After 14 months, Memorial Day weekend may bring a glimpse of box-office normalcy with the openings of two major studio titles: Paramount’s “A Quiet Place Part II” and Disney’s “Cruella.” It will be a pleasure to report significant box-office numbers, and for their studios to see them. However, the industry excitement around May 28 goes much deeper.
Memorial Day weekend means elevated grosses. With more than 4,000 theaters in play and little competition, distancing restrictions won’t be an issue; seats will be easily available. The films will also have the benefit of a public that’s increasingly ready to return to normal.
Of course, things aren’t normal. While the theaters will offer little competition for these debuts, they must face off against the first national holiday since New Years Day 2020 in which family and friends can gather in person. Will the public want to be inside darkened auditoriums when restaurants, bars, sports, and the rest of the world beckons?
Another factor may be confusion. The public has had more than a year of movies on alternate platforms and could well expect that to continue. With “Cruella,” it will: It’s available as a $30 premium VOD rental for Disney+ subscribers. “A Quiet Place Part II” is theater-only for 45 days, after which it will land on Paramount+. Communicating that is a complicated job and tagging ads with “theater exclusive until July 12” would only reinforce the idea that the public could wait. For further demonstration of the conflation, check out the Google search for “Quiet Place 2 release date.” At this writing, this is the second result: “Will a Quiet Place 2 Be On HBO Max?”
“Cruella,” the live-action extension of the “101 Dalmatians” franchise, shows promise. Early social media chatter is positive, and the 1996 film opened to nearly $70 million adjusted. The 2014 “Maleficent,” which derived from “Sleeping Beauty,” performed at a similar level. Unlike those films, however, “Cruella” is PG-13 and has same-day Premium VOD availability for Disney+ subscribers for $29.99. Both of those factors could inhibit some family audiences.
Projecting grosses is risky under normal circumstances: Studios spin low expectations, and nuances such as competition and timing make it an imperfect science. Initial days also over-index as a barometer for success. Now that the fate of the industry at stake, even more caution is needed. All that said: How much will they make?
“Quiet” should take top spot. It will be in 3,700 theaters and has the widest appeal: It has a core male audience that skews younger with minority moviegoers, along with strong interest and critical support. It’s also only in theaters. A four-day gross at $40 million would be a strong achievement, but there’s potential to go as high as $50 million.
Warner Bros./Legendary Entertainment
The best three-day gross since theaters reopened was “Godzilla vs. Kong” at $31.6 million, but it actually opened two days earlier (on Easter weekend) for a total of $48.1 million. The film’s only competition was itself, on HBO Max, and its visual and sound components made the theatrical option a draw. Even if the “Quiet Place” sequel opens lower, it could wind up with a gross that’s higher than “Godzilla vs. Kong.” That would be a crucial achievement; in 2021, even those movies that open strong have shown massive drops in the weeks that follow.
“Cruella” is more difficult to assess. “Raya and the Last Dragon,” the previous same-day PVOD Disney release, had a soft $8.5 million initial weekend. Since then, it has grossed $46 million domestic, a respectable result. Figure that home availability for Disney+ subscribers, even with the additional fee, was a factor; that also could impact “Cruella.”
This is Emma Stone’s first lead role in a wide release since her Oscar win for “La La Land.” Live-action comedies have not played a role among recent releases, and the PG-13 rating may give parents pause. Figure $20 million-$35 million for the four days; $30 million would be a very good result.
Memorial Day weekends usually gross $200 million or more, so even most optimistic totals will fall well short. Still to come: Will this weekend’s grosses reflect a new normal, or incremental improvement? Don’t expect an answer for that yet.