The recovery phase of domestic box office has been well underway for several months now following the reopening of movie theaters nationwide, elimination of seating capacities in many regions, and of course, a more robust release slate of movies with all-audience appeal. The latter showed significant progress this spring and summer with pandemic era record performances from Godzilla vs. Kong, A Quiet Place Part II, F9: The Fast Saga, and Black Widow, plus a host of counter-programmers that have provided solid support to the market.
As we enter the final weeks of the summer movie season in late July and August, expectations for the pace of theatrical recovery remain fluid in the short term due to higher caution among adults over 35 to return to pre-pandemic social interaction levels and ongoing concerns about the unvaccinated and surge of Delta variant cases among that segment of the population. A recent NRG survey polled 76 percent of people as comfortable returning to theaters earlier this month, a strong improvement from earlier in the year but still a work-in-progress.
Nevertheless, 2021’s box office evolution is mostly living up to hopeful expectations despite the lingering pandemic and a number of films being released via hybrid and windowless strategies. 22 days into the third quarter of this year, domestic box office is estimated at $1.5 billion for the year. Roughly one-third of that figure — nearly $430 million — has been earned since July 1.
That’s a stark contrast to the estimated $125 million earned through the first 22 days of the second quarter (up 244 percent), and nearly ten times the $45 million earned in the same period during January to begin the first quarter.
All of these numbers have asterisks next to them, much like most of 2020’s did, and will likely continue to for months to come. The industry is now entering a stretch in the back quarter of summer where no true event films appear to be on deck. That’s somewhat by design as studios prepared to allow breathing room in the late summer marketplace for big releases like F9, Widow, Space Jam: A New Legacy, and others to stretch out their legs in a market where so much was expected to be (and often still is) unpredictable.
As such, the remainder of July and August will now rely on mid-range performers like Jungle Cruise, The Suicide Squad, Free Guy, and a variety of other counter-programmers that will fill out the slate with a high volume of content despite any true event-level blockbusters.
The result could be a sum greater than the whole of its parts, but we should also cautiously expect slight regression (or, at best, levelling out) of weekend and weekly box office figures at times leading into Labor Day. That’s when Disney and Marvel Studios will unleash Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings exclusively in movie theaters for 45 days and to what will likely be a record opening for that particular holiday (it won’t take much to beat Halloween (2007)‘s $30.6 million).
Bottom Line: After the final weeks of summer, the release schedule will significantly pick up steam with a higher count of tentpoles and family-friendly movies scheduled from September through the rest of the year than at any point since before the pandemic began. The robust, and perhaps crowded, slate will come at a time when indoor activities are favorable again following the warm summer months being spent by many who missed out on family, friend, and vacation time for over a year due to the pandemic lockdowns.
Until then, here’s how the remainder of this unusual summer is shaping up before the movie industry heads into the next phase of a protracted recovery period.
July and August 2021
- Following the generally solid start of Black Widow, films like Space Jam: A New Legacy, Old, and Snake Eyes present an increased variety of content in movie theaters that should help pad the market in their chase weekends even if pandemic opening records aren’t being set again until this fall.
- Jungle Cruise is hoping to leverage the star power of Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, as well as the Disney brand and source theme park ride, into a late summer adventure film for all ages. Initial tracking is generally positive and, if strong word of mouth follows, it could generate staying power throughout the remainder of the season. Fellow Disney hybrid release Cruella has done that already, earning more than 3.9 times its initial opening weekend thanks to strong holds most weekends.
- The Suicide Squad should easily represent August’s top opener thanks to a strong turnout from DC and general comic book fans. Marketing has ramped up in recent weeks to promote the anticipated follow-up, and social media excitement has been prominent due to James Gunn’s (Guardians of the Galaxy) writing and directing role, which could be significant for staying power if word of mouth for this film is remotely on part with Gunn’s Marvel movies. The original movie was a major financial hit back in August 2016, toppling the month’s record for an opening weekend.
- Don’t Breathe 2 will provide the next low-budget horror offering this summer as studios mitigate recovery era risk by releasing relatively inexpensive films. The original was a sleeper hit late in summer 2016, earning a 3.38x multiple off a $26.4 million debut. The sequel is opening exclusively in theaters.
- Free Guy is something of a wild card at the moment, but Ryan Reynolds’ newfound star power following the success of the Deadpool films, Detective Pikachu, and the Hitman’s Bodyguard series gives the original movie an added advantage. Appeal to young audiences and men should also prove lucrative as they’ve been the dominant moviegoing demographics of the recovery so far. The movie is also exclusive to theaters for 45 days.
- In a potential early play for award season buzz, Respect will court fans of Aretha Franklin in this biopic led by Jennifer Hudson. Early industry buzz surrounding her performance as the iconic singer has been very positive and could generate traction among adults who have yet to return to theaters this summer.
- Paw Patrol and its strong brand appeal could make a fair play to parents with young kids, especially with the relative of family-friend content throughout the pandemic despite leggy performances from similar films.
- The Protégé will mark the next male adult-driven thriller that could stand out with its cast led by Michael Keaton, Maggie Q, and Samuel L. Jackson, while Reminiscence on the same weekend will hope to leverage stars Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson in a high-profile concept sci-fi/noir thriller from Lisa Joy (Westworld). The Protégé is currently planned as exclusive to theaters upon opening.
- Candyman will close out the summer with one more horror offering in a bid to attract both young viewers and older fans of the original 1990 cult classics. Jordan Peele’s involvement as a producer could be a strong asset for eventual marketing and reception. This will also be exclusive to theaters upon release.
- The release slate picks up somewhat in terms of volume, but temporarily slows down with regard to high-profile, four-quadrant offerings during summer’s final weeks. As mentioned, concerns surrounding Delta variant cases and the unvaccinated populations in the domestic market remain worth consideration with regard to all recovery timelines, as do studio strategies looking at the global recovery landscape heading into fall.
- Jungle Cruise‘s biggest disadvantage — from a theatrical point of view — will be day-and-date availability as a $30 purchase to Disney+ streaming subscribers. That will likely cannibalize some of its box office potential, which was quite high in long range forecasts before the pandemic thanks to the combination of star and brand power on display with a very timely summer release once planned for last year before a delay to this July.
- While fans are expected to turn out, diminished returns will inevitably hit The Suicide Squad. The initial 2016 film had underwhelming staying power (earning 2.43x its $133.7 million debut), and the subsequent Birds of Prey opened to a weaker-than-expected than $33 million in February 2020. Additionally, the absence of Will Smith and Jared Leto’s Joker (drivers of the first film’s blockbuster success) will be felt. Combined with a day-and-date streaming release for free to HBO Max subscribers, even positive critical and audience reception probably won’t propel this follow-up anywhere near the numbers of 2016’s version.
- Following a glut of horror movies this summer and a general history of declining grosses by sequels in the genre (even pre-pandemic), Don’t Breathe 2 may not reach the box office heights of its predecessor.
- As noted, Free Guy is a wild card as a Fox-era holdover inherited by Disney in the latter’s acquisition of the former studio. Despite an appealing lead cast and strong appeal to young audiences, reception will be key as social media reactions to trailers have been somewhat mixed.
- A primary factor impacting Respect‘s potential to break out will be the reality that its target audience — adult women — remain the most hesitant to return to theaters right now. With a few weeks to go, that trend could improve somewhat, but such remains to be seen.
- Paw Patrol is likely to attract a similar audience as turned out for The Boss Baby: Family Business, but some parents remain cautious about bringing children to theaters since those under the age of 12 (this movie’s target viewership) aren’t eligible for vaccines. Marketing has so far also left something to be desired relative to other recent family movies, and it will be available to stream on Paramount+ from the outset of release.
- The duo of The Protégé and Reminiscence on the same weekend could create some cannibalization of shared audiences, but the former may have a slight advantage among adult men who have previously turned out for action-thrillers during the pandemic. Also, Reminiscence will be part of a hybrid HBO Max release that could further dent its box office earnings.
- Candyman will mark the second major horror title of August and the seventh dating back to May, creating possible fatigue for the genre. Awareness of the original may also be low among younger horror moviegoers, while the last weekend before Labor Day — when this releases — has often been a period of slow down for foot traffic in movie theaters as many enjoy their final vacation days before school and work resume.
Long Range Box Office Forecast & 2021 Calendar
(as of 7/23/21)
|Release Date||Title||3-Day (FSS) Opening Forecast Range||Domestic Total Forecast Range||Estimated Location Count||Distributor|
|7/30/2021||The Green Knight||n/a||A24|
|7/30/2021||Jungle Cruise||$20,000,000 – $40,000,000||$60,000,000 – $140,000,000||4,000||Walt Disney Pictures|
|7/30/2021||Stillwater||$2,000,000 – $7,000,000||$6,000,000 – $25,000,000||2,400||Focus Features|
|8/6/2021||The Suicide Squad||$35,000,000 – $60,000,000||$75,000,000 – $150,000,000||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|8/13/2021||Don’t Breathe 2||$11,000,000 – $16,000,000||$25,000,000 – $40,000,000||Sony Pictures / Columbia|
|8/13/2021||Free Guy||$15,000,000 – $35,000,000||$40,000,000 – $95,000,000||Disney / 20th Century Studios|
|8/13/2021||Respect||$8,000,000 – $18,000,000||$25,000,000 – $65,000,000||MGM / United Artists Releasing|
|8/20/2021||Paw Patrol||$7,000,000 – $12,000,000||$22,000,000 – $42,000,000||Paramount Pictures|
|8/20/2021||The Protégé||$6,000,000 – $11,000,000||$15,000,000 – $33,000,000||Lionsgate|
|8/20/2021||Reminiscence||$9,000,000 – $14,000,000||$25,000,000 – $45,000,000||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|8/27/2021||Candyman||$9,000,000 – $14,000,000||$24,000,000 – $35,000,000||Universal Pictures|
|9/3/2021||Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings||Disney / Marvel Studios|
|9/10/2021||The Card Counter||Focus Features|
|9/10/2021||Malignant||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|9/17/2021||Blue Bayou||Focus Features|
|9/17/2021||Clifford the Big Red Dog||Paramount Pictures|
|9/17/2021||Copshop||Open Road Films|
|9/17/2021||Cry Macho||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|9/17/2021||The Eyes of Tammy Faye||Disney / Searchlight Pictures|
|9/24/2021||Dear Evan Hansen||Universal 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||Hotel Transylvania: Transformania||Sony Pictures / Columbia|
|10/1/2021||The Jesus Music||Lionsgate / Kingdom Story Company|
|10/1/2021||The Many Saints of Newark||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||Dune||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|10/22/2021||The French Dispatch||Disney / Searchlight Pictures|
|10/22/2021||Jackass Forever||Paramount Pictures|
|10/22/2021||Ron’s Gone Wrong||Disney / 20th Century Studios|
|10/29/2021||Antlers||Disney / Searchlight Pictures|
|10/29/2021||Last Night in Soho||Focus Features|
|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 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||Violence of Action||STXfilms|
|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||A Journal for Jordan (Wide Expansion)||Sony Pictures / Columbia Pictures|
|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)||—|
For more information on detailed and pinpoint forecasts, contact us for pricing and availability.
As always, the news cycle is constantly evolving as the pandemic dictates. Projections are subject to change amid breaking announcements.
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