As we approach the end of this experimental summer movie season and look ahead through 2021, this weekend was truly the last chance for Warner Brothers to prove that their hybrid HBO Max was not going to be a total bust. (Everyone should know that Dune has a very specialized audience, and, okay, maybe fans have shrugged off whatever beefs they have with the Matrix sequels to give the fourth one a shot.) It is conceivably possible that Godzilla vs. Kong is going to be the only film on the studio’s slate to hit what is shaping up to be a very exclusive $100 million club this year. This weekend was the studio’s best shot at a second slot in that club and as the dust settles it’s starting to look like no film was probably held back more from its potential this summer than James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad.
(Photo by © Warner Bros.)
The spin began as early as Friday when the $4.1 million that The Suicide Squad grossed in Thursday night previews was touted as the best “R”-rated start for a film during the pandemic. The problem is that it is hard to measure that kind of championship when the only other “no one under 17 will be admitted with a guardian (of another galaxy or otherwise)” films to get previews in 2021 were The Forever Purge ($1.3 million) and The Green Knight ($750,000). So that title is not super impressive. However, there was still hope given that a number of other films including 2009’s Star Trek, Captain America: The First Avenger, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, and The Wolverine all started with $4 million in previews and went on to opening weekends between $53 million and $75 million. (Granted those were non-pandemic/non-new-variant times.) But even those on the low spectrum of those Thursday numbers, including last year’s pre-pandemic Birds of Prey, opened to $33 million. The Suicide Squad did not even hit that.
So $26.5 million is the number the film is looking at for its opening weekend. That is the best “R”-rated opening of the pandemic, barely edging out The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It ($24.1 million) and Mortal Kombat ($23.3 million), the latter from way back in April when we were still right in the middle of steady vaccination numbers. (The top Thursday previews for an “R”-rated film is still Deadpool 2, which made nearly as much in just a third of a day – $18.6 million – as The Suicide Squad made in an additional three full ones.)
So where does the lion’s share of the blame for the movie’s underperformance go? Don’t blame the critics. They are mostly in lockstep recommending the film (Certified Fresh at 92% on the Tomatometer) compared to how much they disliked the 2006 version (Rotten at 26%). Are moviegoers showing their concern over the rising numbers among the unvaccinated due to the Delta variant? And did an option to subscribe to HBO Max make their decision easier? How did The Suicide Squad manage to do $9 million less than Black Widow on its Thursday launch? Is it because HBO Max decided to offer the DC film on Thursday night while Disney+ held back their $29.99 Premier Access option until Friday?
So is HBO Max entirely to blame? Giving 100% culpability to any single entity would be foolish. Quality matters, even if the calculations of word-of-mouth have been redefined this year. Interest matters. The pandemic matters. While we can probably expect another strongly-worded “I told you so” from the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) this week, the numbers do not lie. Streaming or not, since the end of June, when F9 opened, only two films have grossed more than 2.5 times its opening weekend: The Boss Baby: Family Business (3.42x), which was also streaming for free on Peacock, and The Forever Purge (3.47x), which was exclusively in theaters. Here is a breakdown of the rest.
DISNEY PREMIER ACCESS
HBO MAX (SINCE GODZILLA VS. KONG)
But let’s not let the HBO Max decision off the hook either. Repeat business seems to be at a stand still until we get a true all-clear on COVID and Delta, and streaming only doubles down on that. So the opening weekend is more crucial than ever before. The Suicide Squad is just the seventh film during this time to start with over $25 million, joining HBO Max compatriots Godzilla vs. Kong and Space Jam: A New Legacy. The former stretched its legs through a still-wide open marketplace while vaccine hope was at its peak; the latter dropped like a stone and may end up with the worst multiple for a family film this year.
We could just drop all the variables and statistics and know that in our hearts, Gunn’s film goes nowhere south of $60 million in normal times. And that is as conservative as it gets. The top “R”-rated opening in August is still Straight Outta Compton, with $60.2 million, so it’s hard to even suggest that a high-profile DC film whose almost universally-maligned “PG-13” effort is the highest opening weekend ever in August with $133.68 million wouldn’t make $70 million or more. Not when both Deadpools opened to over $125 million, Joker to over $96 million, and Logan with $88.4 million.
The only thing we know for sure is that this year, in our current circumstances, The Suicide Squad will not be joining the $100 million club and the odds are very much in favor that nothing from the rest of Warner Brothers’ lineup for 2021 will be invited in either.
Last week’s no. 1 film is showing some potential to eventually join the $100 million club. Jungle Cruise fell 55% to $15.7 million this weekend. In this environment that actually constitutes a victory given that it is the lowest drop for a no. 1 film in its second weekend since Spiral fell 47.5% from a meager start of $8.7 million. That puts Jungle’s 10-day toll at $65 million, which is ahead of Godzilla vs. Kong’s $60.05 million at 10 days, though with that film’s Wednesday opening it only had four weekend days to accumulate that total compared to Jungle’s six. Nevertheless, it is still a better second weekend than GvK’s $13.88 million, so we’ll give Jungle Cruise a puncher’s chance of breaking that ceiling.
M. Night Shyamalan’s Old fell back just a single spot for the third straight week. It is right in line with The Forever Purge’s third weekend of $4.1 million. Overall, it is still ahead of that film’s pace by almost $3 million, so look for Old’s final tally to be in the range of $45 million, just getting over Lady in the Water’s total and avoiding being the lowest-grossing film of Shyamalan’s post-Sixth Sense career. Black Widow dropped to fourth place with $4 million, which is the third-best fifth weekend this year behind A Quiet Place Part II ($6.19 million) and F9 ($4.82 million). Still, it did pass F9 this week and now certainly has a lock to claim the crown of summer champion, not to mention fairly decent odds to compete for the highest-grossing film of the year, with possibly No Time to Die and Spider-Man: No Way Home as its biggest challengers.
(Photo by © A24)
Amongst last weekend’s adult entries, Stillwater dropped 45% to $2.86 million and stands total at $10 million. It looks like Focus Features, which has put every one of its 13 films into theaters since Kajillionaire last September, is going to have its highest-grossing film of the pandemic – but just its second to pass $10 million and one which is unlikely to hit $15 million. The Green Knight is just A24’s third theatrical release during this time and their numbers have actually gone up. From Oscar nominee Minari ($3.1 million) to Zola ($4.1 million) and now to David Lowery’s film (the first in the company’s history to start in third place), which has earned $12 million so far.
Things get a little more crowded in theaters next week. Delayed multiple times since last year, audiences can finally see Ryan Reynolds as a video game character trying to escape in Free Guy (which critics are digging). More folks are trying to rob Stephen Lang’s abusive blind guy in Don’t Breathe 2, and Jennifer Hudson takes on the role of Aretha Franklin in the biopic, Respect. All three films will be exclusive to theaters.
[box office figures via Box Office Mojo]