‘Suicide Squad’ Takes on the Delta Variant at Box Office
(Bloomberg) -- “The Suicide Squad,” a critically acclaimed comic-book film from Warner Bros., led a weekend box office that’s still struggling to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and the delta variant now surging around the world.
The film, a sequel to the 2016 hit, generated an estimated $26.2 million in North American ticket sales, researcher Comscore Inc. said Monday, lower than the industry expectation of $28 million. While it is one of the strongest openings of the pandemic era, the number is far short of what would have been likely in pre-Covid times. New coronavirus cases are cutting into ticket sales, and many film fans will opt to watch the movie at home on HBO Max, where it’s available at no extra charge.
Studios have debuted some films to great fanfare and respectable box-office sales figures, only to see fresh bad news on the pandemic trigger unease in consumers reluctant to be in crowded settings like theaters. In an earnings call last week, the chief executive officer of Cinemark Holdings Inc., the third-largest U.S. movie chain, described the key issues facing the industry.
“The rebound of this theatrical exhibition is contingent upon four key global considerations: one, the status of the virus and vaccinations; two, government restrictions; three, consumer sentiment; and four, availability of new film content,” Mark Zoradi told analysts.
A few years ago, “Suicide Squad” would have been a fairly reliable moneymaker. The 2016 version of the movie starring Margot Robbie made $133.7 million in its domestic opening weekend. That same year, another DC Comics movie, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” generated $166 million in its first three days in U.S. and Canadian theaters.
Because of coronavirus, however, the new film will struggle to even match the opening weekends of those predecessors over its entire U.S. theatrical run. Boxoffice Pro forecasts “The Suicide Squad” will top out at around $150 million in the U.S. Warner Bros., part of AT&T Inc., spent about $185 million making the picture, according to trade reports.
That’s despite a highly favorable 93% score at Rotten Tomatoes, which aggregates critics ratings. The picture, which features an ensemble cast that includes Robbie, Idris Elba and John Cena, follows a group of supervillains tasked with destroying U.S. government enemies on a tropical island.
Film piracy may also be holding back box-office sales. Movies available for streaming are easier to copy, according to Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice Pro.
In New York, health officials will require theater visitors to show proof of vaccinations. However, Covid shots haven’t yet been approved for people under 12, leaving local authorities and cinema owners to hash out how the rules can be implemented. Los Angeles, the largest domestic moviegoing market, is considering its own vaccine mandate for theaters.
John Fithian, head of the National Association of Theatre Owners, said an interview last week that vaccine requirements create “huge administrative hurdles” for the industry.
Receipts for top 10 films totaled $60.3 million, falling 20% from last weekend’s $75 million. Walt Disney Co.’s “Jungle Cruise” took the No.2 spot with $15.8 million sales, and its Marvel film “Black Widow” took the No. 4 spot, five weeks after its debut, making $3.93 million.
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