Friday Box Office Analysis
By David Mumpower
August 29, 2020
Greetings and salutations! Welcome back to the show! By garn, it’s been a while.
When last we left our heroes, Onward was the number one film in North America for the second week in a row.
Of course, that’s a misleading representation of the story. In truth, the latest Pixar movie disappointed to a historic degree. It’s the animation house’s least successful film ever.
Somehow, that’s a misrepresentation, as well. You may have noticed the collapse of society due to something called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2, aka SARS-CoV-2. Or, as the cool kids call it, Coronavirus.
I’m trying to broach a nightmarish topic as calmly as I can, but the truth is that I’m also a freelance content creator. I’ve talked about COVID-19 more than any sane person ever should. And I wasn’t that sane to begin with.
The point is that Coronavirus triggered the collapse of the movie industry as we know it. In fact, in between our most recent box office discussions, the Paramount Decrees ended, and AMC Theatres brokered a groundbreaking deal with Universal Pictures.
That second thing happened after AMC Theatres declared war on Universal Pictures, swearing never to exhibit one of their movies again. So, we missed a full-on film studio/exhibitor war and the following peace accords.
I cannot accurately stress with words how strange the past six months have been.
Meanwhile, Disney is doing some boundary testing with Mulan next weekend. The dominant player in the film industry wants to know how well it can survive without theatrical releases. Ergo, we’re also only a few days away from another monumental event for this business.
Stuck between these events is the current weekend of box office, whose discussion is the reason why you’re here. Please bear with me just another moment before we talk about it, though. I want to say something first.
Back in 1998, several of the contributors for Box Office Prophets wrote for the precursor site, The-Prophets.com. At the time, we envisioned two simultaneous websites, one that discussed general topics and another with a movie industry focus.
At the start of 2001, I spoke with several friends about an idea I had, which would become BOP. We immediately fell in love with the idea so much that The-Prophets.com fell by the wayside.
Several of the early contributors from the site like Tim Briody, Reagen Sulewski, and Kim Hollis remain to this day, something which makes me extremely proud. And the third webmaster, Tony Kollath, is part of Kim and my family. Yes, if you didn’t know it, Kim and I got married after building BOP together. This site is extremely personal to us, a member of the family, so to speak.
During the past several months, the movie industry teetered on the brink of total collapse. During this period, we debated how to proceed. As always, my friends proved inspirational and motivated. Frustrated by a lack of ways to voice their opinions in the current market, they agreed to do a podcast with me, although I cannot take any credit for the idea.
I bought the equipment to start a BOP podcast all the way back in 2006, but then I got sick and nearly died. The idea popped up from time to time, of course. We never seriously explored it, though.
Then, a longtime friend named Raul Burriel asked us to join him in a weekly conversation about streaming media, which is – for better and for worse – the future of film consumption.
We’re only a few weeks into this endeavor thus far and still have a long way to go to find the perfect tone. That’s the perfectionist in me talking. What we’ve done should still interest some of you, the loyalists who have supported BOP through thick and thin.
To those of you who are reading today, you’re real fans and a part of my extended 'ohana. I sincerely thank you for your support. If you’d like to listen to our podcast, you’ll find it at StreamingVoid.com. Or, you can search for it on all podcast outlets. The title is Streaming into the Void.
As you’re probably aware, the lack of weekend box office has proved an extinction-level event for most sites like this one. I briefly glanced at some data the other day that suggested many of us are in freefall from a traffic perspective. Since we never did BOP to get rich and famous, it doesn’t impact us.
However, to those of you from competing sites who may be suffering, I want to extend my hope that you will find ways to survive this particular apocalyptic event and come out stronger for it. And to those of you impacted from the pandemic, you’re in my thoughts and prayers all the time.
From a BOP perspective, you may have noticed an influx of reviews, especially from Sean Collier. Our site is blessed to have multiple Rotten Tomatoes-ranked critics who have written for us over the years, at least two of whom are currently active on that site.
During the pandemic, Collier has performed heroically. I know from tracking reviews of certain films that many critics have taken the pandemic off. I can’t even blame them. The publicity mailings we’ve gotten recently border on desperate. Nobody knows how to market during the Coronavirus era.
Despite any number of obstacles placed in his path, Collier has dutifully produced two or three reviews each week. It’s a remarkable tribute to his dedication and work ethic. Similarly, J. Don Birnam has done some work for us, while Jim Van Nest completed the last season of Survivor despite challenging circumstances.
Somehow, Michael Lynderey has even continued to do monthly forecasts, knowing full well that drive-in theaters are dominating the box office realm right now. I sincerely appreciate these contributions as well as all the others we’ve received from friends during the pandemic.
Perhaps my favorite thing that we’ve done has nothing to do with box office, though. You couldn’t possibly know this, but BOP has received contributions from authors across six different continents over the years. If you live in Antarctica and want to know something out, please contact me. It’s a bucket list thing.
Anyway, the point is that BOP has had perfect from several different countries describe how the pandemic has impacted them. I recognize that box office discussions are trivial to some. Life in a pandemic should matter to everyone, though. So, I highly recommend these articles, which provide a worldview of a mind-boggling historical event we’re currently experiencing.
You can read all seven pieces here.
Okay, thank you for indulging me about the site ownership stuff. Now, let’s talk shop. And the news is grim.
Starting on Thursday, real movies returned to theaters. And don’t get me started on Unhinged. I mean titles that had a chance to make an impact at some point.
Specifically, I’m referencing The New Mutants, the film that time forgot. This ill-fated project once looked like the next major comic book franchise. Then, it got delayed again and again.
Finally, Disney acquired Fox and showed some faith in the product. While The New Mutants wouldn’t become an official part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it would stay in that adjacent space akin to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. And it would receive solid studio support.
Alas, Disney’s worst misstep happened when it pushed the film from last summer to April 3, 2020, which was actually a protective move. Disney wanted to avoid confusion with another former Fox comic book production, Dark Phoenix, and we all know how that turned out.
With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that Disney delayed the wrong film. Nobody could have known it at the time, but Disney ultimately destroyed the chances of The New Mutants with this move.
By early March, it was clear that no major studio productions were coming out in April. The frustration here stems from the fact that Dark Phoenix would have bombed at any time. The New Mutants had some possibility of success. It was tracking in the low-$20 million range before Coronavirus shuttered theaters.
For a time, rumors hinted that The New Mutants would debut on Hulu rather than in movie theaters. That didn’t happen, but this project has seemed jinxed for a long time. In fact, its buzz has grown so cold that critics were never going to give it a fair shot, nor were audiences.
I say all this as backstory for the fact that The New Mutants has unsurprisingly struggled on opening weekend. Yes, I just wrote 1,400 words to tell you the obvious. In my defense, I hadn’t said anything here in a while. We all had some catching up to do, right? I’d offer you tea and scones, but I’m not much for hosting guests.
All joking aside, here are the numbers. The New Mutants earned $3.1 million on its first day in theaters, although $750,000 of that came from Thursday sneaks. Anyone who tells you that they know what this means for a weekend total is lying.
All box office rules have reset because of Coronavirus. We’re all just guessing right now. What I’ll say is that in The Before Times, a $2.4 million weekend with $750,000 in preview revenue would have hinted at an opening weekend of $8 million.
Since The New Mutants presumably skews younger, it may have had an opening rush, which would lower box office a bit. That’s if the world weren’t on fire and the Seventh Seal hadn’t been broken. With hurricanes happening all the time (sincere best wishes to our readers in Texas and Louisiana), I’m not quite sure where we are in Revelations at the moment.
I would expect Disney to estimate box office at $7.5 million during normal times. Out of all major distributors, this studio’s the least likely to lie about box office estimates.
The current situation is a bit different, though. Disney probably doesn’t want a comic book movie starring X-Men characters to sound like a bomb. So, there’s reason to lie favorably. Also, some math supports the notion.
Most theaters are honoring social distancing requirements from local and state governments. So, maximum capacity is 30 percent or less in many places. This situation would feasibly cause more sellouts, an important aspect for a higher weekend multiplier.
That’s the optimist in me talking. The realist in me knows that if I’m not feeling safe about going to movies right now, most people aren’t. I mean, I’m going to a theme park in a couple of months and flying to get there. That’s more foolhardy than most, yet even as a diehard movie-lover, I’m passing on theaters for now.
I just cannot envision a significant number of sellouts for a film that earned less than $2.4 million yesterday. That’s especially true since much of that revenue came from drive-ins. In truth, if Kim and I watch The New Mutants, it’ll be at a drive-in. That’s where we’re at in the “going to the movies conversation.” And we’ve talked about it a lot.
I’ve done exhaustive research on COVID-19 trending, and the one thing I can say for certain is that the under-30 crowd is much less worried about it. Since that’s the target demographic for The New Mutants, maybe I’m wrong here.
If the film spikes to $4 or $5 million today, it’s a new wrinkle in the conversation, one that BOP will track carefully. We’re not pretending to have inside knowledge here. We understand that the entire industry has changed, and some of the old rules from way back in the winter of 2020 no longer apply. We’re all just guessing and re-learning right now.
Also, Disney possesses some incentive to estimate lower than normal. With Mulan debuting on Disney+ next week, a paltry total for The New Mutants would give the studio more leverage during negotiations with exhibitors.
Disney’s at least toying with the notion that they no longer need standard film distribution thanks to the vertical integration of their new streaming service. Out of everything I’ve mentioned here, this part of the conversation matters the most. So, you’re rewarded for slogging through 2,000 words of my nonsense!
Seriously, if you’ve read this far, you’re a true fan of BOP. I want you to know how much I appreciate that and thank you for your loyalty over the years. And to other BOP contributors reading this, thank you for joining the team and being a friend to Kim and me over the years.
I think/hope the worst is over and believe some semblance of normalcy will return by Christmas, my friends. Until then, BOP will maintain complete transparency with you about how we think and feel about the current state of the movie industry. And we’ll do the same in the podcast.