Liam Neeson Drama ‘Honest Thief’ Tops Another Quiet Domestic Weekend Box Office

Open Roads Films’ thriller Honest Thief, starring Liam Neeson, finished atop another subdued domestic weekend box office, generating $3.7 million in North American ticket sales. Neeson plays a burglar who turns himself in, only to be double crossed by the FBI.

Last week’s topper, The War With Grandpa, starring Robert De Niro, finished second with $2.5 million. The movie from 101 Studios has generated $7.3 million in 10 days. Warner Bros.’ Tenet, from director Christopher Nolan, ended third on the weekend with $1.6 million, upping its domestic theatrical take to $50.6 million.

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U.S. movie ticket sales continue to be hamstrung by coronavirus pandemic-related theater closures in key markets and social distancing protocols in cinemas operating. In addition, studios continue to push back into 2021 major new tentpole releases living operating theaters with lower profile movies and re-releases.

Indeed, Disney re-releases The Night Before Christmas and Hocus Pocus finished fourth and fifth over the weekend with $1.3 million and $756,000 in ticket sales, respectively.

Analyst: Lackluster Weekend Box Office Could See Studios Further Delay New Releases

With Warner Bros.’ Tenet generating $30 million at the domestic box office over two weekends, and Disney’s Mulan almost surpassed by a local sci-fi film (The Eight Hundred) at the Chinese box office, the jury remains out on the state of the theatrical market’s return to normal from the coronavirus pandemic.

The third-quarter domestic box office is trending down 96.8% quarter-to-date to $101.1 million compared with the previous-year period, as theaters nationwide only recently began re-opening — and at reduced capacity. The latest box office weekend was 89% lower than the comparable weekend last year, according to industry figures.

The sluggish re-start, coupled with a majority of screens still dark in major markets New York and California, suggests studios will reconsider bowing major new releases in any great numbers in the near future, according to Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

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Indeed, Warner just pushed back again the theatrical bow of Wonder Woman 1984 from Oct. 2 to Dec. 25 — more than a year after the sequel’s original launch date. Subsequent release dates included June4 and Aug. 14.

Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Tony Vinciquerra last week told an investor event the studio would delay all major releases until 2021.

“What we won’t do is make the mistake of putting a very, very expensive $200 million movie out in the market unless we’re sure that theaters are open and operating at significant capacity,” Vinciquerra said.

Pachter says that trend will only grow as nervous studios contend with wary moviegoers and local government restrictions.

“We think the relatively lackluster second theatrical week for Tenet juxtaposed with the difficulty Disney has faced with Mulan has made film releases seem like a risky business in the current environment,” Pachter wrote in a Sept. 14 note.

The uncertainty is bound to increase pressure on studios to shorten the 90-day theatrical window and seek alternative distribution channels such premium and transactional VOD. The COVID-19 era has produced unusual circumstances (and opportunities) for studios, including dabbling in direct-to-consumer distribution.

The ongoing interest for at-home content could impact long-term decisions by studios regarding which content they send to theaters and which goes direct to streaming platforms, according to Pachter.

“This is particularly compelling for the studios that have launched or will soon launch their own subscription/ad-supported streaming video platforms,” he wrote.

 

Disney’s ‘Mulan’ PVOD Experiment Goes Live

The Walt Disney Co.’s much-publicized toe-dipping into premium video-on-demand waters began Sept. 4 with the availability of the live-action Mulan remake on subscription streaming service Disney+. The movie, which costs a one-time $29.99 “Premier Access” fee in addition to the $6.99 monthly Disney+ subscription, will stream for free to subs on Dec. 4.

The movie is available via the Disney+ app on Google Play, Roku and Apple TV platforms. The title is also available through the app on Amazon Fire TV, the e-commerce behemoth confirmed Sept. 4. Once purchased, access to Mulan remains eternal “as as long as you are an active Disney Plus subscriber,” according to Disney.

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Disney, a longtime supporter of the traditional theatrical release window, opted for PVOD distribution for the reported $200 million Mulan production after repeated theatrical delays due to the coronavirus pandemic. In making the announcement, Disney CEO Bob Chapek reiterated the company’s support for the box office going forward.

The movie will have limited theatrical distribution in regions without Disney+ access, including China.

“We’re looking at Mulan as a one-off, as opposed to saying there’s some new business windowing model that we’re looking at,” Chapek said last month on the company’s fiscal call.

Mulan, about a young female warrior (Yifei Liu) who disguises herself as a man in the Imperial Army in place of her ailing father, has received positive reviews, including 81% approval on Rotten Tomatoes.

Paramount’s ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run’ Topped Re-Opening Weekend Box Office

Paramount Animation’s The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run, the third installment in the cartoon movie franchise that saw its theatrical debut earlier this year scuttled due to the coronavirus pandemic, quietly topped the domestic weekend (Aug. 14-16) box office with $900,000 in ticket sales across 300 screens, according to Box Office Mojo.

The weekend saw several major movie exhibitors, including Cinemark, AMC Theatres and Regal, re-open select screens across the country showing largely catalog fare and some new releases. In total, there were more than 1,000 screens operating across the country, including Imax.

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Sponge on the Run, which had been delayed twice at the box office since its original May 22 debut, had most-recently been taken off Paramount’s theatrical slate and scheduled for premium VOD release and CBS All Access in 2021.

Other top performing titles last weekend included The Tax Collector, which generated $203,000 in ticket sales in its second week of release from AMC Networks’ RLJ Entertainment. The Shia LaBeouf starrer has sold more than $634,000 in tickets since its debut. The Rental sold $78,000 in ticket sales for $1.65 million in worldwide box office revenue since its July 24 debut from director/star David Franco.

The Big Ugly (Vertical Entertainment), Made in Italy (IFC Films) and Sony Pictures Classic’s The Burnt Orange Heresy generated $24,000, $21,000 and $14,500 in ticket sales, respectively. The films have generated a combined $671,000 at the domestic box office over the past 24 weeks.

Sony Pictures’ Bad Boys for Life remains the top-grossing box office title in 2020 with $204.4 million in ticket sales since its Jan. 17 debut.

Home Entertainment: Studio Fiscal Lifeline During Pandemic

NEWS ANALYSIS — Throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, much has been reported about home entertainment’s fiscal resurgence as increasing numbers of consumers purchase or rent video entertainment in the home rather than frequent (now shuttered) movie theaters.

Last week the proof was in the pudding as the last of the major studios reported quarterly fiscal results for the three-month period that ended June 30 — and began April 1, two weeks after theaters closed.

Excluding Warner Bros., five studios (Sony Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate, Disney and Universal Pictures) reported combined theatrical revenue of $68.3 million.

By comparison, home entertainment segments of the aforementioned studios generated a combined $1.35 billion in revenue. That’s more than Warner’s outlying $1 billion in theatrical revenue. Studios’ theatrical segments remain under siege as the coronavirus pandemic keeps movie theaters largely closed and production idle.

Indeed, home entertainment results topped the previous-year period by 13.4%, when the five studios collectively generated $1.19 billion in Q2 revenue.

That means consumers actually spent more money on transactional home entertainment (from those five studios) during the second quarter of 2020 than they did in Q2 of 2019, when there was plenty of high-profile theatrical product available — including Aquaman, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Bumblebee and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

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“As long as people are literally stuck in neutral at home, they are going to be consuming a much-greater-than-average number of over-the-top transactional rentals and sales because the [theatrical] options are so limited,” Paul Dergarabedian, analyst with Comscore, said in a statement.

Indeed, the second-quarter domestic box office ended down 99.9% year-over-year to $3.69 million, as most domestic screens remained closed throughout the quarter.

“Theatrical revenue was immaterial in the quarter,” Bob Bakish, CEO of ViacomCBS, said on his company’s fiscal call.

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Wedbush Securities media analyst Michael Pachter expects the 2020 box office to end significantly lower than the last two years as theater re-openings sputter and several tentpole movie releases were moved to 2021 or removed from the theatrical release slate indefinitely.

Following AMC Theatres and Universal Pictures’ landmark agreement to partner on premium video-on-demand releases in the home just 17 days after a movie’s theatrical debut, home entertainment is expected to get an additional, if not limited, boost going forward.

Pachter thinks the AMC/Universal deal is a band-aid for a mortal wound, trying to capture some revenue in an environment where theatrical exhibition is unlikely for the next six months.

“When the results are in, the other studios will adopt the model if successful, and will criticize Universal if not,” he wrote in a note. “I don’t expect it to succeed.”

NBCUniversal CEO: PVOD Addresses ‘Very Large’ Non-Theatrical Audience

Universal Pictures’ landmark distribution agreement with the nation’s largest exhibitor AMC Theatres, enabling it to sell and rent digital access to new-release movies in the home entertainment market just 17 days after their box office, debut taps into a largely unserved consumer, according to NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell.

Speaking July 30 on the Comcast fiscal call, Shell thanked AMC CEO Adam Aron for “his vision” in working together — rather than against — Universal to create new business model and revenue opportunities for both companies.

“We’ve always believed PVOD can be a complement rather than a replacement for a robust theatrical release,” Shell said, adding that the studio has always believed there’s a growing segment of the population that does not go to the movie theater.

“Over the last couple of years, it’s become more increasingly difficult to generate the same returns over the first couple of windows,” he said. “We believe the new model in the U.S. will restore some of those economics, probably not make more movies, but keep production levels the same as in the past.”

Shell said the advantage to the shortened 17-day box office is that PVOD and transactional VOD marketing can be done in the same window.

“It allows us to tap into that incremental [transactional VOD] revenue stream, share it with AMC and other exhibitors, and at the same time preserve that theatrical window that is so critical to the film business,” he said.

Universal Generates $229 Million Q2 Home Entertainment Revenue — but Just $8 Million at the Box Office Due to Pandemic

It’s a fiscal line item no Hollywood studio accountant ever wants to see. Universal Pictures generated just $8 million in 90 days at the box office in the second quarter (ended June 30). Instead of hundreds of millions in ticket sales, Universal, like all other studios, saw its legacy business model sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic — shuttering movie theaters and production globally.

Picking up the slack: home entertainment and content licensing. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment generated $229 million in the quarter from sales of digital and packaged-media titles — on par with the previous-year period. Content licensing generated $850 million in the period — up 18.5% from the equivalent previous-year period.

Total studio revenue topped $1.19 billion, down 18% from $1.45 billion a year ago.

NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said the lack of movie production and marketing costs actually had a positive impact on the quarter, but would have a negative impact on the “coming years.” He said production began on several major films in the past few weeks, including the new Jurassic World: Dominion in the United Kingdom.

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The results in part contributed to Universal hammering out a landmark distribution deal with AMC Theatres that enables the studio to deliver movies into homes just 17 days after their theatrical debut.

As expected, Comcast chairman/CEO Brian Roberts said little about studio operations, focusing instead on distribution alternatives and the company’s resilience during the pandemic.

“Based on our results and the many organic growth opportunities that we have across our company, I am confident in our ability to continue to successfully navigate the impact of COVID-19, and emerge from the crisis even stronger,” Roberts said in a statement.

Analyst: Imax ‘Insulated’ From Streaming, PVOD Threat

With its massive 72 feet by 53 feet screen — about 10 times bigger than 35mm film — Imax theaters deliver oversized movie screen images with surround sound. Those attributes are what some observers believe makes the company immune to threats from streaming and premium VOD.

The company reported second-quarter (ended June 30) revenue of $8.9 million, which was down 92% from revenue of $104 million in the previous-year period.

Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, said Imax’s financials remain unimportant until the pandemic ends. He expects the exhibitor to resume “impressive top and bottom-line” growth once a vaccine is found and introduced into the market.

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“We do not think Imax’s survival is at risk,” Pachter wrote.

Additionally, with AMC Theatres upending the traditional box office window by allowing Universal Pictures to deliver new-release movies into consumer homes just 17 days after their theatrical bow, the analyst says Imax’s unique consumer offering makes it immune from PVOD and subscription streaming services.

“Imax screens are largely insulated from the threat of streaming services, we expect [the company] to resume expanding its market share,” Pachter wrote. “We think Imax is best positioned within theatrical exhibition for a full rebound.”

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That said, the analyst contends the overall health of the box office is key to Imax’s return to screen growth and could take some take time. Pachter said Imax would benefit if more studios choose to release films internationally and in China before domestically.

“Should screen growth resume earlier, we would expect the [Imax] share price to materially improve,” he wrote.

Warner Bros. ‘Tenet’ Now Set For Labor Day Weekend Release

Warner Bros. July 27 disclosed the tentative Sept. 3 re-scheduled theatrical release of Christopher Nolan’s espionage thriller Tenet, starring Robert Pattinson and John David Washington. The film is launching next month in 70 international territories.

The movie, along with Disney’s live-action Mulan, has been widely considered the studios and exhibitors’ path back to some normalcy at a domestic box office ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns. Tenet was originally slated for July 15 and then continually delayed due to surges in virus infections across the country. Influx of new content into theaters would then follow with fresh home entertainment titles on digital and packaged media.

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Myriad studio titles previously earmarked for theatrical release have either been postponed to next year, indefinitely or re-directed to premium video-on-demand.

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The Tenet international release slate includes:

  • Aug. 26 — Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Holland, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Italy, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.
  • Aug. 27 — in Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Israel, Lebanon, Malaysia, Middle East, New Zealand, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.
  • Aug. 28 — East Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Norway, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Vietnam; Sept. 3 in the U.S., Kuwait and Qatar.
  • Sept. 10 — Azerbaijan, CIS Others, Kazakhstan, Russia;
  • Sept. 17 — Cyprus
  • Sept. 18 — Japan.

 

Release dates for Latin America and China remain undisclosed.

Disney Delays ‘Mulan’ Theatrical Release Indefinitely

Disney has pulled live-action Mulan from its theatrical slate, citing ongoing concerns with the coronavirus pandemic. Disney has not announced a replacement date. The move follows Warner Bros. yanking Christopher Nolan’s espionage thriller Tenet from its box office slate.

COVID-19 infections have now topped 4 million in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University. AMC Theatres earlier July 23 announced it would delay re-opening 600 theaters in the U.S. until the middle of August from the previously-delayed July 30 date.

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“Over the last few months, it’s become clear that nothing can be set in stone when it comes to how we release films during this global health crisis, and today that means pausing our release plans for Mulan as we assess how we can most effectively bring this film to audiences around the world,” Disney said in a media statement first reported by Variety.

Like Tenet, the latest delay for Mulan is the movie’s third, following separate pushbacks to July 24 and Aug. 21 from the film’s initial March 27 release date.

With Disney still slated to release Marvel’s Black Widow in November from its original May debut, further delaying the superhero movie to 2021 would result in the first year Disney has not released a Marvel title at the box office since 2009.