Is COVID Killing the Big Movie Blockbuster?
By Abb Jones
Could the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic result in a temporary end to big budget films? The latest box office numbers are not looking good for the movie industry, with the new, highly infectious Delta variant again keeping viewers from theaters. That, combined with the current movie studio business model of simultaneously releasing films straight to their streaming platforms could spell trouble for the future of big budget films, at least in the short term.
The Warner Bros. film The Suicide Squad opened to an anemic $26.5 million in North America this past weekend and has hauled in only $72 million globally so far, due to the double whammy of the Delta variant and WarnerMedia’s decision to simultaneously release the film on its HBO Max streaming service. With a price tag of $175 million, The Suicide Squad, which was the first R-rated movie filmed in IMAX, risks not breaking even.
The week before, Disney’s long-delayed Jungle Cruise, starring Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson and based on the popular Disney theme park ride, opened with similarly weak results. At a cost of $200 million to make, so far it has only brought in $121 million worldwide at the box office – another likely box office bomb.
Just a month ago, Disney and Marvel’s Black Widow opened on the big screen to a pandemic-era best $80 million, but that box office number was diminished by Disney’s decision to release it simultaneously on its Disney+ streaming service for a $30 premium rental. Black Widow star Scarlett Johannson is suing Disney over that move, arguing it has gypped her out of back-end bonuses she otherwise would have received had the film reached certain theater box office thresholds.
So far, Black Widow, which cost $200 million to make, has earned $359 million at the box office worldwide – a respectable profit, but vastly shy of the monstrous, nearly $2.8 billion (yes, billion with a b) that Avengers: Endgame and more than $2 billion that Avengers: Infinity War brought in.
Compared to other Marvel films, the critically praised Black Widow has vastly underperformed. Here is a list of comic book fantasy films breaking the $1 billion revenue barrier:
- Avengers: Endgame ($2.797 billion)
- Avengers: Infinity War ($2.048 billion)
- The Avengers ($1.518 billion)
- Avengers: Age of Ultron ($1.402 billion)
- Captain America: Civil War ($1.153 billion)
- Aquaman ($1.148 billion)
- Captain Marvel ($1.128 billion)
There are still a few big budget films, some made prior to the pandemic, due to release this year – in October, the James Bond film No Time to Die and sci-fi/fantasy Dune, in November, the Marvel film Eternals and Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick, and in December, Spider-Man: No Way Out and Matrix 4 in December. Industry analysts will no doubt be keeping a close watch on how these perform at the box office.
What do you think? Could we see a hiatus of big budget films next year if the pandemic continues? Chime in with your comments below.
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