Here's why straight-to-streaming blockbusters might never work
New York (CNN Business)“The Suicide Squad,” a new, R-rated superhero film from Warner Bros., opened to an estimated $26.5 million at the North American box office this weekend. That number came in under industry expectations, which projected the film to make around $30 million. The movie took in $72.2 million worldwide, according to the studio.
So does that mean the film starring Idris Elba, John Cena and Margot Robbie as the devilishly crazy Harley Quinn was a flop? Not exactly.
As we’ve seen so much this summer, it’s getting increasingly difficult to gauge success at the box office. Theaters are still trying to find their footing after the pandemic ravaged their business, and offering blockbusters at home via streaming has skewed the metrics even further.
That said, “Suicide Squad” is a big-budget superhero film by director James Gunn, who also directed Marvel’s incredibly popular “Guardians of the Galaxy.” His newest film also earned great reviews from critics (92% score on Rotten Tomatoes) and stars well-known actors, so box office expectations were high going into the weekend.
But several factors may have dampened turnout. For starters, “The Suicide Squad” opened as concerns about rising Covid cases from the Delta variant are growing. Those fears may have scared some consumers away from wanting to sit indoors with strangers for two hours. But it’s still too early to tell if the rise of the variant and the revived Covid restrictions — such as the CDC again recommending people wear masks indoors — had an impact.
Another reason the film may have missed expectations is that it’s a follow-up to 2016’s “Suicide Squad.” That film was poorly received by fans and critics alike, despite making $747 million globally, according to Comscore (SCOR). The 2021 film includes some of the same characters and actors from the 2016 version, and is less of a sequel and more of a second try. In the end, the sour response to the original film and confusion over this one’s connection to it may have been a difficult sell for moviegoers.
Finally, like all of Warner Bros. 2021 releases the film was also available on HBO Max the same day it hit theaters. That may have cannibalized ticket sales, but other recent Warner Bros. movies including “Godzilla vs. Kong” and “Space Jam: A New Legacy” opened to solid numbers in theaters while also being available on HBO Max. (Warner Bros., like CNN, is owned by WarnerMedia.)
Although any one of these reasons could be to blame for the humdrum opening of “The Suicide Squad,” it’s likely a mixture of all of the above.
At the end of the day, it’s not 2019 anymore, and the box office isn’t the only way to judge if a film is a hit or not. Streaming is now the focus in Hollywood, so although the movie came in light at the box office, at least compared to the high expectations, it still could be considered a success for bringing attention — and possibly subscribers — to HBO Max. But without clear streaming viewership metrics, it’s hard to say for sure.
Now Hollywood and theaters look to the rest of the summer to see how the box office will do, how audiences will continue to react to the streaming revolution, and what effect, if any, the rise of the Delta variant will have on ticket sales overall.
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