Halloween Kills opened last weekend with $49 million, a reasonable (even in non-Covid times) 35% drop from the $76 million debut of Halloween three Octobers ago. Meanwhile the film was concurrently available on Peacock, a Comcast-owned streaming service with around 20 million monthly active subscribers and which thus-far isn’t burning down their legacy revenue streams to place fourth behind Netflix, Amazon and Disney. Samba TV reported yesterday that the film had notched 1.2 million households among the American smart televisions which they track. That’s a bigger “opening weekend” than any number of Warner Bros./HBO Max premieres, bigger than the likes of The Many Saints of Newark, In the Heights, Malignant and just shy of the 1.6 million earned by The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It in June of 2021.Halloween Kills played to best-case-scenario business both in theaters and on a streaming platform.
What does this mean? Universal didn’t hurt the theatrical reception by concurrently offering Halloween Kills on Peacock. The post-debut legs may be small, but Halloween earned just 2.093x its $76 million debut weekend for $159 million domestic. Judging by Halloween II ($25 million versus $47 million for Halloween), Halloween: Resurrection ($30 million versus $55 million for H20) and Rob Zombie’s Halloween II (versus $37 million versus $58 million for the previous Halloween remake), this follow-up was likely to earn between $84 million and $104 million domestic. Even legs like the 2010 Nightmare On Elm Street remake ($63 million from a $33 million debut) will now still get the $20 million-budgeted Halloween Kills to $94 million domestic. That’ll be the second-biggest horror flick in two years behind A Quiet Place part II ($160 million this summer) and It: Chapter Two ($211 million in September of 2019).
This specific film with a built-in fan base and a much-liked predecessor, and with a budget that could weather the storm should Covid variables and streaming availability do harm to its theatrical business, made an interesting test case for day-and-date releases of this nature. Conversely, M. Night Shyamalan’s Old, which arrives on DVD/Blu today after a conventional theatrical window, absolutely benefited from being only in theaters for the summer. The “beach that makes you old” comic chiller was by default one of the season’s buzzier “You have to see it to believe it!” sleeper hits. Shyamalan’s marquee draw got folks into the theater and the film itself got those viewers telling their friends to check it out. It earned $48 million domestic from a $16.5 million debut and $91 million worldwide (almost tied with The Visit’s $98 million gross) on an $18 million budget.
It’s yet more evidence that the domestic box office has returned to a place of relative normalcy for preordained “got to see it in theaters” blockbusters. A Quiet Place part II (a $57 million Fri-Mon debut), F9 ($70 million), Black Widow ($80 million), Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (a $94 million Fri-Mon debut), Venom: Let There Be Carnage ($90 million), No Time to Die ($55 million) and now Halloween Kills all opened on par with, give-or-take maybe 15%, pre-Covid expectations. “The big screen is back…” for blockbusters. As such, if Dune was always going to underwhelm in a fashion akin to Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 ($92 million domestic from a $32 million debut in October 2017), then what will happen is what would’ve happened and couldn’t have happened any other way. Conversely, HBO Max likely won’t prevent an otherwise good-enough debut.
With the arguable exception of Mortal Kombat (which nabbed $83 million worldwide on a $55 million budget but around 5.5 million HBO Max households over the first 17 days), no Warner Bros. film which otherwise bombed in theaters took flight, to the extent to which we’ve been informed, on HBO Max. Godzilla Vs. Kong (which arguably overperformed at the worldwide box office compared to pre-Covid expectations) earned $100 million domestic (and $468 million worldwide) and logged 5.1 million households in the first 17 days. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It earned 1.6 million households concurrently with its good-enough $24 million debut weekend and eventual $64 million domestic/$200 million worldwide cume on a $39 million budget. Otherwise, Those Who Wish Me Dead, Reminiscence, Cry Macho and the like bombed in theaters but didn’t make much of an impact on the Warner Bros. streaming platform.
Until we see a big Warner Bros. release that almost certainly would have been a big hit (no, not The Suicide Squad, which was doomed even in pre-Covid times due to lukewarm interest in Suicide Squad and the lack of Will Smith, Batman and the Joker) which bombs in theaters while scoring huge HBO Max viewership, it’s questionable at best to blame the streaming platforms for the failure of the theatrical releases. That the theatrically-exclusive The Last Duel opened with $4.8 million, or right around the over/under $5 million debut weekends for Focus’ Stillwater and most of the WB flops, implies that there’s just around $5 million worth of moviegoers who will still venture out for the latest not-a-tentpole, even a star-packed Oscar contender that once might have been a modest global hit. God help the industry if that doesn’t improve once the Covid-specific danger passes.
That Halloween Kills pulled decent-for-streaming viewership numbers while earning best-case-scenario opening weekend box office suggests that either streaming and theatrical can coexist or that Peacock doesn’t have enough of a culture footprint (compared to, say, Disney+) to make a real dent in theatrical revenue. Ditto Paramount+ and best-case-scenario box office for A Quiet Place part II (which zoomed to Paramount+ in 47 days) and Paw Patrol (which topped $40 million despite concurrent availability). Its boffo opening also disputes the notion that going concurrent makes a theatrical release “less special” to those already interested. However, and this is key, these films, including the 2021 Warner Bros./HBO Max slate, are big deal events partially because they were supposed to be conventional big-deal theatrical releases. Again, that’s the difference between Mulan and Lady and the Tramp. Otherwise, it’s just another term for “direct to video.”
That Warner Bros.’ 2021 slate was so commercially dicey (save for late-2020 sacrificial lamb Wonder Woman 1984) was arguably why Jason Kilar used the films to boost HBO Max. If WB really does go back to theatrical exclusivity in 2022, with (speculation) movies like The Many Saints of Newark or The Way Back transitioning to HBO Max exclusives (since folks weren’t showing up even before Covid), this may just be trivia. Likewise to what extent the Premier Access availability nicked Black Widow and Jungle Cruise this summer, since I can’t imagine the likes of Jungle Cruise 2, Cruella 2 or the upcoming MCU movies will suffer similar fates. I don’t think day-and-date is a smart commercial play over the long-term, especially in how it likely cannibalizes the post-theatrical revenue streams, but I’ll somewhat defend it as a necessary evil in an unprecedented moment.
Halloween Kills is the biggest “compromised release” (be it day-and-date or severely shortened windows) success story since Godzilla Vs. Kong. Its $52 million four-day cume ($2.7 million today) again represents pretty much what I would have predicted for a poorly-reviewed and less-buzzy follow-up to Halloween if I were making predictions in early 2020. If theatrical can thrive alongside a buzz-lite streaming release (or shortened theatrical windows), will Hollywood let that remain as much? Or, and this will kill theatrical faster than any other variable, will they educate folks to abandon the multiplex for the at-home option as they chase Wall Street’s current love affair with all-things streaming? I can only speculate, but this boffo opening for Halloween Kills may make Hollywood think twice about killing this still-golden goose. Be it a success or failure, Dune’s fate or fault will likely lie not in HBO Max, but in ourselves.
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