Tuesday, August 3, 2021

A look at the domestic box office of July 2021

It appears that the domestic box office amassed $582.1 million in July 2021.  That's a tremendous 45% increase from the haul of June 2021 and almost triple the $209.2 million that May 2021 brought in. It is, however, a steep fall from past July's, exempting 2020, you'd have to go all the way back to July 1992 to find a worse-performing July. However, none of those prior July's were coming off a pandemic and had to deal with movies getting simultaneous releases on premium-video-on-demand services.

There actually was quite a bit of good news to go around this month, including the fact that Black Widow's opening weekend, at least, was in line with pre-pandemic grossers. Meanwhile, a trio of different movies cracked $30 million on opening weekend while titles like Roadrunner: The Anthony Bourdain Story, Pig and The Green Knight confirmed that non-blockbusters were still viable on the big screen. Even better is that it doesn't seem unreasonable to suspect that the month-to-month increases that have been happening for the last four months will occur again between July and August. Normally, August makes significantly less than July, but more major titles are opening exclusively in theaters next month, which could give it a leg up over July.

Of course, there were also shortcomings to the month, though they have to be approached delicately given the highly unusual circumstances of the current marketplace. For starters, most movies just don't have legs right now. Most titles, even theatrical-exclusive ones like Snake Eyes had 60+% second-weekend drops. That doesn't mean big-screen movies will never exhibit long-term staying power again, but right now, it's extremely difficult to develop them. It seems like people most comfortable with going to the theater are the ones going to the cinemas on opening weekend. Those that would go in subsequent weekends, they're the ones still on the fence about going to the multiplex.

It's also hard to parse out if the Delta variant of the COVID-19 pandemic is having a substantial impact on the theatrical industry. The July 23-25 frame, in which Old topped the box office, initially was perceived as an indicator of this variant taking a toll on the marketplace. However, the following weekend, overperforming debuts from Jungle Cruise and The Green Knight seemed to indicate that things were a bit more stable in the world of theatrical exhibition. The weeks ahead will be where it gets more apparent what kind of influence this variant is having on the marketplace. 

Additionally, it's currently unclear how wide release projects that aren't PG-13 blockbusters or horror movies will fare theatrically. I personally believe that any movie that looks appealing to moviegoers can thrive financially no matter the genre but that's impossible to quantify in data. You need examples of romantic comedies, thrillers, dramas, music biopics, etc. making money on the big screen in North America. So far, we haven't had any of those, with Hollywood opting to lean on two genres that have been the most reliably successful in the years directly preceding the pandemic. We won't get a ton of attempts to provide those kinds of examples in August but at least Respect and Resminscence could offer some clarity on what kind of movies audiences want to see theatrically.  

The domestic box office is in a state of ongoing recovery, the miraculous sudden return to pre-COVID-19 normalcy is not happening and it was likely foolish to ever expect it to happen. But people are still showing up to the movie theater, as seen by how three of the five weekends in July saw a new release debut to over $30 million. Things are constantly evolving in this marketplace and the next phase of that evolution will be seeing what the box office looks like when the majority of movies are theatrical exclusives. 

While Warner Bros. is sticking to simultaneous HBO Max debuts for its titles through the end of the year, they'll soon be the exception and not the rule. Starting with Free Guy, Walt Disney Pictures titles will be theatrical exclusives. Meanwhile, notable studios like STX Entertainment and MGM will release their first movies in months in the next six weeks, both of which will be theatrical exclusives. There's a lot of commitment to the big screen experience arriving in the near future and it'll be intriguing to see what the box office looks like when these titles bow. If the last few months, including July 2021, are any indication, the results won't be on par with the pre-pandemic box office. However, it will still show reassuring growth reasserting the value of this way of experiencing cinema. Onto August 2021!

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