Box office watchers wouldn’t be blamed for having a case of whiplash right now. We have witnessed enormous wins with SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME scoring the 2nd largest opening weekend ever and SCREAM recording the 2nd best debut for a January horror film.
And yet, these box office successes have been coupled with a slew of major disappointments, including THE 355, THE KING’S MAN, WEST SIDE STORY, NIGHTMARE ALLEY, and A JOURNAL FOR JORDAN.
The obvious takeaway is that people will still see a movie on the big screen – even with the United States averaging 700,000 Covid cases a day – but they are highly selective about what films are worthy of a trip to the theater.
That means studios, now more than ever, need to understand what films will drive people to the multiplex and which may not be worth a theatrical-sized marketing expense.
With that in mind, here are a few statistics about the 2021 theatrical business.
In 2021, 69% of the domestic box office came from movies with a production budget of $100M or more. If that sounds high, that’s because it is. A decade ago, that number was 33%, and in 2019, it was 49%.
The 2021 figure would be even higher if BLACK WIDOW, THE SUICIDE SQUAD, GODZILLA Vs. KONG, DUNE, and THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS had been given straight theatrical releases.
When we look at the 15 highest-grossing films with a budget below $100M, 14 are either horror films (6) or animated/family films (8). Only HOUSE OF GUCCI falls outside those two genres.
Yes, tentpoles, horror, and family films are driving the box office right now. Sound familiar? The three biggest box office hits over the past month were a tentpole (SPIDER-MAN), a horror film (SCREAM), and a family film (SING 2).
We don’t want a world where theatrical is made up of only these three types of films. At the same time, it’s becoming clear that only select titles from outside those genres will work on the big screen. Identifying and nurturing those breakout winners will be crucial.
The Quorum now has a sizable enough historical library to help identify potential breakout hits well before release.
Since last May, there have been 41 films released to theaters. We’re not talking about hybrids, day-and-date releases, VODS, or limited releases. We’re talking movies that had wide openings exclusively in theaters.
That’s not many, but in our effort to understand the new box office normal, it’s enough for us to begin to identify patterns in the data. One such pattern has emerged.
It turns out that if a film hasn’t reached 30% awareness by the time it reaches 60 days before release (DBR), it has only an 8% chance of opening above $20M.
Conversely, if a film has reached 30% awareness at 60 DBR, it has an 80% chance of opening above $20M.
It will be interesting to see if these numbers hold as our sample size grows beyond 41 films. As of now, though, it’s compelling for two reasons.
First, it suggests that in most cases, a film’s box office fate is determined as early as two months before release.
Second, an early read on awareness can help inform a studio’s marketing spend for a movie.
With that 30%/$20M rule in mind, let’s take a look at the films that are just outside the 60-day window. The films below are scheduled to hit theaters in April and May. They have been sorted into three groups.
The “Good Shape” group includes films that have already crossed the 30% mark or are very close.
The “Could Go Either Way” group includes films that have a chance to reach an awareness of 30% by the 60-day window, but they’re not quite there yet.
The “Need Help” group includes films more than 10 points away from reaching 30% awareness. These films will need a big marketing push to get them into the “Good Shape” group.
We have talked about THE LOST CITY before, but it’s worth noting that it’s the only film in the “Good Shape” group that is not a tentpole, horror, or family film. It is an example of the kind of film we need to rally around as an industry.
At the same time, we would like to see films like AMBULANCE, THIRTEEN LIVES and 65 succeed. But, the data suggests that the time is now for those scores to go up if they hope to work in this marketplace.