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Netflix's 'Murder Mystery' Would've Killed With a $120 Million Opening Weekend—If the Adam Sandler Comedy Ran in Theaters

Dan Reilly
Netflix's 'Murder Mystery' Would've Killed With a $120 Million Opening Weekend—If the Adam Sandler Comedy Ran in Theaters

If Adam Sandler’s new Netflix movie Murder Mystery drew the same U.S. box office numbers as it did via streaming, it would have made $120.5 million domestically in its opening weekend.

That figure is based on the estimated average price for a North American movie ticket being $9.01 and Netflix revealing that the movie—featuring Jennifer Aniston cast as Sandler’s wife—was streamed by more than 13.3 million accounts in its first three days of availability.

Adding in its global audience, Murder Mystery scored a record-breaking 30.8 million viewers—the highest weekend ever for a Netflix debut—which would put its theoretical global haul $278.1 million—great results for Netflix and Sandler, who signed a four-movie deal with the streaming service in 2017.

Of course, there’s no way to directly measure Murder Mystery’s streaming success to a traditional theatrical release. Netflix, which has 148.9 million subscribers, counts a “view” of its content when an account has watched 70% of a title, though that doesn’t account for any unintentional streams of the flick due to autoplay. Netflix also can’t measure the number of people who actually sat in front of a television to watch one of its titles, nor those who walked away 20 minutes into a movie without hitting stop.

Most importantly, there’s no equivalent—at least not yet—for showing how many people would have actually left their homes and paid $9 for a ticket to see this, as opposed to just randomly choosing to watch it as part of their $13-per-month Netflix subscription. Perhaps Murder Mystery would have matched the success of Sandler and Aniston’s 2011 team-up, Just Go With It, with its $215 million worldwide haul. Or maybe it would’ve matched 2015’s Sandler ensemble film Pixels, which grossed $244 million. It’s impossible to know.

But what Murder Mystery does prove is that Netflix’s deal with Sandler and its other forays into original filmmaking can produce blockbuster results. The comedy’s results are a huge step up from Bright, the 2017 Will Smith fantasy film that had only 11 million viewers in its first weekend, according to Nielsen. Netflix has also had great numbers with Sandra Bullock’s Bird Box, which garnered 45 million views in its first week, and the Ben Affleck-helmed Triple Frontier, which had 52 million over its first 30 days.

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Murder Mystery also bodes particularly well for Netflix because it has attracted eyeballs despite receiving a poor critical reaction. The movie has just a 45% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes—a number that likely would’ve scared off moviegoers.

That Murder Mystery would’ve won the weekend is a dubious achievement. According to Box Office Mojo, Men in Black: International only pulled in $30 million domestically last weekend as the country’s top movie.

And the 2019 summer movie season is already off to a dismal start, with year-to-date box office numbers only edging 2018’s by less than one percent, according to CNBC. Without people still going to see Avengers: Endgame, which raked in $350 million in May after its April release, the number would be far lower thanks to the poor showings by Men in Black: International, Godzilla: King of Monsters, and Dark Phoenix.

To be fair, Toy Story 4 is expected to have a worldwide opening of $260 million, but Netflix is still clearly winning by putting out a middling movie that people can watch in the comfort of their own home, in the backseat of a car, or wherever else they choose. There’s no commitment to the cost of seeing it, as the subscription fee is already paid, and viewers save by not paying for travel and exorbitant concessions.

It’s a win for Hollywood talent, as well. With numbers that huge, actors and directors can command a solid, if not higher, payday, possibly with more creative control like Sandler reportedly has. After the Oscar success of Roma (in spite of Steven Spielberg’s griping that it shouldn’t have been eligible because it wasn’t a traditional release) and upcoming films like Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman with Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino, Netflix is showing that it’s a destination for prestige movies, to accompany ony its cricitally acclaimed original series like Stranger Things, Orange Is the New Black, and so many others.

So while the exact amount that Murder Mystery would have made with a traditional wide release remains, well, a mystery, it’s hard to deny that it’s a legitimate hit. And that makes Netflix, as a movie studio, as big a power player as any in Hollywood—whether it’s screening its movies in the theaters or not.

Related: Why Netflix Wants You to Know That Everyone’s Watching ‘Murder Mystery’