Sunday AM Final: When it comes to the lackluster result of Warner Bros.’ latest The Suicide Squad at $26.5M this past weekend, one can blame the variant, and they can definitely blame HBO Max, but they’ll also need to blame the brand. Several reasons are weighing down on why this well-intended and valiant effort by the studio to improve a damaged franchise went wrong.
While it was a brilliant stroke to bring in the gifted James Gunn, not even he could save DC’s The Suicide Squad. Remember, what I keep saying: Any misfire at the box office, especially of late, always boils down to brand and whether it’s worth people’s time to go out. It is always a challenge for any studio to market a sequel to a movie that many initially regarded as a bad movie, and David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, despite its global box office success of $746.8M, and biggest domestic August debut of all-time at $133.6M, is the Batman v. Superman of DC’s villain cinemaverse (and Birds of Prey with a $33M domestic debut, $84.1M U.S./Canada take and $201.8M WW, didn’t help).
And despite the great reviews for Gunn’s Suicide Squad, and any good exits from the Under 18 demo, they’re likely watching this R-rated film at home on HBO Max where it’s free and they can don’t have to deal with the hassle of sneaking into the theater or being turned away. The whole HBO Max factor –and piracy– just kills the film’s legs at the box office, and that has statistically been proven time and again during the pandemic. Also, with a title like The Suicide Squad, a studio is just telling the audience they’ve already seen this movie before.
Now, some are trying to blame the delta variant for The Suicide Squad going sideways, and while not to be “callous” as Disney would say, it’s possible that moviegoers are exercising caution, however, I don’t think it’s time to sound the air raid siren at the box office: Theaters are still open, people are vaccinated (NY State is 58% fully inoculated, California is 54%), and as a nation we didn’t close down this past weekend. Comscore reports that the gap between the 2021 box office (at $1.8 billion) for the period of Jan. 1-Aug 8 and the same frame in 2020 continues to close, now -6%. Despite those restraining from travel, there is part of the population who is vaccinated that wants to continue to live a normal life. Also, last week, when we still had headlines about the surging delta variant, Jungle Cruise beat its $25M projections with a $35M opening. See? It’s boils down to brand (and Dwyane Johnson’s marketing muscle).
However, a studio can’t claim the best R-rated opening during the pandemic here (especially for a dynamic window movie, which is already curbing ticket sales) and point the finger at Covid at the same time. Suicide Squad‘s opening is right in line, in fact it’s ahead, of HBO Max/Warner Bros’ previous R-rated titles, i.e. New Line’s Mortal Kombat ($23.3M) and also above The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It ($24.1M). For weeks, tracking was indicating that The Suicide Squad was looking like Birds of Prey, and that’s before the latest group of Covid spikes in NY and LA, so there’s no great shock here in regards to Suicide Squad‘s opening weekend. The only question was how far north of $30M the sequel could possibly go.
Warners believes that they continue to be on the right side of history here, given how they predicted the lingering pandemic and braced for it by putting their movies in theaters and on frosh streaming service HBO Max. There also isn’t a great concern out there by the industry that Warner will bail on theatrical given their commitment to a 45-day window next year for their event titles.
Gunn shot The Suicide Squad in Imax, and large format theaters drove 10% of the pic’s weekend B.O with a 3-day of $2.6M.
Also, while we’re on the subject of whether Covid is impacting the box office or not: After Jungle Cruise emulated the first week results of pre-pandemic Rampage, the Johnson-Emily Blunt pic had a better than expected second weekend decline of -55% with $15.69M. Many were predicting a -60% decline with the whole Disney+ Premier of it all, piracy and Suicide Squad stealing the theme park-inspired pic’s PLF screens. Some of the hold here might boil down to Disney+ actually charging for the film at home rather than giving it away free to its streaming subscribers like HBO Max. Don’t say families aren’t going to the movies now. If you haven’t noticed, Johnson, even in weekend 2, continues to have a bullhorn for Jungle Cruise on his social media channels. Typically stars bail on promoting their movies in their second weekend, but Johnson doesn’t quit. The proof of continually speaking to his 332.2M social media followers is showing positive results for Jungle Cruise at the box office this weekend.
Johnson is seen here below being a proponent for consumer choice in times like this. On Wednesday, he posted a video on Instagram saying, “Been a JUNGLE CRUISE celebration all week long – THANK YOU – for making us the #1 MOVIE IN THE WORLD with an amazing $92M opening weekend worldwide ($35M domestic) 👏🏾🌍🍿🙏🏾. As we try to navigate our way thru this challenging Covid market, I’ve been a big advocate on creating an incredible EXPERIENCE IN THEATERS as well as an incredible experience IN YOUR LIVING ROOMS on the same day. Very important to me, to always give you and your families options as we all work hard to get on the other side of Covid.Thank you guys around the world for launching a JUNGLE CRUISE franchise by absolutely loving our characters and the wild adventures they journey on!!! Back to work ~ sip your ZO, now LFG! dj 🖤👊🏾”
According to iSpot, Warner Bros. and Disney essentially spent the same amount of money in U.S. TV spend respectively on Suicide Squad and Jungle Cruise, $18.8M and $18.3M. Suicide‘s spend includes $7.7M in HBO Max promos that included the DC bad guy ensemble. The Suicide Squad TV campaign generated 930.1 million impressions to Jungle Cruise‘s 1.81 billion. Top network runs for Suicide Squad ads were NBC (16.4%), ABC (10.8%), TBS (8.7%), TNT (6.3%) and Univision (4.8%). The Margot Robbie-Idris Elba trailer also aired during the Olympics, NBA, College basketball, re-runs of The Big Bang Theory and Family Guy.
Meanwhile, Focus Features’ Stillwater had the strongest hold out of those titles in their second weekend, -45% besting not only Jungle Cruise, but also A24’s Green Knight which slid -62%. The Matt Damon drama stands at $10M through ten days after a $2.86M weekend 2. This is a sign of optimism and deserves to be noticed as it indicates older audiences are getting comfortable with returning to cinemas. There’s also not a lot of smart films for older adults out there right now, which works to Stillwater‘s advantage. Why did Green Knight nose-dive? Essentially the Dev Patel movie has the same guy male fanboy audience as Suicide Squad, which is potent between 18-35), and it was a movie that divided its audience; an arthouse title posing as a genre movie which is de rigueur for A24.
- The Suicide Squad (WB) 4,002 theaters, Fri $12.1M/Sat $8.22M/Sun $6.18M/ 3-day: $26.5M/Wk 1
- Jungle Cruise (Dis) 4,310 theaters, Fri $4.46M (-67%)/ Sat $6.67M/Sun $4.55M/ 3-day $15.69M (-55%)/Total: $65.3M/Wk 2
- Old (Uni) 3,138 theaters (-241), Fri $1.2M (-44%)/Sat $1.67M/$1.26M/3-day $4.1M (-40%)/Total: $38.5M/Wk 3
- Black Widow (Dis) 3,100 theaters (-260)/Fri $1.2M/Sat $1.66M/Sun $1.16M/ 3-day $4M (-38%)/Total $174.3M/Wk 5
- Stillwater (Foc) 2,611 theaters (+80), Fri $770K (-59%)/Sat $1.22M/ Sun $870K/3-day $2.86M (-45%)/Total: $10M/ Wk 2
- The Green Knight (A24) 2,798 theaters (+8) Fri $760K (-74%)/Sat $1M/ Sun $816K/3-day $2.59M (-62%)/Total $12.1M/Wk 2
- Space Jam 2 (WB) 2,869 theaters (-632) Fri $685K/Sat $1M/Sun $770K/ 3-day $2.475M (-43%)/Total $65.6M/Wk 4
- Snake Eyes (Par) 2,080 theaters (-1,460) Fri $450K/Sat $675K/Sun $500K/3-day $1.625M (-60%)/Total $26M/Wk 3
- Escape Room 2 (Sony) 1,303 theaters (-783)Fri $405K /Sat $510K/Sun $335K/3-day $1.25M (-44%)/Total $23M/Wk 4
- F9 (Uni) 1,715 theaters (-633) Fri $320K/Sat $520K/Sun $390K/3-day $1.23M (-54%)/Total $171M/Wk 7
Saturday AM Update: Warner Bros.’ latest The Suicide Squad is coming in at a $12.1M opening day at 4,002 theaters, which includes $4.1M Thursday previews, for what what will be an industry estimated 3-day in the mid-to-high $20M range which is under the $30M that Warner Bros and others were eyeing.
On tracking, even weeks ago, many were telling me that the James Gunn-directed DC film was looking like the studio’s featherless Birds of Prey which opened to a lackluster $33M, and well, here’s The Suicide Squad. Many were expecting fan front-loading, with an expected Saturday drop. Exhibition clearly knew this ahead of time when they spotted the weekend’s weight of ticket sales on Thursday night and Friday.
Some continue to wonder whether the delta variant is the contributing factor here in further upsetting the grosses for Suicide Squad, a movie which won over critics at 92% certified fresh; the best reviewed in the DC villain ensemble trilogy. It’s an easy excuse to make in a marketplace where some studios continue to fool around with the dynamic window. Warners isn’t sorry about sticking with their HBO Max/theatrical plan after recent New York Times headlines about restaurants struggling, and WSJ reporting a dip in travel despite an earlier summer boom. Granted, there is a mixed message out there about the surging variant, particularly since we haven’t returned to lockdown, and kids are heading back to college to stay in dorms. We continue to live and manage life with the virus. Of those I’ve spoken to in the industry, no one is really expecting the vaccine card mandate in NYC or LA to effect business.
— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) August 6, 2021
Here’s the unfortunate hard truth despite Warner Bros.’ best intentions to get a vibrant, zany, and fun filmmaker like Gunn to resuscitate the Suicide Squad brand: For weeks, many read the tea leaves and saw that The Suicide Squad was destined to have a bad time at the B.O.; that the movie had bigger inherent problems: It’s hard to rebound a franchise, even with an installment that has excellent reviews and a great director, after the first 2016 film wasn’t received well by fans, and the follow-up Birds of Prey even significantly less-so.
Gunn’s Suicide Squad arrives with a B+ CinemaScore, the same grade as David Ayer’s Suicide Squad and the 2020 spinoff Birds of Prey. Posttrak at 83% positive was higher than the first Suicide Squad which was 73% positive, and it nabbed four stars and a 62% recommend like Birds of Prey. Gunn’s Suicide Squad also saw the under 25 audience at 34% giving the film an A- and 63% of the under 35 demo also bestowing an A- (By the way, the first Suicide Squad also earned an A- among the under 35, however, they turned out at 76% the first time around). But when you’re giving the film out for free to HBO Max subscribers, it’s hard to translate that good word of mouth into bucks on a Saturday night. Part of what propped Disney’s grosses up at the box office on Black Widow and Jungle Cruise, is the fact that they’re at least charging for each title at $29.99 a pop (the business notion is, as weak as it is, that the in-home price is more expensive than the average price of a movie ticket, which will hopefully persuade people to see it on the big screen. Still, $29.99 is quite the bargain for even a family of three).
Also, many will argue that marketing dropped the ball here in not distinguishing the pic’s title: Is it a sequel? It is a reboot? What message are we trying to transmit to the consumer? Even if the number ‘2’ wasn’t in the title, add some more words in the title to indicate a purely different film in the series, i.e. ‘The Suicide Squad Goes To The Jungle’. Anything. If Warners was looking for a reboot, then that would have entailed switching out all the characters in the movie, which would have meant leaving Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn out.
It will be interesting to see how The Suicide Squad does on HBO Max. To date, Mortal Kombat, according to SambaTV which monitors streaming in 3M U.S. terrestrial TV households, is the most-watched Warner Bros/HBO Max title in an opening weekend, watched by 3.8M U.S. households. Wonder Woman 1984 over Christmas weekend was watched by 2.2M U.S. households. Gunn has a spinoff HBO Max series connected to Suicide Squad called The Peacemaker with John Cena’s character (the actor is so obsessed about his character, he showed up at the L.A. premire dressed in the DC character’s full regalia). If The Suicide Squad rallies on HBO Max, then WarnerMedia has teed this film off quite well for its future in-home consumption. But strictly speaking from a theatrical standpoint, it was never Warner’s plans to see this third DC movie priced at an estimated $185M before marketing spend post the type of numbers we’re seeing here at the box office. Warner can easily claim that Gunn’s Suicide Squad is the best opening for an R-rated film in the pandemic, but that’s an empty victory when you juxtapose these opening numbers to largely any DC film before it (granted most were PG-13, and yes, it was pre-pandemic).
When will we know if the delta variant is truly impacting the domestic box office? There are a few more goal posts coming up, and they’re all releases respecting a theatrical window. Disney has 20th Century’s Ryan Reynolds’ Free Guy next weekend which is looking like $19M, and Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings over Labor Day. Now, hardly anyone, pandemic or no pandemic, goes to the movies over Labor Day, so if we Shang-Chi can beat the robust Labor Day 4-day of Guardians of the Galaxy ($22.9M 4th-weekend), I’d say business is pretty good. There’s also the Sept 24 release of Sony’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage and the long-awaited Oct. 8 launch of MGM/UAR’s No Time to Die. If anything is greatly amiss with these films at the box office, then we can likely blame the variant.
However, to blame the variant now squarely on a film that analysts knew had inherent problems going into the weekend isn’t entirely correct. Jungle Cruise‘s first week grosses were besting the first week of Dwayne Johnson’s pre-pandemic title Rampage, indicating the delta isn’t at fault; the pic’s $14.86M, -57% second weekend tumble is due to losing PLF screens to Suicide Squad coupled with the fact that the movie is available in homes on Disney+ Premier. Blaming Suicide Squad‘s misfiring on the variant only creates a Chicken Little ‘The Sky is Falling’ mentality that will spur chaos, force studios to remove more product from the release schedule, and make exhibition a wasteland. Hopefully that doesn’t happen. Again.
More parsing of Gunn’s The Suicide Squad: CinemaScore showed guys-to-females at 59% to 41%; a similar turnout to the first movie which was 54% males to 46% females. Men were also dominant on Birds of Prey at 53%. Similar to the first movie, it’s the middle-aged folk who are weighing down the audience exits on Gunn’s Suicide Squad with 66% over 25 giving it a B, and 37% over 35 a B-. In fact, the over 25 crowd enjoyed this sequel slightly less than Ayer’s giving it a B- to the first’s B.
On PostTrak, guys turned out at 65%, with 70% between 18-35 with the diversity demos showing 43% Caucasian, 26% Latino, 17% African American, 10% Asian and 4% others.
As is typical during the pandemic, those who choose to go out to the movies, decide to splurge and Imax and PLF are delivering 35% to date of The Suicide Squad‘s ticket sales. I hear that the pic’s most notable play is coming from the coasts, especially LA where seven of pic’s top ten theaters are with Canada overindexing for the first time since the country forced closings; a positive sign. Typically Warners has their theatrical/HBO Max title available in the Great White North on PVOD.
It comes as no surprise to hear that the under 18 demo gave Suicide Squad an A-, given the overall positive vibe (9 out of a 10) that RelishMix was hearing about the film on social media. After Birds of Prey flew into a spinning fan, maybe it wasn’t wise to keep Suicide Squad R-rated; perhaps it left this demo and families sidelined at home to watch the movie on HBO Max instead of heading out to the theater. RelishMix further points out that on social, Suicide Squad was strong on all metrics with 12 owned videos on YouTube which had a strong viral rate of 25:1 and 187.9M owned and earned views. The total social media awareness level with cast is also 69% above the norm counting 478.9M across YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. There was a huge combined WarnerMedia cross-promotional force of WB Pictures 56.8M (the WB Pictures YouTube channel close to crossing 10M), Suicide Squad‘s 8.7M, HBO Max’s 3.3M and DC’s 25.2M.
Weekend’s top 6:
- The Suicide Squad (WB) 4,002 theaters, Fri $12.1M, 3-day: $25.7M-$27M/Wk 1
- Jungle Cruise (Dis) 4,310 theaters, Fri $4.46M (-67%)/ 3-day $14.86M (-57%)/Total: $64.4M/Wk 2
- Old (Uni) 3,138 theaters (-241), Fri $1.2M (-44%)3-day $3.8M (-44%)/Total: $38.2M/Wk 3
- Black Widow (Dis) 3,100 theaters (-260)/Fri $1.12M (-44%) 3-day $3.59M (-45%)/Total $173.9M/Wk 5
- Stillwater (Foc) 2,611 theaters (+80), Fri $770K (-59%)/3-day $2.4M (-54%)/Total: $9.5M/ Wk 2
- The Green Knight (A24) 2,798 theaters (+8) Fri $760K (-74%)/3-day $2.3M (-66%)/Total $11.9M/Wk 2
Friday AM Update: Warner Bros fired up James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad last night, the studio’s first Thursday preview in a long time — arguably since pre-pandemic. The DC ensemble is seeing $4.1 million off showtimes that began at 7 p.m., the biggest number for a R-rated movie during the Covid era.
There haven’t been many R-rated movies during the pandemic; previous notable Thursday previews include Funimation’s Demonslayer with $3.8M and Universal/Blumhouse’s R-rated The Forever Purge posting $1.3M. The Suicide Squad‘s Thursday is also a hair ahead of its previous DC spinoff Birds of Prey, which did $4M on its Thursday before the pandemic in February 2020; that start translated to a $12.9M first Friday and $33M opening weekend.
As per WarnerMedia’s pandemic plan, The Suicide Squad is playing in both theaters and in homes on HBO Max. The Guardians of the Galaxy filmmaker’s take on the DC movie has the best reviews out of the franchise at 93% certified fresh, besting the critical response to David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (26% Rotten) and Birds of Prey (79% certified fresh), putting projections at a minimum of $30M domestic and $70M worldwide.
While Disney’s day-and-date theatrical and Disney+ Premier films Cruella, Black Widow and Jungle Cruise had one exclusive theatrical night before those respective titles became available in the home on their opening Friday, The Suicide Squad became available in cinemas and in HBO Max homes at the same time.
How’d everything else do during the week? Disney’s No. 1 title The Jungle Cruise, despite being available in homes, actually beat the first week of pre-pandemic grosses of Dwayne Johnson’s 2018 action pic Rampage, with an estimated $49.7M at 4,310 theaters (compared with $45.6M), which indicates there’s an appetite for theatrical and that headlines about the Delta variant aren’t preventing people, particularly families, from going to the movies. Jungle Cruise outstripped the initial Monday through Thursday daily grosses of Rampage throughout this past week, with yesterday clocking an estimated $2.9M.
The question, of course, is how much more Jungle Cruise would have made without competition from Disney+ Premier; Samba TV figures at least $23.3M for U.S. terrestrial Smart TV households purchasing the family film last weekend. Despite Jungle Cruise‘s rally over Rampage, the movie isn’t expected to emulate the feature video game adaptation in weekend 2 with a projected drop of 60%, versus the 2018 pic’s -44% (which unlike Jungle Cruise didn’t have a big tentpole right behind it, and played exclusive to cinemas).
On Wednesday, and amid legal chaos with its Marvel Cinematic Universe star Scarlett Johansson, Disney celebrated Black Widow as the highest-grossing title at the domestic B.O. during the pandemic, the pic having a current gross through four weeks of $170.4M, above Universal’s $169.8M (through six weeks) on its theatrical-windowed F9. Don’t misread the figures as a celebration for the dynamic window formula. Like Jungle Cruise, how much more could Black Widow make without interference from Disney+ Premier? Box office power is always about brands, and a Marvel movie like Black Widow was always destined to beat out the ninth installment in a 20-year old franchise. The potency of F9‘s respect of a theatrical window can be seen in its global performance, which stands at $643.3M to Black Widow‘s $346.2M. Black Widow stateside made an estimated $9.7M in its fourth week for the No. 3 spot at 3,360 theaters.
Universal’s Old was No. 2 for the week with an estimated $10.5M at 3,379 theaters, putting the M. Night Shyamalan’s two-week cume at $34.3M. That’s 4% behind the two-week running domestic B.O. cume of the filmmaker’s previous lowest-grossing movie, 2006’s Lady in the Water.
A24’s Dev Patel fantasy movie The Green Knight at 2,790 locations posted a first week of $9.5M in the No. 4 spot, a promising result for art houses right now.
No. 5 goes to Focus Features’ Matt Damon drama Stillwater in 2,531 theaters which made $7.1M in its first week.