Summer movie season is officially back this Memorial Day weekend.
The long, and seemingly interminable, road toward the next phase of box office recovery is finally at the feet of an industry which has worked tirelessly over the past 14 months to wage the pandemic war and safely welcome audiences back to movie theaters.
For the first time during the COVID-19 vaccine era, a major studio tentpole will release exclusively in theaters: Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II. It represents just the second major tentpole (after last August’s Tenet) to release exclusively in theaters throughout the entire pandemic. Also occurring for just the second time since March 2020, Disney will release a film — Cruella — in domestic theaters, duplicating the hybrid day-and-date strategy employed for this spring’s Raya and the Last Dragon.
Both films will release for Thursday night previews (5pm for Quiet and 6pm for Cruella), and each will screen in premium formats across the nation. Paramount’s sequel will claim the IMAX presence as part of its 3,726 location footprint, not far behind Cruella‘s 3,892. Both figures handily eclipse the previous pandemic record of 3,114 set by Mortal Kombat in its second weekend.
The symbolism of this inflection point will likely outweigh any box office numbers that come to pass in the days ahead, but there is a growing optimism that the numbers themselves will soar to new heights for the pandemic and build on the momentum generated throughout the past few months. Exhibition’s rebound has substantially improved thanks to the reopening of major regional markets, more than 70 percent of theaters resuming operations, successful vaccine distributions reaching half the United States’ adult population, and an increasing of volume of big screen content.
There is something full-circle about the headlining release of this coming weekend, a frame which is typically regarded as one of the busiest moviegoing weekends of any year. It’s also a former mile-marker on the calendar for when summer movie season used to begin prior to the expanded blockbuster release strategies of films like Spider-Man, The Mummy Returns, and Gladiator in the early 2000s. A Quiet Place Part II was one the earliest victims of pandemic-induced delays last year, just weeks away from a spring 2020 release before the world had to shut down. Box office tracking was strong, reviews enthusiastic, and pre-sales had even begun.
The same is true once again.
Writer/Director John Krasinski’s follow-up to the 2018 breakout hit is setting itself up as the kind of thrilling escapist fare designed for the shared audience experience moviegoers have longingly missed for the past year. The most recent final trailer has generated more than 10.5 million YouTube views in three weeks’ time, while steady drips of studio marketing have helped execute an effective social media campaign that has drummed up buzzy interest in the film once again.
Promotion ahead of the Oscars and during the MTV Movie & TV Awards were also sights for sore eyes among those waiting for Hollywood to begin advertising big releases to important demographics again. There’s a tangible feeling that this will be one of the zeitgeist-tappers looked back upon in the history books as one of the movies that resurrected cinemas in a COVID-19 world.
The anticipated sequel will run in theaters exclusively before becoming available to Paramount+ streaming subscribers 45 days after release.
To date, recent films in the domestic marketplace have been achieving roughly 65 to 75 percent of what our pre-pandemic models suggested they would earn on opening weekend, all things being equal and normal. That trend was present before Regal’s last major re-opening round took effect last weekend. Varying restrictions and seating capacities across the country remain challenging factors to weigh in all forecasts, but the trendline is moving in the right direction from just five months ago when the few mid-to-high profile movies actually opening in theaters were performing at less than 15 percent of their expected potential.
A recent NRG survey also backs up the improving sentiment, citing 70 percent of those asked are comfortable returning to movie theaters right now. Fandango additionally engaged in a poll of its own users, revealing 93 percent of those who have already returned have been satisfied with their experience and the health measurements put into practice by exhibitors.
As mask mandates are retired for the vaccinated and capacity limits actively improve or expire completely, the sentiment among many is that life is returning to some semblance of normalcy. The pandemic isn’t over, and many cinemas in Canada — as well as key international markets — remain behind the recovery curve for the moment, but a significant majority of the United States population is resuming pre-pandemic activities like going to sporting events, restaurants, concerts, and now, movie theaters.
So, what happens next?
The original Quiet Place was a runaway hit just over three years ago, bowing to $50.2 million on opening weekend in North America before legging out to a stellar $188 million (and $341 million overall worldwide) — all on a reported budget of just $17 million before marketing expenses. It’s easy to forget now, but at the time, that first frame represented the best debut ever for an original horror movie not based on a pre-existing property (surpassed only by Jordan Peele’s Us when it debuted to $71.1 million in March 2019).
Hitting those kinds of numbers in the current climate seemed impossible just a few months ago, before Godzilla vs. Kong broke the pandemic mold to achieve $48 million in its first five days. That preceded late April’s dueling R-rated combo of Mortal Kombat and Demon Slayer, which combined for more than $44 million in one weekend last month. Even in that time frame, things have changed, and A Quiet Place Part II seems destined to rival such numbers. Pre-sale trends for the sequel are nearing or out-pacing all three of those films across multiple projection models, with current forecasts leaning toward around $4 million — or potentially more — for Thursday night’s shows alone.
The other half of this weekend’s new release duo is playing by a different set of rules, though. Disney’s live-action 101 Dalmatians prequel, Cruella, is gearing up for an aforementioned hybrid release in theaters and as a $30 premium streaming option to Disney+ subscribers. This experiment has only been attempted once by Disney so far with Raya, which bowed to a lukewarm $8.5 million at the box office nearly three months ago, but has gone on to a strong 5.7 multiple as it nears a $50 million domestic total currently.
Cruella, like all movies releasing today versus three months ago, enters a far more friendly environment with increased theatrical market share and consumer confidence. Pre-sales are fair at this stage, but the crime-comedy film is targeting a slightly different audience that the typical Disney revival — namely, adults. That’s in contrast to more family-driven, fantastical fare like The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and Aladdin — which, appropriately, opened on Memorial Day weekend exactly two years ago.
Social media activity for Cruella has seen an uptick as the review embargo came down and much praise awarded to Emma Stone’s leading turn as the anti-heroine, and the official YouTube trailer has garnered over 13 million views in three-plus months. Pre-sale activity is trailing that of A Quiet Place Part II by multiples, although that’s to be expected under the circumstances. Preview grosses are hoping to reach $1 million on Thursday night based on current models, though there is no truly reliable comparison at this point in time.
The biggest variable for Cruella will come down to how many target viewers opt to watch the film at home rather than visit a movie theater. Secondarily, walk-up business — something that historically plays out very well for the entire box office market during a big holiday weekend — will be a key component if the film is to hit or exceed current forecasts. The same can be said for A Quiet Place Part II, which has seen a surge in pre-sales during the final days before release (typical for the genre) but is still a sequel with some potential for front-loading.
Looking more broadly, we also have to weigh the possibility that pre-sales will simply begin to account for a larger piece of the weekend pie than they already did before the pandemic as audiences have become increasingly accustomed to — and exhibition further embraced — online ticketing. With socially distanced seating still active in most theaters, the ease of transaction is simply in the favor of advance purchasing.
Of note, Cruella will be screening as part of a double feature with Raya and the Last Dragon at drive-ins across the country during the extended holiday frame. As for other holdovers, expect a sharp decline from Spiral as it faces new competition and loses all premium screens in a double whammy.
A vast array of scenarios are in play this weekend, but all signs are pointing in the right direction for the long-term recovery of moviegoing with two high profile openers set to kick off a regular stream of major studio releases hitting cinemas virtually every weekend throughout the next five months. Even still, caution and moderation in analyzing the eventual performances of these movies are warranted even as excitement grows within the industry.
As a proper summer movie season officially arrives for the first time in two years, however, there is little doubt that the next chapter of moviegoing’s transitional rebound begins now.
This Weekend vs. Last Weekend
Boxoffice projects this three-day weekend’s top ten films will increase between 275 and 350 percent from last weekend’s top ten aggregate of $17.2 million, and between 17 and 44 percent from the current pandemic era record of $55.6 million earned by the top ten during the April 23 through 25 frame when Mortal Kombat and Demon Slayer debuted.
Holdover forecasts listed below represent the three-day weekend unless otherwise noted.
A Quiet Place Part II
3-Day Opening Range: $33 – 46 million
4-Day Opening Range: $40 – 55 million
3-Day Opening Range: $14 – 22 million
4-Day Opening Range: $17 – 27 million
|Film||Distributor||3-Day Weekend Forecast||Projected Domestic Total through Sunday, May 30||Location Count||% Change from Last Wknd|
|A Quiet Place Part II||Paramount Pictures||$42,000,000 (3-day)
|Cruella||Walt Disney Pictures||$17,500,000 (3-day)
|Spiral: From the Book of Saw||Lionsgate||$1,900,000||$19,400,000||2,641||-59%|
|Wrath of Man||United Artists Releasing||$1,800,000||$21,800,000||2,607||-40%|
|Raya and the Last Dragon||Walt Disney Pictures||$1,500,000||$50,400,000||2,015||-10%|
|Those Who Wish Me Dead||Warner Bros. Studios||$1,000,000||$7,400,000||~1,800||-48%|
|Godzilla vs. Kong||Warner Bros. Studios||$800,000||$98,200,000||~1,600||-43%|
|Demon Slayer – Kimetsu no Yaiba – the Movie: Mugen Train||Funimation||$750,000||$46,200,000||~1,175||-43%|
|Dream Horse||Bleecker Street||$475,000||$1,500,000||1,284||-44%|
|Mortal Kombat (2021)||Warner Bros. Studios||$420,000||$42,000,000||~700||-56%|
All forecasts subject to change before the first confirmation of Thursday previews or Friday estimates from studios or alternative sources.
Theater counts are updated as confirmed by studios.
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