Weekend Box Office: Disney Debuting First 45-Day Theatrical Release With ‘Free Guy’

Walt Disney Studios is set to turn another page in its ongoing pandemic experiment, in which the studio is releasing movies across different distribution channels with varying windows. Disney Aug. 13 will debut the 20th Century Studios action-comedy Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds, across more than 4,100 screens in a 45-day theatrical exclusive. The movie reportedly sold $2.2 million worth of tickets in sneak preview showings Thursday night (Aug. 12).

The film will head to streaming platform Disney+ only after its 45-day theatrical window, unlike other high-profile releases that became available for home viewing concurrently at a premium price. Disney CEO Bob Chapek, speaking on the media giant’s Aug. 12 fiscal call, said the studio going forward would pivot between theatrical exclusives, “Premier Access” VOD and assorted hybrid release strategies on an movie-by-movie basis.

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Recent Disney releases Black Widow and Jungle Cruise, have had concurrent theatrical and Premier Access releases — winning both the box office and lucrative PVOD markets.

Sony Pictures Entertainment is bowing Don’t Breathe 2, the ‘R’-rated low-budget horror-thriller sequel to the 2016 original that generated $26.4 million on its opening weekend. In the current pandemic reality, starring the Delta variant infections spreading throughout the country, the movie is expected to sell no more than $11 million worth of tickets domestically.

Another new release, Respect, a biopic from MGM and United Artists Releasing on the late R&B singer Aretha Franklin, starring Jennifer Hudson, is projected to generate upwards of $10 million.

Last week’s box office topper, The Suicide Squad, is projected to see second-weekend ticket sales plummet, in an ongoing trend among major studio releases. The DC Comics movie is streaming concurrently on HBO Max.

Disney Ups Alan Bergman to Chairman of Studio Operations; Alan Horn Continues as Chief Creative Officer

The Walt Disney Co. Dec. 21 named Alan Bergman chairman of Disney Studios Content, with Alan Horn continuing as the division’s chief creative officer, effective Jan. 1, 2021. Horn and Bergman have jointly led studio operations since May 2019. Both report to CEO Bob Chapek.

Bergman will oversee creative, production, marketing and operations for Disney Studios Content, which encompasses the world-renowned production studios Disney, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Studios, Searchlight Pictures and Blue Sky Studios, as well as Disney Theatrical Productions.

Alan Bergman

Horn will focus on the creative aspects of the studios’ content pipeline, working in partnership with Bergman on its creative approach.

“Having worked closely for years with Alan Bergman … I couldn’t be more pleased to name him as chairman,” Chapek said in a statement. “And we are incredibly fortunate to have Alan Horn continue as the chief creative officer. Our studios are unmatched in their ability to create incredible cinematic experiences, and with this new structure, we are ensuring a vital continuity of leadership.”

The leads of each production studio will continue to report both to Bergman and Horn on creative matters, including Steve Asbell, president of 20th Century Studios; Robert Baird, co-president of Blue Sky Studios; Sean Bailey, president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production; Pete Docter, chief creative officer of Pixar Animation Studios; Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, and chief creative officer of Marvel; Stephen Gilula, chairman of Searchlight Pictures; Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm; Jennifer Lee, chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios; and Nancy Utley, chairman of Searchlight Pictures; as will Thomas Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical Productions.

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Bergman is a 24-year veteran of Disney. Prior to being named co-chairman in 2019, he served as president of The Walt Disney Studios from 2005 to 2019. He played a leading role in the integrations of Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, and the 21st Century Fox film studios. His tenure at Walt Disney Studios has included the release of 25 films that have earned at least $1 billion at the global box office.

Alan Horn

Horn joined Disney from Warner Bros. in 2012 when he was named chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, becoming co-chairman and chief creative officer in 2019. With a career spanning nearly 50 years, Horn is one of the industry’s most influential and respected executives. During his Warner career, the studio became the top-performer at the global box office seven times and released numerous critically acclaimed films and box office hits including the “Harry Potter” series, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Departed, Million Dollar Baby, and the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy. He co-founded Castle Rock Entertainment, where as chairman from 1987 to 1999 he oversaw a diverse collection of popular, acclaimed film and TV properties including A Few Good Men, The Shawshank Redemption, When Harry Met Sally, and “Seinfeld.” He also served as chief operating officer of 20th Century Fox Film Corporation from 1985 to 1986 after getting his start in the media business in 1973 at Norman Lear and Jerry Perenchio’s Embassy Communications, where he ultimately held the role of chairman and CEO.

Disney Delays Theatrical ‘Black Widow’ Release to May 2021; Exhibitor Stocks Drop

In another blow to the beleaguered exhibitor business, Walt Disney Studios Sept. 23 announced it would delay the planned Marvel Studios’ Black Widow actioner theatrical release, starring Scarlett Johansson, to May 2021 from the previous Nov. 6 launch date.

Disney is also delaying by 12 months a reboot of West Side Story from director Steven Spielberg to Dec. 1o, 2021, and Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile, a sequel to 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express, to Dec. 18 from Oct. 23.

The moves by the box office’s perennial leader represent another dagger in the heart of exhibitors looking to jumpstart the moviegoing consumer from the coronavirus pandemic shutdown — albeit without much content. While 70% of domestic screens have re-opened with social distancing and mask requirements, many analysts predict 2020 will achieve a record low at the box office with revenue down more than 80% from 2019.

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Warner Bros.’ Tenet, which was supposed to bring consumers back to theaters, has generated about $250 million at the box office, mostly overseas. Domestic ticket sales have wilted from the Christopher Nolan-directed thriller’s opening $20 million weekend over Labor Day to a cumulative tally around $36 million.

Eric Handler with MKM Partners says the sluggish domestic box office is in part due to ongoing theater closures in California and New York.

Tenet’s U.S. results definitely showed us that middle America cannot carry a tentpole film. You need the coasts,” Handler wrote in a note.

With no COVID-19 vaccine ready for consumption, Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, says consumers remain leery.

“People may be eager to visit the theaters once they feel safe doing so, but we think it is unlikely crowds will return to any semblance of normal before a vaccine is widely distributed, particularly in urban and suburban markets,” Pachter wrote in note earlier this year.

Indeed, the latest delays sent exhibitor stocks into a tailspin, with AMC Entertainment down 5.5%; Cinemark down 4.1%; Imax down 5.6%; Marcus (-3%); Reading International (-0.9%) and National CineMedia down 0.9% in midday trading.

Marvel Studios ‘Avengers: Endgame’ Streaming on Disney+ Dec. 11

The Walt Disney Co. May 8 announced it would make the current theatrical blockbuster Avengers: Endgame, from Marvel Studios, available on its pending direct-to-consumer streaming video platform Disney+.

Disney CEO Bob Iger said the $2.2 billion (gross to date) movie would be available on Disney+ Dec. 11 – one month after the platform’s November launch.

Avengers: Endgame has generated $644.5 million in domestic ticket sales in just 12 days of release.

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Iger previously announced the SVOD service would launch with Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson, in addition to Black Panther and other studio hits.

Iger said Disney “did some deals” with third parties (including Netflix) to expedite the return of select titles under license agreement. He said the company remains in discussions about assuming control of other titles still under license agreement.

“We continue to explore ways that we might be able to get more back,” he said, adding that the film slate announced on its investor day already included some of the titles — notably Black Panther and Captain Marvel.

Iger said that the original landmark license deal with Netflix for its original theatrical releases included a window for early release of some titles.

“When we did the Netflix deal … even though at that point it was far off, the possibility that one day we might want to launch our own service, we carved the ability to run films on such a service,” he said. “And it paid off.”

Separately, CFO Christine McCarthy said that despite Endgame‘s impressive box office run, the film’s profitability would be initially tempered by more than $350 million in production costs, excluding marketing and theatrical revenue sharing.

Lack of Home Entertainment Releases Contribute to 39% Drop in Q2 Disney Studio Operating Income

A lack of home entertainment releases in the second quarter (ended March 31) contributed to Disney reporting a 39% drop in studio operating income to $534 million compared to operating income of $875.4 million during the previous-year period. Revenue fell 15% to $2.1 billion from $2.4 billion last year.

The decrease in home entertainment results was due to lower unit sales reflecting the performance of Thor: Ragnarok and Star Wars: The Last Jedi in the prior-year record quarter compared to no comparable Marvel or Star Wars titles in the current quarter.

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Other significant titles included Ralph Breaks the Internet in the current quarter and Coco in the prior-year quarter.

The results do not include Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame, which was released in the current third quarter.

Growth in TV/SVOD distribution results was due to a benefit from the adoption of new revenue accounting guidance and increases in domestic pay television title availabilities and rates, partially offset by lower free television sales in part in anticipation of the launch support of Disney+.