The pandemic and its logistical hurdles still cloud Hollywood’s theatrical release results, but a recent box office victory suggests the industry is entering a new phase.
This weekend, Sony Ghostbusters: the afterlife, with an estimated budget of $ 75 million, grossed a respectable $ 44 million at the box office, despite the film being only available in theaters. In contrast, Warner Bros. ‘ king richard, starring Will Smith and released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, only recouped $ 5.7 million from its $ 50 million budget.
The weekend’s two releases cater to somewhat different audiences, but hint at the ever-awkward prospect of Hollywood’s hybrid film release strategy, in which the studios release a movie in theaters and on streaming services the same day.
Earlier this month, Disney stepped away from its first pandemic hybrid strategy by releasing the Eternals exclusively in theaters instead of simultaneously on Disney + as it did with Black Widow this summer. The move generated a weekend box office hit of $ 71 million for the little-known Marvel characters, compared to the much more publicized Marvel movie. Black Widow, which grossed a bit more for its $ 80 million opening.
At the time, the studio’s first test of the hybrid release strategy didn’t seem to hurt Black Widowearnings from, but concerns over reduced streaming profits led to a lawsuit and possible settlement between the studio and film star Scarlett Johansson. Persistent concerns about declining revenue from hybrid versions, as well as increasing reopenings of covid-19, saw the studio alter its approach by releasing Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings in theaters first in the fall, then on Disney + a few months later. The result was a strong opening weekend of $ 71.4 million at the box office.
“Starting films simultaneously in theaters and at home is devastating for our collective endeavors,” Josh Greenstein, president of Sony Motion Picture Group, said at CinemaCon, an annual gathering of theater owners in August. “Our films will first be seen exclusively in our theaters… The theaters and the cinematic experience in theaters will triumph.”
The path back to traditional theatrical movie releases is starting to emerge
As concerns over covid-19 decline in some of the largest cities in the United States, Greenstein’s prediction appears to be coming true. king richard has been released in approximately 3,300 theaters, while Ghostbusters: the afterlife debuted in approximately 4,300 theaters. And while the former has played in fewer theaters, Smith’s biopic of Richard Williams, father of tennis stars Venus and Serena, drew an additional 70 million potential viewers (pdf) via HBO Max. However, it is not possible to know what real impact the HBO Max option had on the release since the streaming service does not publish its audience figures.
While it’s hard to compare a tentpole franchise sequel like ghost hunters to a dramatic bait outing, Oscar nomination as king richard, the success of Sony’s theatrical release is nonetheless noticeable. And the studio plans to continue its “theatrical-only” strategy next month. Spider-Man: No Path Home is released.
Hollywood cautiously testing reopening strategies, but keeping nearby streaming as an option
Other cinema-exclusive releases coming this year include MGM Gucci House, as well as Disney West Side Story and The king’s man in December. Disney’s announcement of a return to theatrical exclusives came in September after a difficult period of experimentation during the pandemic. Likewise, Warner Bros. plans to return to theatrical releases from 2022, with its HBO Max service receiving its films 45 days after the theatrical release.
“The US government’s approval of vaccines for children aged five to 11 and the reopening of borders to fully immunized international travelers are two important steps towards taking over our business,” said Disney CEO Bob Chapek, during a conference call with analysts and investors. earlier this month.
“We are maintaining our flexibility plan because we still don’t know how the market will react when family films return with a first window in theaters.”