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