Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” opened this weekend in over 3,600 theaters, taking in an estimated $23 million in the United States and Canada. It’s the largest box office opening for the director since the $41.4 million opening for “Shutter Island” in February 2010 (starring Leonardo DiCaprio) and a special feat considering both its length — three and a half hours — and the lack of promotional support from its cast, which includes Mr. DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, because of the actors’ strike.
It earned an additional $21 million in its international release.
“Killers” is the largest theatrical release for Apple Studios, which will return to the box office at Thanksgiving with the Ridley Scott epic “Napoleon” and again in February with the spy caper “Argylle.”
(Its strong showing didn’t earn bragging rights for this weekend’s box office. The No. 1 spot for the second week in a row went to “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” which cost $15 million. It earned an estimated $31 million for a total of $129.8 million — a boon for AMC Theatres Distribution’s first release.)
According to the worldwide distributor Paramount Pictures, the film about the murders of members of the Osage Nation, a Native American tribe in Oklahoma, in the 1920s, performed well in the top movie markets of Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco but also drew audiences in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Mr. Scorsese filmed the movie in Oklahoma and cast a number of Osage in the film.
More men saw the film than women, and 44 percent of the audience was under 30, a surprise for Paramount.
“That was really telling and bodes well for the future of cinema,” Paramount’s president of domestic distribution, Chris Aronson, said in an interview. “I didn’t know that many younger people would seek this movie out because, on the surface, you wouldn’t think that there would be that much appeal there.”
The issues surrounding the brutal treatment of the Osage Nation, he added, seemed to resonate. “Even though it occurred 100 years ago, it’s a story that needs to be told and deserves to be seen,” he said.
“Killers” also scored an A- in exit polls, according to the market research firm CinemaScore, the same score given to Mr. Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” and “The Departed.”
With a budget of around $200 million, even if it grosses five times its opening weekend numbers — which a lot of films by Mr. Scorsese do — it’s unlikely to earn back its cost at the box office. Perhaps that’s not an issue for the wildly acclaimed “Killers.” The movie, which was produced and financed by Apple in conjunction with Imperative Entertainment, has generated strong reviews, with The New York Times calling it a “heartbreaking masterpiece.” It’s likely to be part of the awards conversation this year.
Plus, Apple’s plan to put it directly on its service after its theatrical run should be a welcome bonus to Apple TV, which, despite producing quality work, has had difficulty attracting a significant following on its streaming service.
David A. Gross, a film consultant who publishes a newsletter on box office information, declared “Killers” an important movie to the industry for two reasons. One, because Mr. Scorsese is considered a “master storyteller” and “filmmakers and audiences believe this is ‘real cinema’.” And two, because Apple is venturing into new territory.
“If ‘flexibility’ is the new mantra of the theatrical movie business,” he wrote, “then this is a significant success — it establishes a viable option for the companies.”