After a punishing 14 months for the movie theater business, some sense of normalcy was restored last weekend with the release of director John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place Part II.”
The Paramount Pictures film opened ahead of Memorial Day with $48 million at the U.S. box office, the best showing since the onset of COVID-19. Through Monday’s holiday, “A Quiet Place 2” has generated a sizable $58 million to date. Those results had entertainment industry traditionalists cheering: “The big screen is back!”
For a while, box office analysts had been looking for proof that moviegoing could fully rebound. After all, the popularity of streaming services skyrocketed during the many, many, many months that audiences spent sequestered at home. But vaccination rates are on the rise and COVID-19 cases are on the decline, leaving people desperate to resume their old lives. In that atmosphere, “A Quiet Place Part II” solidified that movies still have the potential to rake in dollar bills on the silver screen.
As the business shakes off its pandemic torpor, Variety raises five questions about the future of cinema-going.
Will studios continue to roll out movies simultaneously on streaming?
The Memorial Day box office unintentionally served as a test case for the future of the way movies are released. There’s little doubt that “A Quiet Place Part II” benefitted because of its exclusive theatrical release. (It will land on Paramount Plus in 45 days.) The weekend’s other big offering, Disney’s “101 Dalmatians” prequel “Cruella,” collected nearly half the ticket sales of “A Quiet Place 2,” ending the extended holiday weekend with $26 million. Disney did not report viewership numbers for “Cruella” on Disney Plus, where it was offered simultaneously for a premium $30 fee. Of course, it’s impossible to tell the impact that “Cruella’s” hybrid release had on ticket sales.
Until the box office returns to pre-COVID levels, major studios are taking different approaches to get through the pandemic. At least through 2021, Warner Bros. will continue to roll out its movies simultaneously on HBO Max. Meanwhile, Disney has announced “Black Widow” will premiere on Disney Plus, with plans to keep “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and other upcoming Marvel movies only in theaters. And Universal is putting “The Boss Baby” sequel concurrently on Peacock, though it’s expected to be a one-off. As for the destiny of made-for-cinema movies, it’s more likely companies will settle on a 45-day period of big-screen exclusivity rather than the traditional three-month window. In the short term, people are willing to see almost anything if it means getting out of their homes. Eventually, however, they may be more likely to skip the multiplexes and wait a few weeks until a film’s home entertainment debut.
What’s going on with the Canadian box office?
Good question, eh? As the U.S. box office recovers, a vital component of the North American box office — Canada — remains hobbled. The Great White North continues to be impacted by mass market closures, with only 18% of the country’s theaters open. Movies can (and will) go on without Canada, but the country accounts for roughly 9% of the domestic box office, according to Comscore. It’s not an end-all-be-all percentage, but every (millions of) dollar counts toward a film’s cumulative total as the box office claws its way back to life. In the meantime, Warner Bros. and other Hollywood players have been releasing their films straight to premium video-on-demand platforms in Canada.
Can tentpole films that rely on foreign box office succeed?
A movie like “A Quiet Place Part II,” with its $61 million production budget, can easily triumph without international audiences. (However, overseas box office revenues are helpful in recouping profits; the original “A Quiet Place” made $155 million internationally.) With upcoming would-be blockbusters like Disney and Marvel’s superhero adventure “Black Widow,” Tom Cruise’s action sequel “Top Gun Maverick” and the LeBron James-Looney Tunes mashup “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” price tags reach far above $100 million and rely on foreign territories, such as China, to get out of the red. In China, the biggest movie market, several films have reached blockbuster status, including Universal’s “Fast and Furious” installment “F9.” Yet in the United Kingdom, India, Brazil, Mexico and other parts of the world, cases of COVID-19 are still surging and will have an impact on global ticket sales.
Even if audiences come back quickly, can movie theaters dig out from a year and change of closures and capacity restrictions?
They are certainly in some rough financial shape. Alamo Drafthouse announced it was reemerging from bankruptcy protection on Tuesday, but other chains won’t be so lucky. Pacific Theatres and Arclight have closed, perhaps for good, with other companies waiting to snap up their leases. One of those suitors, AMC, has done an admirable job of renegotiating debt and selling stock to stave off Chapter 11. However, it still faces questions about it viability. After all, AMC lost more than $1 billion in 2020 and all those equity sales has diluted its stock. Moreover, AMC still was carrying upwards of $5.4 billion in debt as of its most recent quarter. That led to $153 million in interest payments. So even if the box office rebounds, many theaters still have plenty of red ink to sop up.
Will a movie ever open to $100 million at the U.S. box office again?
Of course. And that day may be only a few weeks off. “F9,” which roars into U.S. theaters on June 25, has the best chance of crossing that mark. It could be quickly joined by fall releases such as “Top Gun: Maverick,” “No Time to Die,” and “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” all of which have a chance of approaching or eclipsing that marker. If they do, pop the champagne, because blockbusters are back.