You’re in luck if you want to see a movie over Memorial Day weekend. With five films scheduled to open wide, you will have plenty of choices.
While this might seem like a wealth of riches, it’s also a bit absurd. There is no reason for five films to open at the same time, even if it is a long holiday weekend. And it seems odd that so many studios are choosing to go up against THE LITTLE MERMAID.
Not that long ago, five films on a single weekend would have seemed impossible. Last year, when the industry was still in the throes of pandemic-related supply issues, seeing just one new film a weekend was common. There were even some frames with no new movies.
The byproduct of this low supply was that tentpoles were given a clear path. Not only did THE BATMAN have no competition on its opening weekend in March of last year, but there were no wide releases the next week either. Same for DOCTOR STRANGE AND THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Its only competition in week 2 was FIRESTARTER, which opened day and date on Peacock.
Those days of free reign are over. And that’s a good thing. Audiences are getting more movies not just because the supply delays have cleared, but studios have realized that theatrical is the main conduit for profitability. More and more titles initially earmarked for streaming are being shifted to theatrical.
Looking at the four films that dare go up against MERMAID, the logic behind the selection of this date makes sense. MERMAID is going to skew female and younger. We can see that in that tracking. Interest among women under 35 is enormous—the highest we’ve seen since HOCUS POCUS 2. With that in mind, it’s clear that the competition is targeting men and older audiences. Just look at the artwork for the competition. It’s a cornucopia of cigars, guns, helicopters, motorcycles, and adult angst with a hairy bare chest thrown in for good measure.
Counterprogramming can work. Remember when A STAR IS BORN went up against VENOM? Both films grossed over $200M domestically. That worked because it was two films targeting two audiences. But when you have four films targeting the remains of a blockbuster, the box office is bound to be split. There’s a very good chance that no one walks away happy.
Film scheduling is complicated. Dates are picked for a myriad of reasons aside from just counterprogramming. Distribution heads have to consider several factors. Here are just a few:
- Distance from similar films. Part of the reason THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE has reached $500M is because it was the first family film since PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH in December. There was huge pent-up demand. On top of that, MARIO has been the only family film in theaters and will be until MERMAID arrives. In other words, Universal found a lane for the underserved family audience.
- Distance from other films from the same studio. It is not unheard of for a studio to release films on back-to-back weekends, but it is undesirable. Films are spaced apart so the studio marketing teams have time to give each movie their undivided attention.
- Make a quarter. Yes, studios are public companies that have to make a quarter. That could mean a film gets moved from the end of March to early April if the move improves a studio’s financials
- Talent availability. Studios don’t love it when an actor has two movies opening simultaneously. It can muddy the publicity messaging. A studio would prefer to have the lead talking about only their film while on the publicity junket.
- Availability of premium large format screens. There are only a few PLFs, and a studio may schedule a film when they have an exclusive window on these highly desirable screens.
The list goes on, but what’s clear is that we don’t always have complete information about a studio’s decision on a release date. Even with that in mind, it seems strange that these four films are sticking to this date. And at this point, given that we’re just weeks away from Memorial Day, it seems unlikely that anyone will jump off that date. So, let’s grab some popcorn and watch how this weekend shakes out.