Are audiences ready to welcome Will Smith back to the big screen? Based on the early tracking for BAD BOYS 4, the answer appears to be ‘yes.’
To be fair, sentiment towards Smith hasn’t been tested at the box office since the slap heard around the world. That’s because the Oscar-winner hasn’t appeared on the big screen since KING RICHARD, the film that earned him his Academy Award. Sure, there was EMANCIPATION, but that ran on Apple TV+. There was a small theatrical engagement, but it was essentially a qualifying play for awards consideration, and box office grosses were never reported.
Even if it had received a full theatrical release, it’s likely EMANCIPATION would have struggled. The film was ripped apart by critics, and Smith’s dramatic turns always gross less than his action films and tentpoles. BOYS, however, is squarely in Smith’s wheelhouse, making it a much stronger litmus test for the actor’s return to box office viability.
If you believe that sequels are a referendum on the films that came before, then BAD BOYS 4 should be in good shape. The third entry in the franchise, BAD BOYS FOR LIFE, not only scored the best reviews of the series but shattered the box office record for a January release when it opened to $63M in 2020, just before theaters shut down for Covid. In total, the film made $206M domestically, besting the $139M total for BAD BOYS II.
So, yes, the franchise has been on an upward swing. But none of this matters if people are no longer fans of Smith or if they don’t want to see him on the big screen anymore. That’s what we were curious to know, so The Quorum asked 600 people how they felt about Smith these days. The answers were surprising.
When we asked people their opinion of Smith after the slap, 39% said it made them like him less. That’s not great, except, interestingly, another 20% said it made them like him even more. The other 42% said it had no impact either way.
In the two years since then, 18% say their opinion of the actor has improved, whereas 23% say it’s gotten worse. A drill down shows that the movement is towards the extremes.
The vast majority of the people (66%) who say their opinion of him has gotten better (left pie chart) come from those who said they liked him better because of the slap. Conversely, 84% of the people who said their opinion has gotten worse over the years (right pie chart) come from people who liked him less after the slap. It seems opinions have calcified.
Ultimately, it may make little difference. That’s because our study shows that people still want to see him in a movie. Over half (53%) of the people polled said they would go to see Smith in a movie, and another 32% said they would, depending on the film. Only 16% said they would NOT see a Will Smith film.
But look what happens when you break it down by how people felt about the slap. For example, among those who said the slap made them like Smith more (left pie chart), only 4% said they wouldn’t see a Will Smith film. Among those who said the slap had no impact on their feelings about the actor (middle pie chart), only 8% said they wouldn’t see him in a movie. Even those who say the slap made them like Smith less (right chart), 30% said they wouldn’t see a movie starring the actor.
This suggests that the slap has done little to diminish his box office appeal.
That brings us back to BAD BOYS 4. The sequel debuted on The Quorum this week with very strong numbers. The film belongs to the Medium group, meaning we believe it has a production budget between $50M and $100M. The Medium group includes titles like CREED III, THE EQUALIZER 3, and AIR. The average opening weekend for that group is $22M.
Currently, BOYS is tracking well above the average for the group in each of the four key metrics at the same distance from release. Awareness for the films is at 39% versus the average of 20%. Of course, we expect awareness to be high for a successful franchise, but take a look at the interest numbers. At 51%, not only is BOYS well above the group average of 39%, but it ranks 8th among the 46 films currently being tracked by The Quorum. Not only do people know about the film, but they also want to see it.
On top of that, tracking shows that people want to see it in a theater (48% vs the average of 35%), and they would be willing to pay to see it (61% vs. the average of 49%).
Hollywood loves a good redemption story. While Smith has been banned from the Academy for ten years, it seems fans are ready to welcome him back.