This past weekend was a critical test of the summer box office, with more negative than positive results. This weekend has the opportunity to change that course.
This late June weekend is normally a highlight. In the last five years before the pandemic, it saw an average gross of around $200 million (and lower ticket prices). This year, it may struggle to hit $120 million, once unheard of for any weekend between May and mid-August.
“No Hard Feelings,” a $48 million R-rated comedy from Sony starring producer Jennifer Lawrence as a woman hired to help a shy, inexperienced 19-year-old girl gain confidence, will be a four-pronged test: an original not – franchise film, a female lead, a comedy and rated R. If it performs, it could expand the standard production assumptions.
This weekend will also see the expansion of two specialty films. A broader response to Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City” (Focus) and first-time director Celine Song’s “Past Lives” (A24) will send strong signals about the resurgence of this critically struggling sector of the theater performance.
DC Comics’ “The Flash” and Pixar’s “Elemental” have opened up to dramatic shortages, but “Elemental” is showing signs of stabilizing. “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” also continues to hold up well; both could challenge “The Flash” and “No Hard Feelings” for the best films of the week. While these will be the top four movies of the weekend, the actual order contains multiple possibilities.
By midweek, “No Hard Feelings” had a disappointing $12 million opening, both in its expense and potential. Non-animated comedies can do better: “Cocaine Bear” opened to $23 million with less star power earlier this year. When well received, non-franchise films sometimes thrive more after their initial response; that word-of-mouth factor should be kept in mind when judging her gross openness. The film is getting mixed reviews (Metacritic is currently at 57).
The notion that producing a mass-produced film starring Jennifer Lawrence qualifies as a risk seems preposterous, yet that’s what Sony did. This type of movie was a summer staple (see “Risky Business,” “American Pie,” “There’s Something About Mary”) and maybe it will be again.
Both “Asteroid City” and “Past Lives” appear to top $10 million domestic gross, a level that eluded most of last year’s award contenders. While they share the platform start in two cities (unusual these days), their expansions have different trajectories.
After grossing an astonishing $1 million in just six theaters in its first four days, “Asteroid City” opens in 1,668 theaters. It helps director Wes Anderson have a devoted following and past successes (led by 2014’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which grossed $55 million).
After several films with Searchlight, Focus hopes to improve ‘The French Dispatch’ in 2021. Anderson’s previous film tackled COVID-related issues but managed to gross $16.1 million. It opened in 52 theaters and expanded in its second week to $2,602 and $2.6 million. Opening ‘Asteroid City’ comes with light competition, a well-known ensemble cast, and a sense of intrigue. Giving the public something new is an underrated resource.
A conservative guess for “Asteroid City” weekend would be around $5 million, with a domestic gross of $20 million or higher. Combined with international totals and likely PVOD interest (probably before the end of the summer) that would be a winning result.
“Past Lives” enters its fourth week with just 297 theaters scheduled (up from 212 currently). It grossed over $2 million in limited plays, and last weekend’s per-theater average of $8,951 compares well with most of the key players in last season’s Oscars. This domestic A24 production has an uncertain budget, but likely one that a domestic gross of $10 million or higher, along with other subsequent revenues, would make profitable.
The success of a sensitive drama that isn’t pushed by a director or known stars, with an appeal to older audiences and outside of award season, would be a formidable boost to the specialty film industry. The slower release of A24 also means that core specialty theaters are more central to the release model. Maximizing the gross without the major expense of a much larger release would be doubly good.
Next week, summer business will return to business as usual with the release of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Fate” (Disney), with a reported budget of $295 million and hit potential uncertain.