Facts are facts, whether former Vice President Joe Biden takes the U.S. presidency or President Donald Trump continues: Movie theaters in New York City and Los Angeles remain closed, and even worse, Western Europe — meaning UK, Germany, France, Italy, and a curfewed Spain — is largely closed down, those countries having repped 16% of the 2017 first pic’s $409.3M overseas box office.
I hear a meeting is underway with studio brass who are deciding what will happen next. This despite all good intentions by Warner Bros. executives to stick to Dec. 25. Last week at a Variety Power of Women Conversations, Warner Bros. Chair and CEO Ann Sarnoff said, “We’ve got a little bit of time to figure that out” in regards to a WW84 release-date change.
In fact, the studio does not.
If Warners doesn’t want to incur any lost P&A money, it needs to move WW84 now, according to several industry sources. Generally, tentpole movie campaigns fire off six weeks before their opening dates. That would put WW84 spots starting the week before Thanksgiving. And if the Patty Jenkins directed movie starring Gal Gadot is going to stick to its Christmas Day release date, it definitely needs to promote during Thanksgiving, when everyone is home watching football (and there might be some who dare to go to the cinemas to see Universal/DreamWorks Animation’s The Croods: A New Age, which is playing on a shortened theatrical window in time for a PVOD airing by Christmas).
It’s a tough decision and a great responsibility for Warners to bear on behalf of the industry, not unlike the bravery it executed in releasing Christopher Nolan’s Tenet at a time when the pandemic wasn’t over, and box office capitals New York and Los Angeles still closed, which yielded a $20.2M 11-day domestic opening, with current running domestic B.O. to date of $53.8M (the global take has been better at $347.1M). The lackluster domestic results forced other major studios to pull all their fall and holiday tentpoles off the schedule.
If Wonder Woman 1984 flees Christmas, we could further expect Disney to pull its 20th Century Studios marquee features Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds, and Death on the Nile, which has Gadot doing double-duty. Exhibition also is looking forward to those movies. However, with WW84‘s rescheduling to 2021, there in one swoop would go the year-end holiday moviegoing frame, which exhibition has been eyeing to lengthen their financial runways. That type of situation could put big circuits like AMC into bankruptcy or force exhibition to further close down (No. 2 chain UK Cineworld is closed with its U.S. counterpart Regal only open in select California and New York locations).
Until there’s a complete sense of the virus quelling, studios and distributors are opting to stick with booking low-budget movies in the marketplace, titles they can target at specific demos, i.e. Open Road’s Honest Thief with men or Focus Features’ PG-13 horror film Come Play last weekend with teens and females under 25. But if smaller distributors backfill WW84, Free Guy and Death on the Nile with smaller lackluster fare, what good is that for exhibition? These movies have been opening to No. 1 of late in the low-single digits at the weekend domestic box office.
On the upside, we hear it’s also possible that Uni will keep its Tom Hanks historical drama News of the World sticking to its Dec. 25 release given the PVOD deal in place with AMC, and Screen Gems’ Monster Hunter could remain on its domestic date of Dec. 30 given the fact that China and Asian markets are that pic’s big play.
Separately, we heard from exhibition sources Monday that Warner Bros. is flirting with the idea of a shortened domestic theatrical window for WW84 of around 17-21 days before putting it on PVOD. Studio insiders responded that no such plan is in the works for their prized DC sequel, the first Wonder Woman having grossed $821.8M at the global box office.
So given all the release-date changes for WW84, how much money is it losing? Industry sources say not much as the film, should it keep its theatrical release and debut in a normal marketplace in the future, will be profitable. The pic’s P&A spend only increases for money already spent. The TV spot media buys that WW84 has booked in the near future easily can be rescheduled, that is unless some of it can’t (such as those spots which were bought during an upfront or an NFL buy). Finance sources estimate P&A and incurred interest costs already spent on WW84 to stand around $20M. Interest costs began racking up on the movie during its shoot which commenced in June 2018, and if figured until the end of this year, those figures stand between $8M-$9M per finance sources.
Add in $6.4M in TV spot ads that already aired per iSpot (there haven’t been any since Aug. 25, per the agency), and two online trailer drops (which never are organic eyeball views, all studios pay for the view boost), which is expected to be in the seven-figure spend range. On YouTube, I hear that paid views often go for $250K per a 10 million-view yield. RelishMix tells us that studios often shoot for 1 million views an hour during daylight streaming times on YouTube. Just on the Warner Bros. U.S. YouTube channels alone, both WW84 trailers have racked up 56M views.
Promotional partner penalties are harder to account for, as it’s done on an advertiser-by-advertiser basis. I’m told with any studio, if merchandise or in-store materials have been delivered and release dates changed, the studio often is charged for this. However, we’re living in force majeure times, and some promo partners are forgiving studios. What’s occurred on Wonder Woman 1984 is that promotions already have been out there, i.e. a Doritos bag campaign over the summer (pegged to the pic’s then-June 5 release date), a Red Cross blood drive timed to the pic’s then-changed Oct. 2 opening date, a Lego toy set and bags of SweeTarts Golden Ropes Tropical Punch candies. Warners will eat this up as pre-awareness for the film. However, in such instances, it’s not expected that the advertiser will return to re-promote on the pic’s new release date as they have other obligations to meet with other studios and films.
So if WW84 shifts, where would it go? A logical place would be back to the first weekend of June; that’s the same weekend where the first movie launched to a $103.2M opening in 2017. Currently, Warners has New Line’s The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It on June 4, and the former lucrative genre period of post Labor Day weekend of Sept. 10-12 reserved for an untitled New Line horror feature. It would make sense that Conjuring 3 then would float to the fall.
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