Over the past 22 months, we have been looking for signs that the pandemic-era box office can be as healthy and robust as before Covid.
There have been some bright spots. VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE had a bigger opening than the first VENOM, SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME had the 2nd largest debut of all time, and SCREAM just scored the 2nd best opening ever for a January horror film.
SPIDER-MAN struck gold just as the Omicron variant took hold, and the success of SCREAM showed that a good number of people will still go to the theater even as the United States averages 700,000 new Covid cases a day.
Yes, these are isolated victories. And for each success, there have been several disappointments. While SPIDER-MAN was breaking records left and right, the soft openings for THE 355, THE KING’S MAN, WEST SIDE STORY, NIGHTMARE ALLEY, and A JOURNAL FOR JORDAN showed that people are being extremely selective about what films are worthy of a trip to the theater.
As we approach the third year of the pandemic, two truths have begun to emerge:
- There is a sizable baseline of people who will go to the theater regardless of the number of Covid cases.
2. Those who are reluctant to go to the theater will show up for the right film.
The challenge for the studios is to identify those films that have the best chance of replicating pre-pandemic performance while minimizing downside exposure for those that won’t attract moviegoers to the theater.
Film tracking – specifically the awareness metric – is offering key clues.
Since May 2021, when the majority of theaters had re-opened, 39 films have opened in wide-release exclusively in theaters. It’s not a huge sample, but some early insights have surfaced.
There is a 71% correlation between awareness and opening weekend gross among these 39 films. Rather amazingly, the correlation only slips to 68% when we look at awareness 60 days before release. In other words, we can get a good sense of how a film will perform based on its awareness at two months out.
Consider the chart below. The 39 films have been plotted based on their opening weekend gross (Y-axis) and awareness at 60 days out (X-axis). The 15 films in the yellow area had an awareness at or above 30% two months before release. Of those 15, 13 opened above $20M. That’s an 87% success rate.
Conversely, only 8% of the titles that failed to reach an awareness of 30% at two months out, opened above $20M.
The two films that reached 30% awareness but failed to open above $20M were RESPECT and WEST SIDE STORY. What do they have in common? Both targeted female filmgoers who have demonstrated greater reluctance to return to theaters.
Looking ahead, seven films are currently scheduled for a wide release in February. None of these films reached 30% awareness at the 60-day mark. If the trend holds, none of these films will open above $20M. That means we could be looking at a very rough patch until THE BATMAN opens on March 4th.
Having said that, UNCHARTED, which opens February 28th, is making a solid case to be the exception. At 60 days out, it had an awareness of 28%, so it just missed the 30% threshold. But since then, awareness for the film has climbed to 40.
UNCHARTED is now one month away from release, and after some impressive gains, it has blasted through the 30% mark straight to 40% awareness. It is only the eighth film to reach 40% awareness at 30 days out. The other seven – including SCREAM – opened above $20M. Actually, all seven opened above $30M.
How did UNCHARTED go from being an also-ran to a serious box office threat? As we noted in December, not only does it star Tom Holland, but the UNCHARTED trailer played in front of Holland’s other mega-hit, SPIDER-MAN.
UNCHARTED may be the exception to the rule, but the data shows that even at two months before release, we can get a sense of how a film will perform in theaters. If awareness hasn’t hit 30% by that point, the film may have a difficult chance of opening above $20M.