The Quorum

Can Valentine’s Day at the box office be saved?

When we think of important box office holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, July 4th, and Memorial Day come to mind. Less obvious is Valentine’s Day, which, over the past 15 years, has evolved into a box office powerhouse.

Romance-forward films in February have been around for a long time, though 2009 was arguably an inflection point. On February 6th, 2009, HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU knocked the testosterone-fueled TAKEN out of the top spot at the box office with a $27M opening.

A year later, VALENTINE’S DAY doubled that with a $56M debut. Suddenly, a female-skewing box office holiday was born. It became an event for women to go to the theater with friends or a date night.

Over the years, the romance genre has expanded to include dramas (THE VOW, DEAR JOHN), and when the steamy FIFTY SHADES OF GREY debuted to $85M in 2015, Valentine’s Day was elevated to previously unseen box office heights.

This year, of course, the romcom MARRY ME was the big holiday release. But things were a little different this time. Back in December, Universal made the decision to release the film in theaters and on Peacock. This was especially frustrating given that theater-going is so integral to this particular holiday. It’s as if Universal was baiting us to hang with our friends at home or have a date night on the couch. Way to kill a tradition.

Now that Valentine’s Day is behind us, we can look at the numbers and see how much the day-and-date release for MARRY ME damaged a once vibrant box office holiday.

The good news is that, if you really hunt for it, the Monday box office numbers for MARRY ME suggest that Valentine’s Day can still draw people to the theater. I admit, it’s a stretch, but let’s go down this rabbit hole together.

Here are the facts. We know that people will go to the theater in significant numbers even if the holiday falls in the middle of the week; this year, it was a Monday. MARRY ME made $8M over the weekend and another $3M on Monday. What we don’t know is if $3M is a good number.

We also don’t know if MARRY ME is an overall success since we have no access to Peacock steaming data. But we do have theatrical data to dissect, and that’s what we’ll focus on.

To begin, let’s look at Valentine’s Day grosses for romances from previous years. To level the playing field, let’s include only years when the holiday fell mid-week, not on a weekend. Unfortunately, there are just six examples from the past 20 years.

The table above lists the box office for each film specifically for Valentine’s Day as well as the film’s opening weekend. You can see we have $3M and $8M for MARRY ME.

Clearly, MARRY ME can’t compete with the other six films just on the box office numbers.

Thanks to Peacock, it had the lowest opening weekend of the group. It’s not even close. What we want to know is if, proportionally, MARRY ME drove people to the theater on Valentine’s Day itself. In other words, did people NOT see it on the weekend, just so they could see it a few days later on Monday night?

To answer that, we’re using a ratio. Or, more specifically, we’re dividing the Valentine’s Day gross by the opening weekend. The higher the number, the more people waited to see it on Monday. The good news is that MARRY ME scored highest among the comps. Its Monday gross was 38% as large as its weekend haul. None of the other films crossed 30%.

Yes, they all grossed more than MARRY ME in absolute dollars, but proportionally, MARRY ME did better on Valentine’s Day. It’s also worth noting that MARRY ME ranked 3rd at the box office this past weekend behind DEATH ON THE NILE and JACKASS FOREVER, but on Monday, it climbed over those two to take the top spot at the box office.

Listen, I know it’s a stretch. Call it lipstick on a pig. But, Valentine’s Day is an important day for theatrical. And this data suggests that some people still agree. We should be collectively working to bolster these holidays and not undercut them by making it easier to see these films at home.

Hopefully Valentine’s Day will rebound next year with a theatrical-only release that makes the holiday a movie-going event once again.

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