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‘The Suicide Squad’ Should Overcome HBO Max and R Rating for $40 Million Weekend

The DC Comics movie directed by James Gunn doesn't have much competition, but it faces plenty of obstacles.

THE SUICIDE SQUAD, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, 2021. © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

“The Suicide Squad”

©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

The Suicide Squad” — that introductory determinant distinguishes this D.C. Comics Extended Universe film from 2016’s “Suicide Squad” — opens tonight in previews. That’s a first for Warners since “Tenet,” and a smart move for a film that’s positioned to score one of the year’s best openings.

With exceptionally good initial reviews (a decent 77 Metacritic score — higher than Cannes-opener “Annette,” which Amazon Studios opens limited this week), lots of social media attention, and little competition for its core audience, the film will easily lead the weekend. Consensus prediction is a $30 million opening, but that feels like a studio-lowball estimate. (“Jungle Cruise” last weekend was touted as a likely $25 million, making the actual $35 million stand out as more impressive than it might have been otherwise.)

“The Suicide Squad” has the potential for a $40 million opening, and the strong likelihood of more. It opened last weekend in the U.K./Ireland opposite “Jungle Cruise” and beat the Disney title by 50 percent. In that territory, “Suicide” is theater only, while  “Jungle” had Disney+ availability — with less PVOD penetration.

Obstacles for “The Suicide Squad” include its R-rating (per MPA, for “strong violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual references, drug use, and brief graphic nudity”). That’s a rarity among comic-book franchise titles, nearly all of which are PG-13.

The precedent, and a reason for optimism, is Marvel’s “Deadpool” that stunned in 2016 with a $133 million opening ($363 million domestic, ultimately). That was also the initial weekend total for the PG-13 “Suicide Squad” in August 2016 (still the record opening for the month). The “Suicide” ensemble starred Will Smith with Jared Leto as the Joker. The best R-rated opening this year at $24 million was “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (Warner Bros., again day-and-date with HBO Max).

“The Suicide Squad”

Warner Bros.

Returning in “The Suicide Squad” are Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Viola Davis (Amanda Waller), Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flag), and Jay Courtenay (Boomerang) while adding Idris Elba (Bloodsport), John Cena (Peacemaker), David Dastmalchian (Polka-Dot Man), Sylvester Stallone (King Shark), and Michael Rooker (Savant).

Directed by David Ayer, the 2016 “Suicide Squad” was not well reviewed (40 Metacritic) and viewed as a misstep in launching a franchise — albeit one that made $750 million worldwide. The new film is directed by James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) and there’s elevated interest and strong advance word for this follow-up (don’t call it a sequel). Nothing else wide opens this week. “Jungle Cruise” should be #2, with perhaps $15 million-$20 million.

Unlike its predecessor, “The Suicide Squad” will be available on HBO Max August 5, giving it a one-night theatrical exclusive until it drops off the platform 31 days later. PVOD access should follow about a month after that. No subscriber surcharge and fairly wide platform adoption should cut into the gross, but the DC audience includes moviegoers who are less resistant to theaters and more interested in the group experience, particularly on opening weekend

Beyond HBO Max and the R rating, there’s one more inescapable concern with resurgent Covid concerns. New York City now requires proof of vaccination to attend public indoor events, like cinemas.

This is uncharted territory, with enforcement left to theaters. The extra staff — which could include additional security concerns in the face of resistant customers — will be an additional expense in the face of reduced revenues.

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