Spring is in bloom, fans are going to back to baseball parks around the country, and yes, moviegoers are slowly — but steadily — beginning their return to cinemas.
The recent $48 million five-day bow of Godzilla vs. Kong at the North American box office provided the best signal yet that theatrical recovery is progressing. It’s a substantial indicator of pent-up audience demand, and provides a hint at what other high-profile films can achieve in the next few months.
The Warner Bros. / Legendary movie’s performance exceeded all pandemic era expectations and benchmarks. It also capped a wild month-plus of news that saw California reopen cinemas up to 50 percent seating capacities, New York City’s movie houses come back online, and numerous developments on the fronts of theatrical windows and release calendar shifts.
Following a year that had been filled to the brim with “one step forward, two steps back” narratives gripping theatrical restarts around the world, the significantly improved distribution and implementation of vaccines in the United States has generated a rise in consumer sentiment and industry confidence.
So, what comes next?
Transitioning from Q1 to Q2
To be clear, the battle is far from over. Warner Bros. and Legendary’s epic monster showdown, which reached $358.6 million globally through April 11, is worth celebrating. Still, key markets in Europe and Latin America remain offline, and New York City remains capped at a 25 percent seating capacity.
By design, most of April and early May’s release slates have been cleared of major releases to allow more time for those markets, plus domestic’s own partner in Canada, to get back on their feet. The window also allows films already in the marketplace to enjoy long runways as consumers come back to theaters at their own pace.
The first quarter of 2021, which ended April 2 by retail calendar definitions, generated over $240 million at the domestic box office. That’s the best of any quarter since the pandemic forced theaters to close in March 2020, topping last year’s estimated $235 million-plus in Q4.
Q2 2021 should far exceed those thresholds, and could more than double it to the point of more than $500 million-plus if the current release schedule remains in tact or improves further. Regal’s plan for a staggered reopening of domestic locations beginning in April and lasting through the end of May will provide another significant boost to that goal over time. Through April 11, just north of 60 percent of 5,100 total locations were open in North America.
The Impact of Mortal Kombat, Demon Slayer, and Black Widow‘s Delay
As those figures slowly climb, barring any unforeseen re-closures spurred by a fourth wave of COVID-19 that even medical experts are in disagreement about, the films currently in the market will have room to stretch. Godzilla vs. Kong is the most notable, of course, as it dwarfs the market and owns premium screens until Warner Bros. launches Mortal Kombat on April 23.
That video game adaptation, too, will be streaming as an SVOD release on the same day. Since Godzilla vs. Kong arguably has a wider target audience due to its iconic characters and PG-13 rating, even it may not be a fair apples-to-apples comp when trying to measure Kombat‘s potential at the box office.
Additionally, the import of Japan’s biggest box office hit in history, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train, is showing signs of over-performing in its domestic debut against the Warner film next weekend. Our current forecasts for both are listed in the chart below, and the duo could provide a much needed lift to late April’s outlook.
Ultimately, though, more ebbs and flows during this recovery and transition period should be expected. Last month’s delay of Disney and Marvel Studios’ Black Widow is one reason for that, and it was one of the few sour notes for exhibitors during the generally upbeat March news cycle. The film was not only shifted from May 7 to July 9, but also converted into a hybrid title that will release day-and-date in theaters and as a PVOD purchase for Disney+ streaming subscribers.
Forecasts are in constant revision, and without an ample supply of comparisons for hybrids during the pandemic, but Godzilla vs. Kong‘s own debut two weeks ago indicated via modeling that Black Widow had considerably high chances for a domestic run north of $125 million in early May. With increasing seating capacities, more theater re-openings, and higher moviegoer confidence projected then, that target may have been the floor of its potential.
What that becomes now with a day-and-date PVOD release for the MCU’s first film in two years is even more questionable and will depend on how many audiences opt for an at-home purchase in July. However, Disney was certainly between a rock and a hard place given that franchise’s global stature and the need to have as many markets ready as possible for the movie’s launch.
The good news for theaters, so far, is that Disney is taking things on a title-by-title basis. Aside from the Black Widow shift, a conversion of Cruella to a day-and-date PVOD title for Memorial Day weekend, and a surprising removal of Pixar’s Luca from the theatrical calendar entirely in favor of an SVOD (i.e., free to subscribers) release in June, the studio’s next Marvel releases (Shang-Chi and Eternals) remain planned as theatrical-only upon releasing later this year.
Even though the Widow move significantly dented box office forecasts for May, studios like United Artists Releasing and Lionsgate are stepping up and taking advantage by releasing Guy Ritchie’s Wrath of Man (May 7) and Spiral (May 14), respectively, to help fill out the May calendar.
A Quiet Place Part II: North America’s Next Inflection Point?
The next big story in the domestic box office world is tentatively set to come from Paramount. A Quiet Place Part II is slated to be the first live-action tentpole release exclusively in theaters since Tenet last August, and there’s a moderately high degree of confidence the film will make its date this time around as each week passes.
Here’s why: the original A Quiet Place earned $188 million domestically back in 2018, representing 55 percent of its global gross. Not to say that overseas earnings won’t be important for the sequel on some secondary level, but it will be more reliant upon North American audiences. That, combined with what executives are now seeing from Warner’s kajiu showdown, should inspire enough confidence for Paramount to keep its film slated for May barring any setbacks relating to the pandemic over the next six weeks.
Combined with the day-and-date theatrical and PVOD release of Cruella, Memorial Day weekend is poised to be the next significant stress test of domestic recovery. The anticipated thriller sequel won’t be alone as an exclusive theatrical player in the global marketplace, though…
F9‘s Global Rollout
Universal confirmed on April 16 that the oft-delayed F9 will begin a pillared release strategy across international markets beginning in mid-to-late May. Centered around China’s May 21 release date, Korea (May 19), Taiwan (May 21) Russia (May 20), Middle East (May 20), and U.A.E. (May 20) will also go live with the film as the next tentpole integral to worldwide theater recovery.
Universal’s strategy here is to make the film available first in territories where COVID-19 recovery is ahead of the curve. While the studio will no doubt continue to assess the risk-reward ratio in the coming weeks as the global landscape evolves, it’s a no-doubter for the distributor to make the Middle Kingdom a central focus before June 25’s planned domestic opening.
Combined, 2017’s The Fate of the Furious earned $619 million from China and the North American markets alone (accounting for 50 percent of its $1.24 billion global gross). Latin America accounted for 11 percent ($131 million), Europe’s top ten markets for 14 percent ($172 million), and Asia Pacific for over 18 percent ($228 million).
More than 90 percent of F9‘s projected box office impact will come from the aforementioned markets based on the brand’s history. Half of them (China and North America) are already on a course toward positive results amid pandemic market recovery, but more than 25 percent (Europe and Latin America) remains a wild card for the time being. When and how Universal releases the film in those markets remains to be seen, and will depend largely on whether or not lockdowns are extended again in certain countries.
June and Beyond
Back on the home front, June also received a welcome boost from Lionsgate recently when The Hitman’s Bodyguard’s Wife moved up from August to June 16, followed by Sony’s Peter Rabbit: The Runaway moving up to June 18. That’s a solid counter-programming duo timed perfectly for Father’s Day weekend, which has often seen strong early summer attendance.
Then, of course, comes the next mile marker with F9 on June 25. We’ll be offering initial public forecasts for the continuing saga of Dom Toretto and fam in the near future, but in the mean time, preliminary chatter and tracking indicate it will be an excellent launching pad into the Independence Day holiday that — for now — belongs to Universal’s The Forever Purge thanks to Paramount’s delay of Top Gun: Maverick into November.
While that Tom Cruise sequel may have had a natural home opening over the patriotic holiday during the middle of the United States’ summer, it’s a highly valuable asset for Paramount and one that requires a more fully operational global market with higher auditorium capacities to reach its ceiling. Given the move of Black Widow to July 9, it’s easy to see why the studio didn’t want Maverick sandwiched in between two franchise sequels (counting F9) more familiar to modern and younger audiences during early-to-mid recovery stages at the box office.
From there on, all hopes are pinned on a burgeoning box office arena in the second half of summer that can support more than one event film per month and hopefully lead into what is, for now, an unconventionally packed slate of major Hollywood releases in the fall.
As has always been the case with projections and release dates during the pandemic, though, prepare for more rounds of musical chairs between studios and take nothing for granted.
6-Week Long Range Forecast & 2021 Wide Release Calendar
|Release Date||Title||3-Day (FSS) Opening Forecast Range||% Chg from Last Week||Domestic Total Forecast Range||% Chg from Last Week||Estimated Location Count||Distributor|
|4/23/2021||Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train||$11,000,000 – $16,000,000||$20,000,000 – $30,000,000||2,000||FUNimation|
|4/23/2021||Mortal Kombat (2021)||$12,500,000 – $17,500,000||$24,000,000 – $50,000,000||3,000||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|4/30/2021||Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (10th Anniversary Re-Release)||Universal Pictures|
|4/30/2021||Separation||$1,000,000 – $5,000,000||$2,500,000 – $12,500,000||Open Road Films|
|5/7/2021||Wrath of Man||$1,500,000 – $5,500,000||$4,500,000 – $18,000,000||United Artists Releasing|
|5/14/2021||Counter Column||Nova Vento Entertainment|
|5/14/2021||Spiral: From the Book of Saw||$10,000,000 – $15,000,000||$20,000,000 – $45,000,000||Lionsgate|
|5/14/2021||Those Who Wish Me Dead||$2,000,000 – $7,000,000||$6,000,000 – $25,000,000||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|5/21/2021||Final Account||Focus Features|
|5/28/2021||Cruella||$15,000,000 – $30,000,000||$45,000,000 – $105,000,000||Walt Disney Pictures|
|5/28/2021||A Quiet Place Part II||$30,000,000 – $50,000,000||$75,000,000 – $125,000,000||Paramount Pictures|
|6/4/2021||The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It||Warner Bros. / New Line|
|6/4/2021||Samaritan||United Artists Releasing|
|6/4/2021||Spirit Untamed||Universal Pictures|
|6/4/2021||Vivo||Sony Pictures / Columbia|
|6/11/2021||In the Heights||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|6/11/2021||Queen Bees||Gravitas Ventures|
|6/16/2021||The Hitman’s Bodyguard’s Wife||Lionsgate|
|6/18/2021||Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway||Sony Pictures / Columbia|
|6/18/2021||The Sparks Brothers||Focus Features|
|6/25/2021||Blue Bayou||Focus Features|
|7/2/2021||The Forever Purge||Universal Pictures|
|7/9/2021||Black Widow||Disney / Marvel Studios|
|7/16/2021||Cinderella (2021)||Sony Pictures / Columbia|
|7/16/2021||The Night House||Disney / Searchlight Pictures|
|7/16/2021||Space Jam: A New Legacy||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|7/23/2021||Hotel Transylvania: Transformania||Sony Pictures / Columbia|
|7/23/2021||Snake Eyes||Paramount Pictures|
|7/30/2021||The Green Knight||A24|
|7/30/2021||Jungle Cruise||Walt Disney Pictures|
|8/6/2021||The Suicide Squad||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|8/13/2021||Don’t Breathe Sequel||Sony Pictures / Columbia|
|8/13/2021||Free Guy||Disney / 20th Century Studios|
|8/13/2021||Respect||MGM / United Artists Releasing|
|8/13/2021||Untitled Russo Brothers Family Film||United Artists Releasing|
|8/13/2021||Untitled Blumhouse Project II (2021)||Universal Pictures|
|8/20/2021||Paw Patrol||Paramount Pictures|
|8/27/2021||The Beatles: Get Back||Walt Disney Pictures|
|8/27/2021||Reminiscence||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|9/3/2021||Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings||Disney / Marvel Studios|
|9/10/2021||Malignant||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|9/17/2021||The Boss Baby: Family Business||Universal Pictures|
|9/24/2021||Dear Evan Hansen||Universal Pictures|
|9/24/2021||The Eyes of Tammy Faye||Disney / Searchlight Pictures|
|9/24/2021||The Many Saints of Newark||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|9/24/2021||Venom: Let There Be Carnage||Sony Pictures / Columbia|
|10/1/2021||The Addams Family 2||United Artists Releasing|
|10/1/2021||Dune||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|10/8/2021||No Time to Die||MGM|
|10/15/2021||Halloween Kills||Universal Pictures|
|10/15/2021||The Last Duel||Disney / 20th Century Studios|
|10/22/2021||Cry Macho||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|10/22/2021||Last Night in Soho||Focus Features|
|10/22/2021||Ron’s Gone Wrong||Disney / 20th Century Studios|
|10/29/2021||Antlers||Disney / Searchlight Pictures|
|11/5/2021||Clifford the Big Red Dog||Paramount Pictures|
|11/5/2021||Eternals||Disney / Marvel Studios|
|11/11/2021||Ghostbusters: Afterlife||Sony Pictures / Columbia|
|11/19/2021||King Richard||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|11/19/2021||Top Gun Maverick||Paramount Pictures|
|11/24/2021||Encanto||Walt Disney Pictures|
|11/24/2021||Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City||Sony Pictures / Columbia|
|12/3/2021||Nightmare Alley (Limited)||Disney / Searchlight Pictures|
|12/10/2021||American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story||Lionsgate|
|12/10/2021||Cyrano||United Artists Releasing|
|12/10/2021||West Side Story (2020)||Disney / 20th Century Studios|
|12/17/2021||Spider-Man: No Way Home||Sony / Columbia / Marvel Studios|
|12/22/2021||The King’s Man||Disney / 20th Century Studios|
|12/22/2021||Untitled Matrix Sequel||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|12/22/2021||Sing 2||Universal Pictures|
|12/31/2021||(no releases scheduled)|
As always, the news cycle is constantly evolving as the pandemic dictates. Projections are subject to change amid breaking announcements.
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