After two weekends of returning moviegoers being thrilled and scared by franchise sequels, this weekend will provide a change of pace with lighter fare from the tandem of In the Heights and Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway.
The headliner of the coming frame is widely expected to be the cinematic adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway play, which won four Tony awards (including Best Musical) in 2008. Since then, Miranda has gone on to even more widespread acclaim with the resounding smash success of Hamilton as a Broadway play and, during the heart of the pandemic last summer, a streaming release on Disney+.
In the Heights is hoping to capitalize not just on the profile and popularity of Miranda and his work’s impact on popular culture during the past decade, but also the resurrecting demand for communal event moviegoing. This adaptation was once slated for theatrical release in summer 2020 before pandemic-induced delays changed the plans of Warner Bros. Now, the film is finally hitting theaters in the midst of summer 2021’s rebound, while also debuting the same day as a streaming option to HBO Max subscribers.
The latter is par for the course when it comes to Warner Bros. releases in 2021 and is again a key factor to note when forecasting or projecting expectations for In the Heights‘ box office potential. Promising to be a crowd-pleaser with themes relevant to audiences of many cultural backgrounds, the film hails from director Jon M. Chu. He previously captained Crazy Rich Asians to its breakout box office run in 2018.
A similarly strong appeal to underserved audiences is the motivating factor in bullish hopes for Heights‘ opening and long-term potential as moviegoing’s revival evolves during the late stages of the pandemic. Films like Godzilla vs. Kong (67 percent), Tom & Jerry (67 percent), The Unholy (59 percent), last week’s Conjuring threequel (71 percent), and A Quiet Place Part II (56 percent) have been driven by largely non-Caucasian audiences during their openings, virtually all of which met or exceeded the ceilings of their respective box office expectations. A diverse turnout, led by the Latinx community, for Heights should a no-brainer.
Bolstering pre-release hype is a recent Fandango survey indicating 96 percent of 1,300-plus polled moviegoers will make Heights their first trip back to movie theaters since the beginning of the pandemic. With regard to the recent history of the genre, musicals like The Greatest Showman and La La Land have showcased the renewed appeal of tune-driven narratives on the big screen after becoming relatively dormant for some number of years.
Social media activity has steadily grown in recent weeks thanks to targeted online and traditional ad campaigns courting viewers of broadcast events like the Oscars, Saturday Night Live‘s highly rated Elon Musk-hosted episode, and the MTV Movie & TV Awards — three programs that account for a wide spectrum of demographics. The most recent trailers released the film’s official YouTube page have generated over 11 million views since launching two months ago, matching the first trailer’s count since going live over a year ago.
Heights not only has timing in its favor as moviegoers are increasingly ready to return to cinemas and experience a joy-filled tale with friends and family, it also has acclaim at its back with a 97 percent Rotten Tomatoes score as of this publishing.
The only reasons to remain somewhat moderated in expectations are the aforementioned hybrid release pattern and the fact that, outside of Miranda’s mostly off-screen attachment and the fan base of the original stage production, this is effectively an original movie without a built-in mainstream audience to push opening numbers into the stratosphere. The aim, however, is for the film’s universal appeal to generate long legs at the box office.
Warner Bros. will release the movie at an estimated 3,400 locations this weekend, including IMAX, PLFs, and drive-ins. The opening begins with Thursday night previews which will be counted as part of Friday’s gross. The studio is not officially providing expectations going into the weekend, but our internal pre-sale tracking indicates trends in line with Cruella and the recent Conjuring pic at the same points ahead of Friday business.
Another title oft-delayed during the pandemic has been Sony’s Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway, arguably one of the most shuffled release dates of the past year. As recently as last month, it was scheduled to open for Father’s Day weekend on June 18 (after having been moved up from an August date). Now, the family-driven sequel gets a head start on the coming holiday weekend (not to mention Disney’s streaming-only release of Pixar’s Luca on the 18th) by counter-programming the big musical release with a movie appealing to parents and young kids.
The first Peter Rabbit was a sleeper hit domestically back in 2018, earning a $25 million opening weekend onward to a $115.3 million domestic total — part of an overall $351.5 million global haul.
Rabbit 2 began its staggered rollout overseas back in March with a $2.1 million debut in Australia, followed by a $6.5 million start in the United Kingdom last month. The latter was the market’s best debut of any film during the pandemic outside of Tenet, although the franchise is notably quite popular in its home nation. Overall, The Runaway has tallied $46.1 million internationally entering this weekend.
Family-centric films have been ironically scarce early in the summer even after they provided respectable support beams for exhibition during the worst months of the pandemic as many theaters were closed. In its favor now, though, Rabbit 2 has little in the way of direct competition until Universal delivers The Boss Baby 2: Family Business as a hybrid release in early July. Reviews are generally positive for the genre at 73 percent currently.
Sony is distributing The Runaway beginning Thursday afternoon at 4pm with previews in approximately 2,600 domestic theaters. They expect a weekend haul between $8 million and $10 million, although our internal models are a bit more optimistic given the previously mentioned success of films like Tom & Jerry and The Croods: A New Age during the pandemic on top of the empty market for kid-friendly movies right now while schools are out for summer. The only near-relevant comparison, last week’s Spirit Untamed, yields pre-sale trends for Runaway that are near-double that movie in many markets.
The key for both wide openers to hit or exceed forecasts will ultimately be in the hands of walk-up business — and in Heights‘ case, strong word of mouth reaching beyond the fan base, which will likely be most prominent in major cities and on the coasts. That film’s 2 hour and 23 minute runtime may also be a minor factor to watch for, especially in regional areas where seating capacities and operational hours are still more limited than others.
On the holdover front, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It will likely see a sharp drop as its own studio hands over many premium screens to In the Heights. With $24.1 million last weekend, somewhat front-loaded to Friday’s initial business, the horror franchise pic represented the second best Warner Bros. debut of the pandemic so far (trailing only Godzilla vs. Kong). It will be in a much closer race for third place this weekend as A Quiet Place Part II will be hit by a loss of remaining premium screens in its third frame, but not near to the degree of Conjuring.
Meanwhile, Gravitas Ventures will open Queen Bees in approximately 500 locations while Hidden Empire Film Group will distribute The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 at approximately 450 venues, according to Showtimes Dashboard estimates. Both are expected to be moderate performers, but if one has a chance to crack the top ten, it’ll be Queen Bees.
Lionsgate will also sneak preview The Hitman’s Bodyguard’s Wife in an unconfirmed number of locations on Friday night, but it’s unknown as to if or when grosses will be reported or lobbed into next week’s Wednesday debut when the pic goes wide.
This Weekend vs. Last Weekend
Boxoffice projects this weekend’s top ten films will increase between 3 and 23 percent from last weekend’s three-day haul of $65.5 million, which was the second best top ten cume of the pandemic era thus far.
As of this coming weekend, an estimated 76 percent of North American cinemas will be open, representing 94 percent coverage of the domestic box office market.
Opening Weekend Ranges
In the Heights: $20 – 30 million
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway: $12 – 18 million
|Film||Distributor||3-Day Weekend Forecast||Projected Domestic Total through Sunday, June 13||Location Count||% Change from Last Wknd|
|In the Heights||Warner Bros. Pictures||$24,200,000||$24,200,000||~3,400||NEW|
|Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway||Sony Pictures / Columbia||$13,200,000||$13,200,000||3,346||NEW|
|A Quiet Place Part II||Paramount Pictures||$10,500,000||$107,900,000||3,515||-46%|
|The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It||Warner Bros. Pictures||$9,400,000||$43,000,000||~3,150||-61%|
|Cruella||Walt Disney Pictures||$7,000,000||$56,300,000||3,307||-36%|
|Spirit Untamed||Universal Pictures||$3,000,000||$11,500,000||3,394||-51%|
|Wrath of Man||United Artists Releasing||$700,000||$26,100,000||1,207||-45%|
|Raya and the Last Dragon||Walt Disney Pictures||$575,000||$54,500,000||559||-55%|
|Spiral: From the Book of Saw||Lionsgate||$525,000||$22,900,000||1,572||-41%|
|Godzilla vs. Kong||Warner Bros. Pictures||$300,000||$99,800,000||~725||-42%|
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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