After Sony Pictures’ “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” delivered the domestic weekend box office’s best showing of the pandemic earlier this month, MGM’s Bond sequel “No Time to Die” seemed primed for another boffo opening.
But “No Time” grossed below more modest expectations of $60 million to $70 million, for a $55 million debut. Per consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, 62% of ticket buyers for the “Venom” sequel were male, but more than half of them were also under 25, painting a clearer picture of why Bond had more of an uphill battle to contend with given its standing with older, more risk-averse action fans.
It just goes to show that at the global box office there are Marvel properties like “Venom,” and then there is everyone else. As much as some would like to suggest that audiences are ready to return to theaters in droves as COVID’s shadow over the theatrical business dims, it’s not going to be quite that simple.
This audience reality is present in decisions the studios have made, particularly with regard to hybrid releases (“Venom” and “Bond” were theatrical exclusives).
Disney’s “Black Widow” remains the year’s most successful film to open simultaneously in theaters and digitally, with $80 million to show for it, but there’s a more than $40 million difference between it and the rest of the films to do. Likewise, only five theatrical exclusives have opened above $40 million.
Having learned its lesson from diminished “Black Widow” returns at the box office, Disney saw massive success for “Shang-Chi,” which opened only in theaters and is currently the top-grossing film of 2021. The Marvel owner has already seized an unbeatable command of the domestic box office, with new entry “Eternals” (Nov. 5) set to expand that lead even further.
Disney’s enduring success in streaming and film exhibition is undoubtedly the envy of Universal, Paramount and especially Warner Bros., the last of which plans to ditch simultaneous theatrical and HBO Max rollouts for its 2022 slate. The releases for “Dune” (Oct. 22) and “The Matrix Resurrections” (Dec. 22) could break the spell of muted gross for sequels to “Space Jam” and “Suicide Squad” that debuted on HBO Max alongside their summer releases.
After an exceptional box office showing in 2018, the follow-up to Universal’s “Halloween” reboot hitting theaters this coming Friday will also stream on Peacock. It has the kind of bloody thrills you’d expect younger audiences to go for, but “Halloween” and its masked killer belong to a much older franchise than John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place” franchise, which became an immediate cash cow for Paramount in 2018 and delivered again in 2021 as the studio rapidly reorients itself around SVOD.
Sony, on the other hand, has already committed its remaining 2021 releases to exclusive theatrical runs, making Marvel’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (Dec. 22) a top contender for the best opening.
Unlike “Halloween Kills,” Paramount’s reboot of “Paranormal Activity” (Oct. 29) is skipping cinemas entirely for an exclusive Paramount+ release. Then in November, a live-action take on “Clifford the Big Red Dog” will hit the streamer alongside theaters, as “Paw Patrol” did in August.
Paramount also delayed the two remaining films on its 2021 slate — “Jackass Forever” and “Top Gun: Maverick” — to 2022. Given the involvement of returning star Tom Cruise, it makes sense why the studio would want to buy the “Top Gun” sequel more time for the box office to improve, lest it disappoint its “Mission: Impossible” anchor. But as the follow-up to a decades-old blockbuster, it’s possible the studio feels the film just won’t resonate with the younger audiences populating theaters currently.
With Amazon’s purchase of MGM awaiting approval next year, it remains a guessing game as to what the Bond franchise’s future will resemble. If Marvel is any indication of what it takes to stay afloat at the box office, maybe it’s time 007 don a cape and develop supernatural powers.