Liam Neeson Continues Pandemic Box Office Run with ‘The Marksman’

Open Road’s The Marksman topped Warner Bros. Pictures’ Wonder Woman 1984 at domestic box office Jan. 15-17 with an estimated $3.7 million in ticket sales. The movie starring Liam Neeson is the second Open Road feature film after last October’s Honest Thief released theatrically during the ongoing pandemic that has resonated with consumers willing to frequent the box office.

Thief generated $14.1 million in the United States; $28.3 million worldwide before being released into on DVD/Blu-ray Disc by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment on Dec. 29.

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Ongoing pandemic hit The Croods: A New Age actually gained box office revenue from the previous week with more than $2 million to finish No. 2. The Universal/DreamWorks Animation title has generated $130 million at the global box office and is slated to bow on disc Feb. 23.

Rounding out the estimated $10.3 million weekend box office includes the usual run of titles including Tom Hanks western News of the World with $1 million ($8.5 million total); Screen Gems’ Monster Hunter with $920,000 ($16 million global); Lionsgate’s Fatale ($500,000; $8.4 million); Focus Features’ Promising Young Woman ($410,000; $4.1 million); 101 Studios’ The War With Grandpa ($182,000; $34 million); Roadside Attraction’s Pinocchio ($149,000; $21.9 million) and Walt Disney Studios’ re-release of The Emperor’s New Groove with $173,000.

‘Wonder Woman 1984’ Tops $100 Million Global Box Office

Entering the New Year’s Day weekend, Warner Bros. Pictures DC superhero movie Wonder Woman 1984 has reportedly topped $100 million at the worldwide box office, the studio disclosed on New Years Eve. WW84 generated $16.7 million on its opening Christmas Day weekend debut in the U.S. — the same day WarnerMedia made the movie available on the HBO Max streaming video platform.

The sequel to the 2017 Wonder Woman generated $85 million globally through Dec. 27, including $23.9 million in revenue in China, where the movie starring Gal Gadot in the title role first opened.

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“Congratulations to Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot, Chuck Roven and the entire cast and crew who made Wonder Woman 1984, allowing fans and film lovers to return to the thrilling experience of being at the movies,” Jeff Goldstein, president of Warner Bros. Distribution, and Andrew Cripps, president of International Distribution, said in a joint statement.

Earlier this week, Warner announced it had fast-tracked development on the third installment of the Wonder Woman franchise to be written by Patty Jenkins, who is again attached to direct the third installment.

Top 10 of 2020: The Biggest Home Entertainment News Stories

With the coronavirus pandemic raging, the big Hollywood movie studios made unprecedented changes in their film-release strategies in 2020, rushing top-tier titles into the home and boosting new and existing streaming services.

It truly was a year like no other.

Here are the top 10 home entertainment news stories of 2020 as chosen by the Media Play News editorial staff.

1. Blockbusters Enter the Stream: With movies theaters shuttered during the pandemic, Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros. took the unprecedented move to send top tier theatrical releases to their sister streaming services.

First, Walt Disney Studios offered the live-action blockbuster Mulan exclusively to Disney+ subscribers over the Labor Day weekend as a $29.99 add-on to unlock access to the movie months before its regular availability — marking Disney’s first-ever Premier Access (PVOD) release and a sea change in studio window strategy. The studio defended the decision — which was followed by sending Pixar Animation’s Soul to the Disney+ streaming service, this time at no additional cost, on Christmas — as a reality of the times. “We thought it was a really nice gesture to our subscribers during the holiday period to provide [Soul] as part of the service,” said Disney CEO Bob Chapek. “I think what we’ve learned with Mulan is that there’s going to be a role for [PVOD] strategically with our portfolio of offerings.”

After debuting such top-tier titles as Roald Dahl’s The Witches on its new streaming service HBO Max, WarnerMedia in December shocked the industry by announcing that the streaming service would offer subscribers free access to all Warner Bros. theatrical releases through 2021 concurrently with their box office debut.  The new strategy rankled exhibitors and creators, while offering moviegoers an alternative to the cineplex during the pandemic. The studio bowed Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max and in theaters Christmas day. Notably, WW84 posted the largest opening weekend domestic box office during the pandemic with $16.7 million — driven in part by 10,000 watch parties, or small groups renting out theaters for private screenings.

2. HBO Max Debuts: WarnerMedia in May launched its much-anticipated HBO Max subscription streaming service at $14.99 per month — the most-expensive SVOD platform on the market — with several glaring problems. The platform, which promised an ad-supported edition in 2021, bowed without consumer access via the Roku or Amazon Fire TV platforms (reportedly representing 70% of Internet access), which contributed to stalling the Max sub growth out of the gate. The fact that existing services HBO Go and HBO Now were also still available didn’t help matters, confusing consumers about what they were actually getting with an HBO Max subscription. (Both were mercifully laid to rest two months after HBO Max’s launch.) WarnerMedia eventually inked distribution deals with Roku and Amazon, helping it generate 38.6 million combined HBO/HBO Max subscribers through Sept. 30.

3. Peacock Launches: NBCUniversal April 15 launched its own streaming video platform, Peacock, the media giant’s first over-the-top video platform and an SVOD service with an ad-supported option. The company initially made the premium service available at no cost to Comcast’s X1 and Flex (Internet-only) customers before rolling it out nationally in July. It quickly generated 20 million subscribers. To boost the offering, NBCUniversal wrestled away exclusive streaming rights to the popular comedy series “The Office” from Netflix. The series, to begin streaming in a tiered plan on Peacock Jan. 1, 2021, had been a longtime draw for Netflix.

4. TVOD Has Its Moment: After it and other studios rushed titles to early digital release during the pandemic, Universal Pictures made the bold move to drop Trolls World Tour from its theatrical slate to distribute the animated sequel directly to consumers in April via premium VOD. The strategy generated $100 million in revenue in 28 days and helped revive the PVOD business model — and the transactional VOD business at large — as other studios soon joined suit by rushing titles to PVOD. Soon, titles that might have topped the box office were heading up the charts of such transactional services as Redbox On Demand, FandangoNow and Vudu.  The latter two TVOD services in April became sister services when NBCUniversal’s Fandango acquired the 10-year-old Vudu from Walmart.

“All the press is about SVOD and AVOD services, ad-supported or subscription, but transactional sort of quietly had a moment in 2020,” said Fandango VP of home entertainment Cameron Douglas during a November panel.

5. If You Can’t Beat ‘Em … : In a peace offering to theater chains, Universal Pictures inked pacts with AMC Theatres and Cinemark affording the studio early PVOD access for select theatrical releases in exchange for splitting the home entertainment revenue with exhibitors. Universal and subsidiary Focus Features picked up the right to offer consumers PVOD access to movies with less than $50 million in domestic opening weekend ticket sales. Under the pact, movies with a higher box office could be released on PVOD 31 days after their theatrical bow. As a result, Universal maintained a steady year-end theatrical slate, spearheaded by The Croods: A New Age, Freaky and News of the World, among other titles.

6. Hail to New Chiefs: In February, former Disney home entertainment head Bob Chapek was named CEO of The Walt Disney Co., with previous boss Bob Iger assuming executive chairman duties. Chapek, who most recently headed Disney’s Parks & Recreation unit, said he was well-suited directing Disney’s renewed focus on direct-to-consumer business.

In another big studio shift, ex-Hulu boss Jason Kilar became CEO of WarnerMedia in the spring and proceeded to announce layoffs — among them longtime executive Ron Sanders — and other shifts to refocus the studio on streaming.

Meanwhile, Netflix in July announced that 20-year veteran and chief creative officer Ted Sarandos would share co-CEO duties with co-founder/co-CEO Reed Hastings. The move appeared to signal a reduction in executive duties and possible retirement for Hastings, who quickly downplayed the shared corporate duties as a strategic maneuver. “Let me be really clear: I’m in for a [another] decade,” Hastings said.

7. Movie Theaters Face Existential Crisis: Movie theaters worldwide shuttered in mid-March due to the expanding coronavirus pandemic. The situation caused havoc for exhibitors, with the world’s largest, AMC Theatres, struggling to remain solvent and later opening some theaters with limited seating and strict safety protocols. Indeed, No. 2 exhibitor Regal Cinemas threw in the towel in the fall, remaining closed indefinitely. Meanwhile, studios shifted blockbuster movies online, a further blow to the exhibition business.

8. AVOD Marches on: Ad-supported VOD upped its growth trajectory with Pluto TV (owned by Viacom) and Tubi (acquired in March by Fox Corp.) expanding distribution worldwide — the latter with first-run Fox Entertainment programming such as “The Masked Singer,” among other programs. Redbox increased its digital presence, launching an ad-supported VOD platform called Redbox Free On Demand.

9. Catalog in the Spotlight: Catalog titles topped the charts on disc and digital as the new-release pipeline slowed due to the coronavirus. Studios polished catalog titles for 4K Ultra HD release, such as Paramount’s Coming to America and Beverly Hills Cop, Sony’s six-film “Resident Evil” collection, and Warner’s “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies. With the pandemic raging, resonating and topical titles such as Sony’s Groundhog Day and Warner’s Contagion caught on with consumers. “It’s uncanny how it kind of mimics what’s going on in the real world today,” Jim Wuthrich, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and Games, said of Contagion.

10. Streaming Short Timer: It wasn’t all good news for digital delivery. Quibi, the $1.7 billion mobile device-centric, short form-content video streaming service, announced just six months after starting operations that it was shuttering. Launched by DreamWorks Animation founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and eBay founder Meg Whitman, in the end Quibi reportedly had fewer than 1 million subscribers willing to pay $4.99 monthly for ad-supported content no longer than 10 minutes.

Number of Movies Seen in Theaters by Americans Fell by Two-Thirds Due to Pandemic

COVID-19 has indeed hit theaters hard, according to data from Interpret.

The number of movies seen theatrically by Americans plunged by two-thirds from the second quarter of 2019 to the same quarter of 2020, according to Interpret’s New Media Measure.

Year-over-year, comparing Q2 2019 with Q2 2020, the study found a 66% plummet in the number of movies seen theatrically per quarter by Americans ages 13 to 65. On average, Americans were seeing six movies in theaters per year before the pandemic, dropping to just two in 2020, according to the data.

“For many years, there has been this push and pull between studios and theater owners regarding the length of the theatrical release window,” Interpret VP Brett Sappington said in a statement, citing the move by Warner to put all new theatrical releases on its streaming service HBO Max concurrent with their bow in theaters. “Theater owners need adequate time with Hollywood’s newest releases to fill theaters. Studios want to experiment with distribution to be relevant to the newest generations of viewers. COVID has forced an evolution that will affect movie distribution well into the future.”

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Lionsgate Acquires ‘Silk Road’ for U.S. Theatrical, Digital, VOD Release Feb. 19, Disc Release Feb. 23

Lionsgate has acquired the crime thriller Silk Road for U.S. theatrical, digital and VOD release Feb. 19 and Blu-ray and DVD release Feb. 23.

Written for the screen and directed by Tiller Russell, the film stars Jason Clarke, Nick Robinson, Alexandra Shipp, Jimmi Simpson, Katie Aselton, Lexi Rabe, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Daniel Stewart and Paul Walter Hauser.

Based on true events, Silk Road focuses on the young, affluent, and highly motivated entrepreneur Ross Ulbricht (Nick Robinson), whose ambitious goal is to launch the Internet’s first completely anonymous and unregulated marketplace. With Ulbricht’s passion for the possibilities his invention offers the world, his site — the Silk Road — becomes the world’s fastest-growing drug market, catching the focus of disgraced DEA agent Rick Bowden (Clarke). A dinosaur with a habit for substance abuse and blowing cases, Bowden once had street savvy in dark corners but is unprepared for the dark web as he struggles through tutorials on how to use the Internet. As both men’s private lives erode, with Bowden in over his head and Ross’s growing paranoia driving unthinkable choices, they cling to their jobs in an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse that have both men asking how far their idealism can take them.

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Silk Road is based on the Rolling Stone article “Dead End On Silk Road” by David Kushner. Years after the legal conclusion of the investigation, the Silk Road saga continues to make headlines, as it was recently reported that $1 billion in bitcoin connected to the site was recently moved for the first time in years — a signal that the criminals who operate in the darkest corners of the internet have not gone away.

Silk Road is a thrilling story with the kind of stranger-than-fiction details that can only come from a true story,” Lionsgate VP of acquisitions Lauren Bixby said in a statement. “This movie will keep audiences riveted by its cat and mouse game of a criminal mastermind being tracked by a hot-headed narc.”

Ampere: China, Asian Market Projected to Lead Theatrical Comeback in 2021

Without a vaccine and/or decline in coronavirus infections, the theatrical market in the U.S. and other western markets is expected to remain challenged in 2021. New data from Ampere Analysis contends global box office dropped 75% in 2020 to $11 billion, from $44 billion in 2019. The London-based firm suggests China and other Asian markets less impacted by the pandemic will spearhead theatrical’s return next year to $33 billion in ticket sales.

Ampere’s latest forecasts in Asia Pacific show revenue reaching $15 billion by 2021 and $25 billion by 2025 to match pre-pandemic levels. China is responsible for the lion’s share of this recovery. Q1 is the market’s most lucrative quarter, and the pandemic is therefore likely to stymie growth in 2021 too. However, the success of recent movie releases in China suggests that consumers are cautiously returning to theaters. These markets are less reliant on U.S. content and Ampere anticipates that continued local investment in production will further buoy recovery and growth.

 

“2020 was the year that the Chinese box office was expected to overtake the U.S.,” research director Richard Cooper said in a statement. “The pandemic halted that, and instead we will see these two markets vying for the global number one slot in 2021. By the following year however, China will move into the lead, to double the size of the U.S. market by 2025.”

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It’s a different story in the Western markets, where cinema closures and the reductions in the number of accessible screens are set to continue. This will limit access to movie theaters, accelerating the downturn already evident in markets such as Germany, France and the United States.

The Asia Pacific markets have become less reliant on foreign movie content over the past few years for their revenue. The void left by the absence of U.S. releases as a result of the pandemic has provided a golden opportunity to promote local content. As a result, a number of high-profile releases in Asia in Q3 and Q4 have begun to resuscitate the local theatrical sector. In Japan, Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train broke all records, earning $140 million to-date at the box office. In China, local titles My People, My Homeland and The Eight Hundred have grossed $460 million and $416 million, respectively, in China alone, far outstripping the revenue generated by China’s top-performing U.S. releases Tenet ($51 million) and Mulan ($41 million).

“This sector is characterized by very different performance depending on location. In the West, theatrical revenue is under serious pressure, while in Asia, we expect the market to bounce back rapidly, driven by the rise of locally produced content. Many of the Hollywood studios are shifting their business models to react and adapt to this geographic change, experimenting with digital release strategies in Western markets and testing the viability of bypassing theatrical release. As a consequence, Asia will emerge as the predominant theatrical market by 2025.”

Vince Vaughn’s ‘Freaky’ Thriller Tops Another Slow Pandemic Box Office

The Universal Pictures horror thriller Freaky topped another pandemic-addled weekend domestic box office Nov. 13-15, generating $3.7 million from 2,472 screens, or an underwhelming $1,500 per screen, according to BoxOfficeMojo.

The good news for Universal is that the Blumhouse Productions thriller — which stars Vince Vaughn as a high school janitor/serial killer and Kathryn Newton as his shrewd teen nemesis — is slated for early PVOD release as part of the studio’s COVID-19 release strategy.

The movie generated $1.9 million across 20 markets internationally to reach $5.6 million total in its first weekend of release, and near its $6 million production budget.

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Previous No. 1 Let Him Go (Focus Features) dropped 55% in revenue with $1.8 million in ticket sales across 2,458 screens, or $732 per screen. The Kevin Costner/Diane Lane drama has totaled nearly $6.9 million in ticket sales since debuting Nov. 6.

Rounding out the podium: The War With Grandpa, which took in $1.32 million across 2,145 screens, or $618 per screen. The 101 Studios release starring Robert De Niro has generated $22.9 million worldwide since launching Oct. 9.

Previous podium finishers Come Play, Honest Thief and Tenet generated $1.1 million, $800,000 and $735,000, respectively. Chrstopher Nolan’s Tenet has sold $53.6 million in domestic tickets; $353.5 million worldwide since launching Sept. 3.

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.

Ampere Research: Pandemic Breaks Down Value of Theatrical Window

The pandemic has opened a door to breaking the theatrical window.

Research firm Ampere modeled various fictional scenarios of windowing during the pandemic, comparing the income post-COVID 19 to the income a title would have expected to have generated pre-2020.

“In a pre-COVID world, many of the scenarios would have offered only marginal gains (with significant risks) compared to a traditional release strategy,” according to Ampere. “However, in post-COVID markets, these options have started to look like viable opportunities.”

To assess the viability of a selection of alternative approaches, Ampere created a fictional mid-tier movie and modeled a series of windowing scenarios based on market trends, designing four scenarios of new windowing practices studios may adopt:

  • Scenario 1: Replace the first window theatrical distribution with premium video-on-demand (PVOD).
  • Scenario 2: Adopt strategies of using PVOD and theatrical windows sequentially, similar to Universal’s recent deal with AMC.
  • Scenario 3: Replace traditional windowing with a pure direct-to-consumer offering.
  • Scenario 4: Release films theatrically before making titles available exclusively on their own direct-to-consumer services.

The firm found the Universal deal with AMC (Scenario 2) was the most viable model for mid-tier releases. In Scenario 2, Ampere found that an accelerated PVOD window, such as the deal between Universal and AMC, is the most stable for exhibitors and studio groups, offering comparable returns for cinemas and increased revenue for the studio on mid- and lower-tier releases. However, top-tier titles are likely to be better monetized via traditional windowing models. The presence of theatrical releases still offers consumers the opportunity to view the movie with a cinema experience, meaning that this model doesn’t risk ‘lost’ transactions — unlike some of the other scenarios Ampere explored. The success of the model depends on negotiations with exhibitors and retailers, Ampere noted. Before agreeing to an earlier window, exhibitors will want to ensure that the mid-term future of the theatrical business is not being eroded to the extent that it will sideline them in future periods. Studios will need to work with digital retailers to ensure that films are adequately signposted as premium releases and are not unfavorably compared to catalogues of cheaper rentals, according to Ampere.

There is a significant appetite for home rental and purchase, with the domestic U.S. transactional video market at roughly 40% of theatrical’s size, according to Ampere. In principle, some titles could earn comparable amounts from PVOD as from theatrical distribution. However, for high-end blockbuster titles, which are typically able to obtain greater cuts of box office revenue, and international releases (in markets where the digital rental and retail market is less well developed), a pure PVOD approach would be far more risky. To account for this, split models would be more appropriate, with strategies tailored according to local importance of a title and the appetite for home rental and retail, according to Ampere.

Ampere’s research revealed that a theatrical to direct-to-consumer model is likely to be more feasible than a pure D2C model (bypassing theatrical entirely). However, both approaches are dependent on numerous influencing factors. Whether the model suits any given title is contingent on the retention of any new subscribers who signed up to watch the movie, and therefore the strategy is reliant on keeping both wider catalogue costs, and subscriber churn rates, down, according to Ampere.

“Looking forward, Ampere believes some of the major studios will adopt split strategies that can utilize PVOD while maintaining the benefits of theatrical distribution,” said Ampere analyst Peter Ingram in a statement. “Most of the studios have been experimenting with strategies during lockdown that completely eschew the theatrical window. However, despite the change we are expecting to the cinema market, theatrical remains one of the best revenue streams for titles throughout their life cycle. Not only do most people see the film in its theatrical window, but tickets are charged on an individual basis. By comparison, when a film is bought via PVOD, or watched via an SVOD service, it can be shared with friends and family under a single transaction.”

Lionsgate’s ‘Antebellum’ Bowing on PVOD Sept. 18

On the same day that it reported a healthy 20% spike in quarterly home entertainment revenue, Lionsgate on Aug. 6 announced that the time-shifting horror drama Antebellum will debut in homes on premium VOD at $20 on Sept. 18, rather than in theaters. Starring Janelle Monáe, who plays a successful modern-day writer trapped during America’s slavery era, Antebellum will have a same-day theatrical release internationally.

“While the theatrical experience will always be the heart of our business, we are thrilled that we are able to seize the opportunity to match [directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz’s] urgent and immediate film with a release strategy befitting this moment of extraordinary change,” Joe Drake, chairman of the Lionsgate motion picture group, said in a statement.

Previous Lionsgate PVOD releases include The Secret: Dare to Dream on July 31 and I Still Believe on March 27.

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Drake said Lionsgate still values the traditional theatrical window, but with ongoing challenges toward fully re-opening theaters, the company has to seek alternative distribution channels.

“I would love to see every one of our movies released theatrically,” Drake said, adding that Antebellum “speaks strongly to our times,” which he said factored in the decision to forgo theatrical distribution for PVOD.

He said the “extrodinary demand for content and short supply,” makes the economics of PVOD look “really strong.” Drake said the channel allows Lionsgate to “speak to the consumer directly.” At the same time, he said the company would aggressively exploit theatrical distribution when that channel re-opens.

“[PVOD] is a really good [business] model for us,” he said. “But so is theatrical.”