Pre-COVID, holiday weekends meant blockbuster releases. This year, July 4 brings “The Boss Baby: Family Business” — released same-day for Peacock subscribers — and the fifth entry in Universal’s dystopian action franchise “The Forever Purge.” There are two major releases this summer, but they opted to go before (“F9′”) or after (“Black Widow”) the Independence Day weekend. What gives?
As holidays go, stars and stripes have never been the best for box office. From a global perspective, this major American holiday looks pretty provincial. Domestically speaking, movies must compete with parades, fireworks, and concerts, not to mention family and friends.
There have been years when a July 4 opening is among the year’s top grossers, like “Spider-Man: Far from Home” (2019) or “Despicable Me 2” (2013). Still, this year’s slate is particularly tepid. Universal chose June 25 as the final domestic date change for “F9” because it meant little competition. The studio also bet that no other major title would seek July 2, which would provide the holiday benefit in its second weekend. International was less of a concern; “F9” had already opened in China and many other territories.
Disney chose to open “Black Widow” the weekend after the 4th, a move that Marvel previously executed with “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017) and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” (2018). July 9 also gave “Black Widow” a same-week worldwide release (China the big exception) and allowed Disney to dodge a distraction that dwarfs any July 4 potential: UEFA EURO 2020. The quadrennial soccer championship is reaching its climax, with four key games Friday and Saturday.
That leaves us with three interesting but lesser nationwide debuts. “F9” should remain #1, though with a normal second-week drop that puts it between $25 million-$30 million. Universal likely takes the next two spots with “Boss Baby” and “The Purge.”
“The Boss Baby: Family Business” seems more likely to be #2. It is a sequel to the DreamWorks Animation hit that opened to $50 million in 2017. The previous “Purge” film (“The First Purge,” 2018) opened to $17 million. The wrinkle here is “Baby”on Peacock. This strategy is a first for the nascent streamer.
“Purge” plays with an anticipated three-week window before Premium VOD availability. It’s unusual for Universal to release three films in two weeks, and maybe that’s why product-starved exhibitors are willing to provide over 3,600 screens for “Boss Baby.” Still, it serves as a precedent.
Also opening in 1,468 theaters is Sundance 2020 premiere “Zola” (A24). The stripper-road trip comedy once might have seen more of a more platform release, but current conditions and likely abbreviated windows inspired a wider initial play. It opened Wednesday (including Tuesday previews) to $505,000.
“Summer of Soul” (Searchlight), the music documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, ranks near the top of all 2021 critic rankings. It’s in 650 theaters after a quiet two-theater platform start; as of July 2, it will also be available on Hulu. Parallel availability and a wider strategy is bad news for specialized theaters. If it does well, that would buttress the case that same-day home-platform releases work. The same is true for “Baby Boss,” just on a larger scale.Y
Three other significant films will debut for home viewers. Netflix premiered their irreverent R-rated animated “America: The Motion Picture” on Wednesday, Steven Soderbergh’s well-reviewed mystery “No Sudden Move” debuts Thursday on HBO Max, and “The Tomorrow War” with Chris Pratt, once a Paramount release, begins Friday on Amazon Prime. All are free to subscribers. The Soderbergh film has what appears to be a token theatrical run in Los Angeles at The Landmark.
Those five films mean that the holiday lineup is stronger at home than in theaters, but we are starting to see theater grosses improve and that performance could limit future streaming damage. That makes next week’s performance of “Black Widow” even more important, although that’s already got an asterisk: It will be available for $29.99 to Disney+ subscribers.