An atypical summer movie season is winding down as the final half of August arrives and a trio of theatrically exclusive wide releases hit theaters across North America.
The leader of the bunch will handily be 20th Century Studios’ Free Guy, an inherited release from the old Fox regime that Disney has delayed several times and kept committed to cinemas. The film is planned to run exclusively in theaters for 45 days, the first truly high profile release under the “Disney banner” to adopt such a strategy during the pandemic (excluding last year’s low-key release of The Empty Man, pre-vaccines and market re-openings).
Free Guy has a number of advantages on its side, not the least of which is Ryan Reynolds in a role tailor-made for his fan base which has broadened in recent years thanks to the success of the Deadpool and Hitman’s Bodyguard series, as well as Detective Pikachu and a strong social media following. With a PG-13 rating, strong reviews hovering around 86 percent, and a concept friendly to a variety of audiences, the action-comedy is arguably the last banner release of the season until Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings arrives to help usher in the fall season on Labor day weekend.
Free Guy hits more than 4,100 theaters in North America beginning with 6pm shows on Thursday evening. Its distribution path includes 330 IMAX auditoriums, 700-plus Premium Large Format screens, 1,200 3D locations, and 200 specialty D-Box/4D screens. Globally, the film opens day-and-date in theaters across major markets excluding Spain, Brazil, China, most of the southeastern Asia region, and certain regions of Australia due to various ongoing restrictions and lockdowns.
Sony is also back at it this weekend with the latest inexpensive horror-thriller offering to whet the appetites of genre fans. Don’t Breathe 2 is arriving five years after the sleeper hit success of a predecessor that bowed to $26.4 million on opening weekend before legging out to $89.2 million in North America and $158 million globally on just a $10 million production budget.
Unfortunately, this sequel enters a much different type of August market that has been replete with horror pics — namely Spiral, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, The Forever Purge, Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, and Old — over the last few months. Marketing has been a late bloomer for this R-rated sequel, though, leading to sluggish pre-sales and awareness until a last second pop in activity on Thursday.
With its target young adult audience also having a potentially more crowd-pleasing (and purchase-friendly PG-13 rating) option to choose from this weekend (Free Guy), Don’t Breathe 2 has an uphill battle ahead of it and likely won’t break out beyond the pandemic openings of the aforementioned genre films to hit screens already this summer.
Meanwhile, United Artists Releasing and MGM will push Respect into wide release in hopes of attracting the elusive 35-plus female crowd that remains the most hesitant to return to theaters right now.
Praise and buzz for Jennifer Hudson’s performance as Aretha Franklin are driving decent pre-sales going into opening weekend after an early sneak preview was held in partnership with Fandango last Sunday, but forecasting models warrant tempered expectations after the under-performance of In the Heights with a similar target demographic two months ago — a film that had a much wider marketing footprint, no less.
Respect is trending ahead of films like Stillwater and Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, but the question is how strong walk-up business will be over the weekend. Reviews are fairly solid around 69 percent so far.
Of course, coloring all expectations right now are concerns surrounding the Delta variant of COVID-19. As discussed in last week’s forecast, moviegoer sentiment is down from early summer highs due to the rise in severe virus cases and hospitalizations among the unvaccinated population. Research firm NRG reported earlier this week that moviegoing comfort levels had dropped to 67 percent as of Monday, August 9 — down from 70 percent one week earlier.
Whether or not those metrics level off or begin to improve again will be key to market performance not just this weekend but in the weeks ahead. Recent moves to mandate vaccination passes in theaters across markets like New York City and Los Angeles could play an integral role in trend lines throughout the weeks ahead.
The cautiously positive development right now is that vaccination rates are climbing again, but all expectations for the movie industry remain fluid as theater owners patiently wait out this protracted recovery period and endure what we’ve long expected might be a fairly slow final month of summer during a time of year that already isn’t known for generating big blockbuster hits as families soak up time for one last vacation.
On that note, we expect last week’s top film — The Suicide Squad — to drop sharply in its second frame despite positive word of mouth from fans and critics. Warner Bros.’ day-and-date releases have consistently shown steep declines after initial release, and that should especially be true of a front-loaded franchise picture like this. In addition to the streaming availability, piracy concerns, and the Delta variant, the film also faces direct competition for its core male audience via Free Guy — which (combined with Respect) also happens to be taking away a big share of Squad‘s premium screen footprint this weekend.
Jungle Cruise, on the other hand, could withhold the new releases in better fashion during its third frame. The hybrid Disney release remains mostly unchallenged for its key family audience that feels comfortable going to cinemas right now, and it doesn’t have much of a premium screen showing left to lose after Squad took them last weekend. Jungle also may benefit from double-bookings at drive-ins and the like as Disney traditionally pairs its recent films with fresh releases, ala Free Guy.
Opener Forecast Ranges
Opening Weekend Range: $15 – 25 million
Domestic Total Range: $45 – $75 million
Don’t Breathe 2
Opening Weekend Range: $6 – 11 million
Domestic Total Range: $16 – $29 million
Opening Weekend Range: $5 – 10 million
Domestic Total Range: $15 – $35 million
Boxoffice projects this weekend’s top ten films will perform within the range of a 5 percent increase to a 5 percent decrease from last weekend’s $62.1 million top ten aggregate.
|Film||Distributor||3-Day Weekend Forecast||Projected Domestic Total through Sunday, August 15||Location Count||% Change from Last Wknd|
|Free Guy||20th Century Studios||$20,000,000||$20,000,000||4,165||NEW|
|Jungle Cruise||Walt Disney Studios||$9,100,000||$82,200,000||3,900||-42%|
|Don’t Breathe 2||Sony Pictures / Columbia||$8,200,000||$8,200,000||3,005||NEW|
|Respect||United Artists Releasing / MGM||$8,000,000||$8,000,000||3,207||NEW|
|The Suicide Squad||Warner Bros. Pictures||$7,900,000||$43,100,000||~4,002||-70%|
|Black Widow||Disney / Marvel Studios||$2,400,000||$178,600,000||2,060||-39%|
|Space Jam: A New Legacy||Warner Bros. Pictures||$1,400,000||$68,300,000||~1,900||-43%|
|The Green Knight||A24||$1,300,000||$14,800,000||1,650||-50%|
All forecasts subject to revision before the first confirmation of Thursday previews or Friday estimates from studios or alternative sources.
Theater counts are updated as confirmed by studios.