Orient Express" opened to $28.6 million even while facing heavy competition from the likes of "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Daddy's Home 2." Naturally, Disney and 20th Century Studios are hoping for a debut closer to "Murder."

That said, there is much to consider with this third Christie adaptation from Branagh. "Murder on the Orient Express" finished its run with $351.7 million worldwide, a stellar result based on its $55 million budget. "Death on the Nile," on the other hand, topped out with just $130.2 million worldwide against a steep $90 million budget. Worth considering though is that the sequel was caught up in Disney's purchase of Fox in 2019. Then star Armie Hammer's sexual assault allegations came to light, which further complicated matters and delayed the release several times. The sequel caught of tough break, to put it mildly.

This Hercule Poirot mystery has a horror hook

Fortunately, no such controversy has erupted over "A Haunting in Venice." Rather, things seemed to go very well from the jump. Disney was quick to give the sequel the green light, even with the box office returns for "Death" being less than stellar (more on that in a moment). The cast came together nicely, and the movie was completed in less than a year from the start of filming to its release. A very different situation indeed.

It also doesn't hurt that this entry carries a stellar cast that includes Michelle Yeoh ("Everything Everywhere All at Once"), Tina Fey ("Saturday Night Live"), Jamie Dornan ("Fifty Shades of Grey"), Kelly Reilly ("Yellowstone"), and Riccardo Scamarcio ("John Wick: Chapter 2"), among others. It's also got a big horror angle, which may well hook moviegoers who skipped out on the last installment. The official synopsis reads as follows:

As I've discussed time and time again over the past couple of years, horror is the most reliable thing going at the box office as of late. Just look at what "M3GAN" did this year or what "Smile" did last year. Or, more recently, A24's "Talk to Me." With that in mind, and given that these movies all largely stand on their own without requiring a lot of homework, "Venice" could have an edge that "Death" didn't.

Disney is taking a calculated risk

One of the more striking things about this movie is the fact that Disney didn't hesitate to get a third entry in the series going despite the seemingly underwhelming theatrical results for "Death on the Nile." One might draw a few conclusions from that. First, it seems highly likely that the movie was a big performer on VOD and probably did substantial numbers on Hulu. That's value well beyond initial ticket sales. If Branagh was able to bring this third entry in for a budget closer to "Murder," then it's not hard to see why Disney would be willing to give this another shot. With a solid hook, this latest installment could break out in a way that its predecessor failed to. 

The other thing to consider is that the movie is facing no major direct competition on its opening weekend, save for "The Inventor," which appears to have a modest debut. However, both "The Nun II" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3" are opening the prior week, with "Expend4ables" and "Dumb Money" arriving the following week. But if word of mouth from moviegoers is strong, there is room for this film to run.

This is the kind of movie, in my view, that has the ability to beat current projections and do solid business week-to-week. The biggest thing working against it is the fact that the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, as well as the Writers Guild of America Strike, prevents actors or writers from doing press. That will hurt the bottom line. Having Yeoh and Fey on the press tour would help get this movie on people's radar. But if Disney can somehow build awareness in other ways like Sony did with "The Equalizer 3" recently, this could get the franchise back on the right track.

"A Haunting in Venice" is set to hit theaters on September 15, 2023.