Box-office grosses are an exercise in expectation readjustment. This is second weekend of an anticipated 13-week dry spell, one in which grosses may fall to 60 percent below their levels in 2019. This week, Cineworld, the London-based owner of #2 domestic circuit Regal Theaters, released a grim near-term assessment of their financial situation: “Lower levels of admissions are due to a limited film slate that is anticipated to continue until November 2022 and are expected to negatively impact trading and the group’s liquidity position in the near term.”
No soft sell there: The statement’s literal bottom line warned investors and stockholders of a rocky financial period to come. This isn’t expected to immediately impact theater operations, but it’s a stark contrast to AMC Entertainment’s aggressively optimistic messaging — despite it own long-term debt issues. Summer results vastly improved, but theaters remain a long way from solvency.
Which brings us to this week, with two new wide openings that should generate more revenue than last weekend’s abysmal $65 million. There’s “Beast” (Universal) with Idris Elba and a lion, and then there’s “Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero” (Crunchyroll), the anime franchise based on a best-selling Japanese manga series. “Beast” could see $10 million-$12 million, but the weekend’s likely victor is “Dragon Ball” with $20 million.
With their modest budgets, that’s a good start for the films. For theaters, it would mean a weekend of $75 million-$80 million. (The same weekend in 2019 saw $120 million.)
“Beast” is the studio’s 12th theatrical release this year. That’s an average of three every two months, far ahead of all other studios (and does not include titles from its specialized unit, Focus). They include two of the year’s top five with “Jurassic World: Dominion” and “Minions: The Rise of Gru” as well as lower-budgeted titles.
“Beast,” with a $38 million budget, international appeal, and like all Universal titles eligible for early PVOD release, should be #2 for the weekend. Elba plays a widow who returns to South Africa with his two daughters where they find themselves prey to a vicious lion.
Reviews are mixed to favorable (58 score at Metacritic). Not that critics will drive its success; it’s more about how the marketing connects with an action-loving audience. The similar “The Meg” opened mid-August 2018, with the marine predator film doing $45 million its first weekend.
Less predictable is “Dragon Ball.” Between the lack of product and exhibitors willing to play niche films that have a shot, the anime will open in just under 4,000 theaters. Its predecessor, “Broly,” opened on a Wednesday in January 2019 in 1,250 theaters for a five-day gross of $20.2 million, with a third of it on opening day.
Nearly three years later, it has triple the theaters; more than that, it will benefit from higher-price premium screens. Back in April 2021, when theaters were open but struggling, anime “Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train” opened to $21.2 million and at only 1,614 theaters.
A conservative guess for “Super Hero” is $15 million, which feels too low based on precedence and the lack of competition. Compared to “Demon Train,” however, “Dragon Ball” is a lesser franchise in the anime universe. The Covid-impacted “Demon Train” grossed $44 million in Japan; “Super Hero” did $18 million. Also this represents a record number of theaters for the genre, it remains a niche item; most of the gross will come from those that previously played its franchise predecessor. But be wary of preview numbers: Anime fans tend to show up in big numbers on opening day. That said, “Mugen” held well and reached just shy of $5o million.
Neither of these wide releases represent a make-or-break movie, but the success of non-franchise titles (including “Elvis,” “Where the Crawdads Sings,” and “Nope”) is arguably more important than the blockbusters that are all but guaranteed production and theatrical release.
If results are above expectations, it would have benefits beyond raw numbers. A real normal for theaters relies on programmer titles as much the sensational performances of a title like “Top Gun: Maverick.” Theaters’ prospects would greatly improve if Universal wasn’t an outlier.