How Will Studios End The Lowest Summer In 25 Years? By Not Opening Any New Wide Releases Over Labor Day

It’s often said by distribution chiefs that moviegoing is a 52-weekend-a-year business, but that won’t be their philosophy this coming Labor Day weekend which runs Sept. 1-4.

For the first time in 25 years, both major studio and specialty distributors will not be releasing any new wide releases in north of 1,000 theaters. The last time this occurred was in 1992 with the Universal Matthew Broderick comedy Out on a Limb which debuted in 703 locations (by the way, that was considered wide back then).

How ironic for the majors to cap off the lowest summer in 25 years in regards to admissions without any new titles.  Currently the summer domestic B.O. is at $3.44 billion for the period of the first weekend in May through Sunday, -12%  vs. the same period a year  ago and will likely final around $3.8B. According to ComScore, the last time that the summer box office didn’t crack $4B was in 2006 ($3.7 billion). Exhibition stocks look like they’ve been infected with leprosy with theater chains’ shares hitting one-year lows no thanks to this past weekend’s ticket sales dropping 32% from a year ago with $116.9M. And if there’s one thing that exhibition likes, it’s new product, even if it’s a two-week burn.

However, the prevailing attitude by many studio distribution bosses this year is that it’s not worth laboring over Labor Day weekend especially as moviegoers spend the last huzzah of summer outside the multiplex. Lord, knows the Independence Day and Memorial Day stretches haven’t been as robust as they were in the past.

Sony

Currently, the widest releases during Labor Day weekend are in the hundreds theater count range and that includes Sony/Columbia’s 40th anniversary re-release of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (approximately 800 locations), Lionsgate’s Patelion comedy Hazlo Como Hombre (Do It Like an Hombre(around 300 theaters), Imax’s release of ABC/Marvel TV’s Inhumans pilot in close to 400 auditoriums and Film Arcade’s Lake Bell comedy I Do…Until I Don’t at 200 sites.

All of this said, the four-day total box office for Labor Day shows a different trend: The holiday isn’t that atrocious. Last year’s summer-end holiday chalked up $128.3M over FSSM, +10% over the 2015 stretch thanks to Don’t Breathe leading the B.O. in its second weekend with $19.7M. Not to mention, it was only four years ago when the Labor Day stretch hit an all-time record of $162.1M boosted by Weinstein Co. ‘s The Butler (third weekend take of $20.2M).

Focus Features

But despite that moviegoing activity, it’s a challenge to launch a movie over Labor Day and have it leg out. MGM/Dimension’s Halloween reboot 10 years ago remains the top grossing opener and overall film to come out of the holiday with respectively a $30.6M start and 1.9x multiple of $58.2M; a different era when social media and Rotten Tomatoes didn’t impact business. Genre typically opens well over Labor Day, and there’s usually a stab at specialty audiences too, i.e. Focus Features’ Jessica Chastain-Helen Mirren Mossad agent drama The Debt and George Clooney’s largely silent thriller The American. But generally those titles debuting over the weekend aren’t typically in the mix for awards season, the anomaly being Focus Features’ The Constant Gardener which went on to earn four Oscar nominations including a best supporting actress win for Rachel Weisz.

New Line

But if you look closely at the calendar, there’s one solid September release that’s arguably keeping the majors from opening over Labor Day and wasting any P&A, and that’s New Line/Warner Bros. feature take on Stephen King’s classic novel It which opens the weekend after on Sept. 8. Many rivals wouldn’t be surprised if the film grabs a three-day in the $50M vicinity; so why even try to play into that? Historically, the weekend after Labor Day has been deadlier than the holiday weekend itself, but last year Warner Bros. reminded the town with Sully‘s $35M what had already been proved many times before at the B.O. If there’s a great movie on the marquee, people will show up even if school or other autumn-time activities are distracting them, read The Exorcism of Emily Rose ($30M) and Contagion ($22.4M).

What the studios are capitalizing on during Labor Day are summer holdovers, and a bulk of that product will roll out the weekend prior to the holiday on Aug. 25. That weekend the three wide entries are Weinstein Co.’s animated pic Leap!Sony Affirm’s faith-based title All Saints and BH Tilt’s Bruce Lee biopic Birth of the Dragon from director George Nolfi. Two years ago Sony Affirm surprised everyone with a No. 1 win ($13.4M) with another faith-based title War Room in its second weekend over Labor Day. There will also be Lionsgate’s Ryan Reynolds action comedy The Hitman‘s Bodyguard in its third weekend as well as New Line’s Annabelle: Creation in its fourth go-round. If Hitman can peg out Annabelle 2 this weekend, $17.5M to $15M, Labor Day could ultimately be his for the taking.

In addition, during the weekend of Aug. 25, Sony plans to break Baby Driver wide again while Warner Bros. will give the highest grossing movie of the summer Wonder Woman ($402.1M) one last gasp, with some showtimes in Imax, before she arrives on digital download on Aug. 29; DVD Sept. 19. Per tradition, Disney will take its summer Pixar title wide again over Labor Day and this year’s that’s Cars 3 (current B.O. $148.3M domestic).

ABC

Imax is solely handling the distribution of Marvel’s Inhumansnot Disney, and the film is slated to play exclusively in the large format exhibitor’s auditoriums. Originally Marvel was planning to make a feature for 2019 about this superhuman team who were introduced in a Dec. 1965 issue of The Fantastic Four, but opted to go the TV route instead. The Inhumans also appeared during the second season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Part of Imax’s business m.o. is to program their theaters during the downtimes at the box office with alternative fare, and Inhumans, which is booked for two weeks, fits the bill. Two years ago during the late doldrums of January, Imax released the last two episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones season 4, “The Watchers on the Wall” and “The Children” on 205 screens and made close to $2M in a week’s run. Inhumans is fresh material for fanboys and won’t air on ABC until Sept. 29. Currently, rivals aren’t expecting Inhumans to take off in the way that Disney’s limited 3D run of Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour did at 685 sites during the 2008 Super Bowl weekend (Feb. 1-3) with a $31.1M three-day.

However, with nothing major out there during Labor Day weekend, it will be interesting to see what kind of pop Inhumans can get: Prior to Game of Thrones, another fan-heavy TV show to play in a handful of theaters was BBC Worldwide’s 50th Anniversary special Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor which grossed $4.7M at 650 locations in three-days.