As we say goodbye to the first month of a new year and eagerly await the next — if only to get one step closer toward recovery amid the pandemic — there’s good news and bad news.
The good news: Vaccine distribution plans are beginning to take shape after a disorganized head start in 2020, studios like Universal, Warner Bros., Disney, and a number of indie distributors are putting what limited content into theaters they can, and there remains cautious optimism that this — at some point — will be the year moviegoers are able to return en masse.
The bad news: Although we’re one month through what has long been predicted to be a dire winter in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic and the movie industry itself, there remains a long road and plenty of work ahead.
For perspective on the number of setbacks encountered by cinemas in recent weeks and months, January 2021’s retail reporting period (the first 29 days of the month) will close out with an estimated $55 – 60 million domestic box office haul. (A previous version of this report included a typo citing $155 – 160 million, which has been corrected above.)
That figure is obviously down from last year’s estimated $760 million January take (achieved in the first 24 days of the month), but more relevantly, represents the lowest earning month of the pandemic since re-openings began late last summer.
By comparison, September and December 2020 have topped the pandemic chart thus far with estimated $120 million and $100 million months, followed by October’s $70 million estimate and November’s $59 million estimate.
Getting Worse Before Getting Better
Unfortunately, the night is indeed darkest before the dawn… which won’t be coming in February. Current market projections indicate the domestic box office could struggle to reach $40 million in the coming month.
The sour outlook is largely due to the repetition of the same news cycle that’s brought the world and the movie business to its knees for the last ten months: release delays, major markets remaining closed, and the raging pandemic yet to come under control.
Looking at February’s calendar, only two major studio releases are on deck: Warner Bros.’ Judas and the Black Messiah (February 12) and Tom & Jerry (February 26). Both will open in theaters the same day as they premiere on HBO Max for free to subscribers, meaning box office expectations are aggressively conservative (as they are for virtually all WB films this year).
Other titles to expect in February include Breaking News in Yuba County from MGM / United Artists Releasing (going day-and-date in theaters and on PVOD), Focus Features’ Land, and STX’s The Mauritanian on February 12 in time for President’s Day weekend. Focus will then launch Nomadland on February 19.
Beyond that, attention turns to March with Disney still promising Raya and the Last Dragon as a theatrical release the same day, March 5, as its Premier Access launch on Disney+. It will be the first domestic release from Disney since the pandemic began, coming exactly one year to the weekend after opening Pixar’s Onward. Family films have been among the few bright spots during cinema’s preliminary restart in recent months, meaning Raya could provide a breath of fresh air… and revenue.
For now, March promises to reverse the box office trend thanks to that animated pic and other films like Lionsgate’s Chaos Walking (March 5), Lionsgate’s The Courier (March 19), and Warner Bros.’ Godzilla vs. Kong (March 31). The month was recently stripped of titles like 20th Century Studios’ The King’s Man (moving from March 12 to August 20) and Sony’s Morbius (from March to October and, ultimately, to January 21, 2022).
All told, based on current and very tentative modeling, the first three months of 2021 are pacing to generate an estimated $150 million at the domestic box office. That would be down from Q4 2020’s estimated $230 million and Q3 2020’s estimated $170 million.
Please note: all projections are subject to the reopening of markets like Los Angeles and New York, which in these forecasts are presumed to remain shut down or aggressively limited in operations through March.
Release Delays Impact Early Q2
From there, the picture is again fuzzy. MGM’s No Time to Die and Sony’s Peter Rabbit 2 vacated their planned Easter releases on April 2 for October 8 and June 11 bows, respectively. Paramount was quick to push A Quiet Place Part II again once those titles weren’t around to provide springtime lead-ins, moving from April 23 to September 17.
At the moment, April’s most high profile titles look to be Universal’s Nobody (moved from February 26 to April 2), Sony’s Fatherhood (April 16, starring Kevin Hart — though likely to be delayed itself), and Warner Bros.’ Mortal Kombat remake (April 16).
In other words, any hope for an early spring reboot of the theatrical ecosphere has withered away over the ugly winter. Now, all eyes on are three next steps: how the vaccine distributions and implementations improve over the next couple of months, whether studios see enough promising box office trends through April to keep a summer slate in tact, and whether or not Disney opts to keep Black Widow attached to its current May 7 release.
Marvel’s Importance to 2021’s Eventual Rebound
For now, that Marvel Studios picture remains planned for theatrical exclusivity. Whether that holds, and/or the date remains, will depend on the state of the pandemic. Based on past timelines, it’s likely we’ll know by or before early-to-mid March what Disney will decide.
While most studios continue delaying major films and reaffirming commitment to the theatrical avenue, Marvel and Disney are in a tight spot. The Marvel Cinematic Universe — which will undoubtedly be a major component in cinematic and moviegoer recovery — has four films slated to release by the end of this December. One of those, the third Spider-Man film set for December 17, belongs to Sony.
Given the storytelling domino nature of the franchise, and while Widow might traditionally be delayed yet again, there is now a rough timeline for some normality returning to everyday life. That means, in theory, we should begin to see more releases in the back half of 2021 stick to their guns — pending no dramatic turns for the worse in the fight against the pandemic.
That also means Marvel has the option to keep at least two or three of those theatrical-only releases in tact… but it could mean Widow ends up making a sacrifice as a day-and-date release in early May if the calendar is upended any further. Not only would such a move provide a transitional period to the second half of summer and early fall when vaccines are having even more of an impact on the national (and global) population, the optics of Disney keeping multiple films on the early 2021 slate might encourage other studios to do the same.
Again, this is all speculation and relies on the timelines offered by health experts and government administration to begin curbing the pandemic. Anything could change, but perhaps for the first time in many months, there is some reason to begin expecting a turn of the tide by the middle of the year.
The world, unfortunately, just has to continue enduring a very dark winter and early spring ahead.
Long Range Forecast & 2021’s Wide Release Calendar
|Release Date||Title||3-Day (FSS) Opening Forecast Range||% Chg from Last Week||Domestic Total Forecast Range||% Chg from Last Week||Distributor|
|2/5/2021||Dara of Jasenovac||101 Studios|
|2/12/2021||Breaking News in Yuba County||$1,000,000 – $4,000,000||-33%||$3,000,000 – $15,000,000||-38%||MGM / United Artists Releasing|
|2/12/2021||French Exit||Sony Pictures Classics|
|2/12/2021||Judas and the Black Messiah||$1,000,000 – $4,000,000||NEW||$3,000,000 – $15,000,000||NEW||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|2/12/2021||The Mauritanian (limited)||STXfilms|
|2/19/2021||Nomadland (Expansion)||Disney / Searchlight Pictures|
|2/26/2021||Tom & Jerry||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|3/5/2021||Chaos Walking||$2,000,000 – $7,000,000||$6,000,000 – $25,000,000||Lionsgate|
|3/5/2021||Raya and the Last Dragon||$7,000,000 – $15,000,000||-14%||$30,000,000 – $60,000,000||-14%||Walt Disney Pictures|
|3/5/2021||Untitled Universal Event Film (2021)||Universal Pictures|
|3/19/2021||The Courier||$2,000,000 – $7,000,000||NEW||$7,000,000 – $25,000,000||NEW||Lionsgate|
|3/19/2021||Last Call||IFC Films|
|3/19/2021||My Brother’s Keeper||Collide Distribution|
|3/26/2021||(no releases scheduled)|
|3/31/2021||Godzilla vs. Kong||$7,000,000 – $12,000,000||$15.000,000 – $40,000,000||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|4/16/2021||Fatherhood||Sony Pictures / Columbia|
|4/16/2021||Mortal Kombat (2021)||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|4/16/2021||Untitled Universal Event Film II (2021)||Universal Pictures|
|4/30/2021||(no releases scheduled)|
|5/7/2021||Black Widow||Disney / Marvel Studios|
|5/14/2021||Marry Me||Universal Pictures|
|5/21/2021||Final Account||NEW||NEW||Focus Features|
|5/21/2021||Free Guy||Disney / 20th Century Studios|
|5/21/2021||Spiral: From the Book of Saw||Lionsgate|
|5/28/2021||Cruella||Walt Disney 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||Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway||Sony Pictures / Columbia|
|6/18/2021||In the Heights||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|6/18/2021||Luca||Disney / Pixar|
|6/25/2021||Blue Bayou||Focus Features|
|6/25/2021||Venom: Let There Be Carnage||Sony Pictures / Columbia|
|7/2/2021||Minions: The Rise of Gru||Universal Pictures|
|7/2/2021||Top Gun: Maverick||Paramount Pictures|
|7/9/2021||The Forever Purge||Universal Pictures|
|7/9/2021||Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings||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||The Tomorrow War||Paramount Pictures|
|7/30/2021||The Green Knight||A24|
|7/30/2021||Jungle Cruise||Walt Disney Pictures|
|8/6/2021||Hotel Transylvania 4||Sony Pictures / Columbia|
|8/6/2021||The Suicide Squad||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|8/13/2021||Deep Water||Disney / 20th Century Studios|
|8/13/2021||Don’t Breathe Sequel||Sony Pictures / Columbia|
|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||The Hitman’s Bodyguard 2||Lionsgate|
|8/20/2021||The King’s Man||Disney / 20th Century Studios|
|8/20/2021||Paw Patrol||Paramount Pictures|
|8/27/2021||The Beatles: Get Back||Walt Disney Pictures|
|9/10/2021||Malignant||NEW||NEW||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|9/17/2021||The Boss Baby: Family Business||Universal Pictures|
|9/17/2021||Death on the Nile||Disney / 20th Century Studios|
|9/17/2021||Man from Toronto||Sony Pictures / Columbia|
|9/17/2021||A Quiet Place Part II||Paramount Pictures|
|9/24/2021||The Eyes of Tammy Faye||Disney / Searchlight Pictures|
|9/24/2021||Dear Evan Hansen||NEW||NEW||Universal Pictures|
|9/24/2021||The Many Saints of Newark||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|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||Last Night in Soho||Focus Features|
|10/22/2021||Ron’s Gone Wrong||Disney / 20th Century Studios|
|10/22/2021||Snake Eyes||Paramount Pictures|
|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||Mission: Impossible 7||Paramount Pictures|
|11/24/2021||Encanto||Walt Disney Pictures|
|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||Marvel Studios – Sony Untitled Spider-Man: Far From Home Sequel||Sony / Columbia / Marvel Studios|
|12/17/2021||Untitled Disney Live Action||Walt Disney Pictures|
|12/22/2021||Untitled Matrix Sequel||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|12/22/2021||Sing 2||Universal Pictures|
|12/22/2021||The Nightingale||Sony Pictures / Columbia|
As always, the news cycle is constantly evolving. Market projections are subject to breaking announcements at any moment.
This column will continue to track the impact of release date changes in the weeks ahead.
For press inquiries, please contact Shawn Robbins
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