When it comes to forecasting any opening weekend at this summer’s box office, the major studios should take a cue from the Joe Biden administration: under-promise and over-deliver on results.
Not just here in the U.S. but around the globe, the box office remains in a funk.
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Several hurdles muddy the waters: The two biggest B.O. capitals in the U.S., LA and NYC, continue to have auditorium capacities capped, three major provinces in Canada are still closed until July TBD, and an assortment of mixed messaging is out there about what films are available in theaters and in the home. In the past 24 hours, Victoria in Australia underwent a Covid lockdown, including entertainment venues, which will spell a 30% negative impact to the country’s box office.
As such, we can’t merely abide by the old rules of projections.
All of this said, for the 4-day Memorial Day holiday stateside, we’re lowballing: $17M for Disney’s Cruella, which is pitting theatrical in competition with its Disney+ subscribers who can see the movie for $29.99 at home, and $30M for Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II. Both are pining for a No. 1 global debut with around $40M apiece.
A Quiet Place was expected to open to around $20M+ back in April 2018 but crushed those projections off great word-of-mouth following its SXSW world premiere that spring with a $50.2M 3-day — awesome for a $17M feature production. The pic finaled at $188M domestic and $340.9M WW. Before the pandemic hit, early tracking in February 2020 had A Quiet Place Part II at a $60M projected domestic opening, a completely different time indeed. After John Krasinski’s papa character died in the original movie, which he also directed, the sequel is about the aftermath as Emily Blunt’s mama, baby and two kids make their way in a world ravaged by the screeching big-eared aliens who can be killed by high-pitched, loud noises. There are great optics for the sequel heading into the weekend with Fandango reporting strong U.S. pre-sales. Paramount is holding Thursday night previews at 5PM, with the pic booked at 3,700 locations including Imax, Dolby, and PLF venues.
A Quiet Place Part II is hitting 12 overseas markets this session, which cover 30% of the foreign footprint with 54 markets ahead including Russia, the UK next week, followed by Brazil, Mexico, Korea, France, Spain, Japan and Germany throughout the month of June. The sequel scored a late-breaking China date for this Friday, which will bow in sync with Australia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Iceland, Indonesia, Lithuania, New Zealand, Portugal, Serbia/Montenegro, South Africa and Ukraine. There’s some strategic counterprogramming here as the European Championship soccer tournament kicks off June 10 and runs for a month.
The original did over $34M in China, opening against the hold of Avengers: Infinity War. Similarly, the sequel has got some stiff competition this weekend with F9 still in play, after a $136M start there, and Stand by Me Doraemon 2 joining the roster. The timing of the greenlight from local authorities gives Paramount just a small window to get the word out, and presales didn’t start until this week, but the studio has been nimble.
Cruella started its overseas tour Wednesday in Italy, Switzerland and Indonesia and adds the UK, Spain, Australia, Japan, Korea, Brazil and Mexico through Friday. In total, covering about 60% of the international footprint, the film also will play on Disney+ for an additional fee in offshore territories where the service is available. Notably not included this session are China, Russia and France. France is a particular case as its media chronology laws do not allow for a simultaneous streaming release, so it will be a purely theatrical play and Disney is waiting until the market’s capacity restrictions move from 35% to 65% in mid-June (the same ruling could relegate Black Widow to a theatrical release there as well). China, meanwhile, could opt to add the movie whenever it chooses — it has been approved for release, but no date has been fixed.
The UK and Latin American markets for Cruella should perform well this session, the former saw folks flock back to cinemas when they reopened last week. and Brazil is showing increased strength. As for comps, we mostly will be looking at Onward and Raya and the Last Dragon overseas, given that they both released during Covid. But the like-for-likes are difficult to ascertain since Raya just opened in some markets and Onward didn’t go out in some of the Cruella markets.
We can’t comp Cruella to Raya stateside: No. 3 chain Cinemark wasn’t a part of the opening-weekend suite of theaters for the animated film, not to mention Los Angeles wasn’t open at the time. It stands to reason in terms of pure muscle that Cruella certainly will beat Raya‘s domestic opening of $8.5M, but in terms of how high it goes, the whole Disney+ Premier throws in a monkey wrench into forecasts. Raya was booked at 2,045 theaters, and Cruella is playing at 3,800-plus, including more than 300 PLFs in the U.S. Also possibly curbing business: At 2 hours and 14 minutes, Cruella is one of the longest-running Disney family live-action films, longer than Beauty and the Beast (2 hours, 9 minutes), Aladdin (2 hours, 8 minutes), Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (1 hour, 59 minutes), and Alice in Wonderland (1 hour, 48 minutes).
Calculating a Comeback
Will it be a good summer? A bad summer?
It’s definitely one of rebuild, and that goes for the whole globe, with Europe and Brazil slowly on the mend.
Finally, that summer we were planning last year with a flood of movies after Tenet looks to be occurring, with wide releases opening every weekend for the rest of 2021 except for the first weekend of December when Searchlight has a limited launch planned for Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley.
By Aug. 27, only 4,760 U.S. and Canadian movie theaters are expected to have reopened out of the 5,880 supply (only 72% of that number are open for this weekend). Out of that figure, there are roughly 200 theaters that haven’t indicated to studios when they’re turning the lights back on (still TBD on the outcome of L.A.-based cinema chain ArcLight/Pacific).
On the upside, diagnostics for the domestic marketplace — outside of Canada’s Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba being closed until July — look great, with NRG reporting at “The Big Screen Is Back“ conference that moviegoers’ comfort level is at its highest since the onset of the pandemic at 70% and a recent Fandango poll saying that 96% of all ticket buyers will see multiple movies this summer.
“Admittedly, the limited availability and capacity of theaters is still playing a role in mitigating the box-office horsepower for new films entering the marketplace,” said Comscore Senior Media Analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “However, by virtue of growing consumer confidence, every week the revenue generating potential of the movie marketplace is incrementally increased.”
Added Dergarabedian, “The summer of ’21 — while getting off to a late start– may actually wind up in the sweet spot of where the number of new movies being supplied by studios may dovetail perfectly into increased audience demand and thus benefit exhibition over the long haul.”
As far as studios’ love affair with experimental day-and-date theatrical/streaming strategies (we’re talking about Disney, Warner Bros. and now Universal, with its same-day July 2 Peacock launch of The Boss Baby: Family Business), we’re not fully convinced they’ll be a part of a post-pandemic world, especially for tentpoles. Such releases annihilate window revenues, cheapen theatrical IP, have short box office legs and only serve to feed studios’ lack of content on their streaming services.
Uni’s decision on Boss Baby 2 is a maneuver to get more of its free subscribers on Peacock to possibly move up to the $5 next tier. (It also speaks greater volumes about how the studio treats its DreamWorks Animation fare next to Illumination titles, which are strictly reserved for a theatrical release.) Despite Warner Bros.’ big openings for New Line Mortal Kombat and Legendary’s Godzilla vs. Kong, the first movie fell 73% in its second weekend, and the second hasn’t even crossed $100M stateside yet after a $48.1M five-day U.S. launch, as it heads into its ninth weekend.
The industry continues to see China as a rebound model that the U.S. potentially could emulate, especially after the massive opening of F9 last weekend and the all-time record opening (for any global territory) of Detective Chinatown 3 with $398M, which outstripped Avengers: Endgame’s domestic 3-day record of $357.1M. One of the notable aspects of the F9 strategy was to get in early in China, where a blackout on imports is expected to be looming. The 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party will be celebrated on July 1, meaning the focus will be on local titles for a period of time that some sources believe might extend into August.
A potential shutout of imports raises questions surrounding Disney/Marvel’s Black Widow and whether it could slot in if July is a full blackout. China is a massive Marvel market. It’s only not out of the question for the film to get a late-August release, weeks before Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (if the PRC even allows that movie in, given offense expressed on social media over its villain the Mandarian).
Much of Europe will be back in operation over the coming several frames, notably with the UK and France opening cinemas last week. The UK started hopping with Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway, which had already been piling eggs into its basket in an early Australia release and which will see rollout through May, June and July internationally. In France, local titles such as the Jean Dujardin starrer OSS 117: Alerte Rouge en Afrique Noire is expected to be a breakout in early August.
Russia has come back strongly with local titles and some Hollywood pics doing solid business, but there still are 50%-70% capacity restrictions in more than half of the market’s regions. Spain has some restrictions but is almost fully open. Other European markets whose cinemas are expected to reopen more widely during the next several weeks include Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Czech Republic and Finland.
The Euro Cup football tournament — which was delayed from last summer — runs for a month from June 11 in various locales. Depending on individual country restrictions, stadium capacity will be limited. Matches play at all times of day and the fixtures typically eat into box office as they’re aired during primetime and on weekends, a phenomenon that lends itself to counterprogramming with family and genre titles (think A Quiet Place Part II among others). Although it’s not exactly counterprogramming, F9 will run across that period in some markets, but scheduling has been set up so that there is not much clash in the major soccer countries. It’s also a terrific holiday play period: Uni used the same strategy with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom during 2018’s World Cup.
Brazil has begun to get back to business, but there is some trouble brewing in Southeast Asia as Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore recently have seen Covid spikes. South Korea, which suffered setbacks in recent months, has been rallying softly and had an encouraging opening with F9.
In Japan, a state of emergency is in place in Tokyo and three other prefectures until the end of May. The Summer Olympics are currently expected to go ahead, though recent polls found that around 60% of respondents wanted the Games postponed or canceled, Reuters reported. Either way, foreign spectators will not be allowed. Until the latest measures taken by the government to contain a surge in Covid cases, the market had bounced back formidably with the likes of Demon Slayer and Detective Conan: The Scarlet Bullet. Japan often is the last to go for the majors given its lack of piracy, so whether the Olympics happens or not, it’s unlikely to have a significant effect on box office.
In the end, it all boils down to how people vote with their wallets at theaters.
As far as the U.S. marketplace goes, where Comscore keeps strict records, the summer of 2019, which was dominated by Avengers: Endgame, delivered $4.3 billion. Last summer only made $176.4M in a nation where several theaters were closed and drive-ins the only venues that were alive. Last year would final at $2.25 billion stateside.
This year’s B.O. for the period of January 1 through May 21 currently counts $574M, 69% behind the same frame a year ago.
A sober forecast for the U.S. theatrical marketplace this summer?
Close that divide.
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