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If there’s one weekend at the box office that studios and exhibitors typically have had no thanks for, it’s the post Thanksgiving period, typically the first weekend in December, when business drops by as much as 50%.
Last year the Black Friday weekend went from $180.9M led by Frozen 2 to $90.3M during the first frame of December, and let me tell ya somethin’, studios and exhibition are hungering for those types of tickets sales right now.
Universal remains the only major studio pumping out wide releases to those remaining movie theaters which aren’t being smashed down by lockdowns (like in California — God knows when we’ll be able to go to the movies again).
This weekend, Universal’s DreamWorks Animated title The Croods: A New Age in weekend 2 continued to see the best numbers in the current COVID-19 America, with $4.4M, -55%, crossing $20.3M in its 12th day in release. Uni also released the romantic drama All My Life in 970 locations for a $350K result in 4th place, while Focus Features’ had the Luke Greenfield-directed Mexican comedy Half Brothers at 1,369 locations, earning $720K in 2nd place.
By those two latter results, it’s clear that Uni invested more in P&A on Croods 2 than those two niche titles. Uni had the top 4 titles this past weekend, with Blumhouse’s Freaky in 3rd with $460K, -42%, and a $7.7M total in weekend 4. Overall, with Focus’ Come Play and Let Him Go, Uni had six spots in this past weekend’s top 10 chart.
At the start of this pandemic, Universal was viewed as Public Enemy No. 1 studio by exhibition with their Trolls World Tour experiment, and later, AMC crushed window-PVOD share deal. Now, they look like angels and saints next to the audacious move put forward by WarnerMedia this past week to put their entire 2021 theatrical release schedule on their streaming service HBO Max and in theaters at the same time.
Exhibitors, talent reps, and talent are still feeling the sting from this, and only time will tell if this move by WarnerMedia is pure financial genius or pure financial insanity, which would lead to AT&T divesting the entertainment arm over sheer financial losses incurred. While Wonder Woman 1984 is expected to lose money (film financial analysts tell Deadline that the $200 million DC sequel has to do 40% more than Tenet‘s current global take of $357.8 million to hit breakeven — good luck with that, WarnerMedia, with so many theaters around the world shut); it’s clear that at this point in time WarnerMedia simply wants to become Netflix (or Disney+). Plain and simple. And that they want that juice and electricity from the stock price as well.
Even though parent company AT&T has a market cap of $210.5 billion, which isn’t that far from Netflix’s $220.1B and Disney’s $278.5B, imagine if AT&T had a share price that was even close to those two latter companies.
Since movie theaters shut down, Netflix’s share price is up 39% as of Friday, going from $357.32 back on March 18 to $498.31 as of Friday. Disney’s is up 57%, moving from $98.12 to $154.14 over the same time frame; the amazing story with them is that the pandemic’s financial ruin on theatrical and theme parks didn’t rain on the Mouse House’s parade, which is electric, thanks to streamer Disney+.
And how has AT&T been over this time frame? They’re only +5%, going from $28.09 to $29.54; hence the desperate move to put its entire 2021 theatrical catalog on HBO Max (some still don’t get the whole initial month thing timed with theaters, better to drop the movies 30 days later and keep them there. The first 30 day window on HBO Max is only apt to create account cancellations, which is the general thinking among industry sources).
While some financial analysts are gleeful over WarnerMedia’s ability to bet its theatrical inventory squarely on HBOMax, and the short-term solution makes sense to put movies on the streaming service during the pandemic, remember, we’re apt to come out of this long-term lockdown at some point, and when that happens, no one is going to want to stay at home.
It will truly be the roaring ’20s, with live concert events, sports — and yes, even moviegoing returning. With the nation’s exhibitors apt to come out of this pandemic in lesser numbers, only then will we know what kind of pushback they can do in negotiations with Warner Bros. Those studios believing in theatrical will have the upper hand, and as they demand screens, Warners will lose their heft. For now, exhibition should be smart, charge $1 or $5 for Warner/HBO Max titles and reap the rest in popcorn and soda to stay alive.
Warners will, and already has in the case of Wonder Woman 1984, bought out talent’s back-end deals, given their streaming-theatrical experiment, and they’ll have to do so for the entire 2021 theatrical slate. That’s a pretty extra penny on top of the production costs, interest expended, and P&A that is yet to come. If Warners continues to greenlight movies for purely HBO Max into 2022, the question is whether, like Netflix, backend deals for talent go away forever. Where’s the fruits from the global box office? The days of Warner Bros awarding Range Rovers to talent (like they reportedly did with the talent of Lethal Weapon 3 in the summer of 1996) are truly extinct.
Says one film finance source this morning, “Netflix finances their product by borrowing money each year. They have a large amount of debt, but nowhere near AT&T’s. If they hired another ten to 20 of the biggest showrunners, that would make more sense to me. Short form leads to repeat viewing, and is cost-effective for OTT. I expect large losses. AT&T has so much debt, and if they tell Warner Bros. to move away from event pictures, that would kill a highly profitable studio. Stankey thinks streaming is something that it simply is not, and won’t become. This is all a bet on increasing HBO Max’s subscriber base. Stankey said streaming had left the barn, but I wonder if it left without him. Can he compete with Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+, and if companies like Apple or Google, who have massive money, decide to join streaming, can HBO Max survive? They also have the highest price point. In the early 1900s there were over 3,000 US automobile companies. Three survived.”
Unfortunately there’s not enough here to create a crowd for Half Brothers, with a 30% Rotten Tomatoes rating, B Cinemscore, and a 77% on Comscore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak. Only a 47% definite recommend here. The comedy follows Renato, a Mexican aviation exec, who is shocked to learn he has an American half-brother he never knew about, the free-spirited Asher. They are forced on a road trip together, tracing the path their father took from Mexico to the US. Hispanics turned up at 44%, stemming from most potent ticket sales in the Southwest and West, leaning male at 52%, with close to half over 35 years old.
RelishMix noticed overall mixed-to-negative chatter for Half Brothers on social media, reporting, “Fans are discussing not only the outcome of the road-trip, but on a distribution note, where and when it will stream, as windows are sliding erratically, and each of the studios are debating how and when to point fans to the eventual stream when it’s not day/date. Plus, questions about whether the movie is cut as a Spanish Version or combo Spanglish subtitled version. Mixed sentiment leans negative on Facebook and on YouTube, with shout-outs to the cool music track in the trailer originating from Jukebox The Ghost. Covid chatter this week is very light and understated.”
All My Life, again, another title no one was yearning to go out of their way and wear a mask for this weekend in droves with a 57% Rotten, B+ CinemaScore, 72% PostTrak, and 51% recommend. Females, natch, showed up at 53%, 61% over 25 and about the same between 18-34. Diversity demos were 54% White, 21% Hispanic, 14% Asian-Other and 11% African American. Southwest was the only notable market for this Marc Meyers directed movie about a couple’s wedding plans which are thrown off course when the groom is diagnosed with liver cancer (who wants to see this in a pandemic, or even at Christmas?).
RelishMix noticed that even though Universal social channels have a reach of 55.4M, this pic is getting boxed out by Croods 2 and Freaky in its push, with only one trailer on YouTube reaching 4.6M views for 26 videos before opening, plus 7.5M views on Facebook. “Dedicated social channels for the film are light, but could build momentum as the next two of movies are slim,” says RelishMix.
The top 10 as we see it for this past weekend:
Croods: A New Age (Uni)2,205 theaters (+6), 3-day: $4.4M, Total: $20.3M/Wk 2
Half Brothers (Focus) 1,369 theaters, 3-day: $720K/Wk 1
Freaky(Uni)1,502 (-233), 3-day: $460K (-42%)/Total: $7.7M/Wk 4
All My Life (Uni) 970 theaters, 3-day: $350K/Wk 1
War With Grandpa(101) 1,285 (-215) theaters, 3-day: $329K (-44%)/Total: $17.6M/Wk 9
Elf( NL) 550 theaters (-150), 3-day: $315K (-10%), Total: $173.1M/Wk 4 of re-release
Come Play(Foc) 773 (-256) theaters, 3-day: $235K (-37%)/Total: $9M/Wk 6
Let Him Go (Foc) 1,113 theaters (-334), 3-day: $215K (-53%)/Total: $9M/Wk 5
Honest Thief (Open) 785 (-190) theaters, 3-day: $190K (-46%)/Total: $13.8M/Wk 9
Die Hard (Fox) 1,172 theaters, 3-day: $189k/Total: $83.7M/Wk 1 of re-release
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