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‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’: The Best Test Yet of Box Office Recovery

The Sony sequel is opening on the same weekend the franchise starter did three years ago and boasts a number of other constants that make a comparison valuable.

Tom Hardy stars as Eddie Brock/Venom in Columbia Pictures' VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE.

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage”

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” Sony’s first Marvel property to be released since the pandemic, starts with previews Thursday evening. It is expected, at a minimum, to be the sixth domestic opener this year over $40 million, with expectations that $50 million or higher is possible.

The “Venom” sequel launches a critical month for box office recovery ahead of “No Time to Die” (United Artists/October 8), “Dune” (Warner Bros./October 22) and other entries that are key tests of whether sustained improvement has taken hold. Each film’s individual returns will have its own specific measures for success (in the case of “Dune,” playing with HBO Max simultaneously).

What sets “Carnage” apart is that it is a rare case this year of a possible apples-to-apples comparison. The first “Venom” opened in 2018 on exactly the same weekend (to a then-October record $80 million). Comparisons to previous Marvel sequels also provide guidance for measuring the results.

No two dates are exactly the same. “Carnage” can expect to benefit from the lack of any new film opening over $7.5 million since “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (Disney) a month ago. In 2018, the four weeks preceding “Venom” had five films debut to over $20 million. And unlike the minimal competition the sequel faces this weekend, “A Star Is Born” also opened that same weekend to $42 million.

Any opening above $50 million at the moment is positive news. But some context is required when the weekend total is known and what it really suggests about the state of exhibition.

One key fact indicates that even a gross of $60 million — 75 percent of the 2018 initial film, which would likely be extolled as a major victory for theaters — actually would suggest significant issues still in play. That’s because a $60 million gross would fall far short of what a typical Marvel first sequel does.

In recent years, the last seven times a sequel has been released after the initial debut of a Marvel lead character, the second film opened to a gross on average 18 percent higher than the first one. That’s not unusual — sequels across a broad range of franchises often are stronger upon opening, though more often than not the total gross comes in a little lower. (This excludes the most recent “Spider-Man” reboot, mainly since the second entry opened on a pre-holiday Wednesday, rendering weekend comparisons moot).

Only “Deadpool 2” (which opened at a date months apart from the original’s release slot) dropped. And then only 5 percent ($125 million compared to $132 million for the first).

In analyzing the ultimate result, other factors need to be considered. “Venom” opened like “Carnage” on the first October weekend. But it benefited from being part of the Columbus/Indigenous Peoples’ Day holiday weekend. That comes next week this year. That likely boosted its total by a few million with extra Sunday business. Also, “Venom” is not part of the Disney MCU, and although Sony’s offerings have had terrific results, whether it is fair to compare them, particularly an edgier, more violent franchise like this one, is uncertain.

But unlike “Black Widow” and “Shang-Chi,” this not only has a release date with precedents worthy of comparison, it also lacks the stand-alone qualities those two recent Disney Marvel efforts had. “Black Widow” of course had same-day $29.99 Premium VOD. And both films, with the first boasting a female lead character, and the second with a mainly Asian cast, and both not dependent on a range of familiar characters in supporting roles, stood something apart from the usual franchise norms.

Whether this helped, hurt, or made no difference to their results is unclear. It does appear, apart from Asian-American/Canadian intense support, that the originality of “Shang-Chi” as well as other creative elements elevated its interest. It was praised for having unusually kinetic action sequences, by Marvel standards, thanks to original “Matrix” cinematographer Bill Pope and beloved indie director Destin Daniel Cretton.

The overall upcoming weekend itself will fall far short of the first one in October 2018. It’s not a fair comparison (one weekend rarely is) — “Joker” opened that same weekend in 2019 to $96 million, with $151 million being grossed by all films. This year looks to be between 55-65 percent of that.

(L to R) Chloë Grace Moretz as the voice of Wednesday Addams, Oscar Isaac as the voice of Gomez Addams, Charlize Theron as the voice of Morticia Addams, Nick Kroll as the voice of Uncle Fester, Javon Walton as the voice of Pugsley Addams, and Conrad Vernon as the voice of Lurch in THE ADDAMS FAMILY 2, directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“The Addams Family 2”

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

It helps that apart from the continued “Shang-Chi” success (it should add another $9-10 million this weekend), two new wide studio releases are also debuting. But both are also available at home. “The Addams Family 2” (United Artists) will have $19.99 PVOD platforms. “Sopranos” prequel “The Many Saints of Newark” (Warner Bros.) will be on HBO Max for subscribers.

“Addams” will gross more, but likely less than a theater-only release. The first animated “Addams” opened in 2019 one week later, adjacent to the holiday, to a surprising $30 million. But since then we’ve seen a series of similar new cartoon character franchises open well, even some like “Boss Baby 2” (Universal) and “The PAW Patrol” (Paramount) that had same day streaming (not more expensive stand-alone PVOD) alternatives.

That makes a high teens gross for “Addams” not out of the question, with the caveat that the home option will decrease the total. As for “Many Saints,” as strong as “The Sopranos” was on HBO, it is not an easy transfer to the big screen. “Sex and the City” pulled it off, but with the same characters and as a direct extension. The expectation is an under $10 million weekend total.

Meantime, “Free Guy” (Disney) is just out on PVOD. Figure it to lure many eyeballs itself, in some cases as an alternative to going out to the movies. It’s the new reality.

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