Moviegoing, once expected to be closer to semi-normal levels by now, continues to be battered by the pandemic, the delta variant of the coronavirus, and in-home streaming. The latest casualty: James Gunn's The Suicide Squad, a critically acclaimed, carnage-ridden would-be smash that disappointed with $26.5 million in estimated ticket sales. The Warner Bros. film, which was released simultaneously on HBO Max, could claim one pandemic record: the top R-rated opening. But The Suicide Squad, featuring the Guardians of the Galaxy director's first DC Comics film, had seemed poised to be a bigger hit—and may have been if the delta variant wasn't keeping a lot of moviegoers home. Jeff Goldstein, distribution chief for Warner Bros., acknowledged the recovery is taking longer than anyone hoped. “We always knew the ramp-up would be two steps forward and one step back," Goldstein said. "But when we’re living it, it’s not great."
As recently as a month ago, the outlook for movie theaters was brightening. Marvel’s Black Widow set a pandemic-best mark with a $80 million domestic debut. Now, that movie’s hybrid release is the focus of a bitter legal battle between star Scarlett Johansson and the Walt Disney Co. that has larger ramifications for the economics of big-budget movies in the streaming era. More importantly, COVID cases in the United States have since rocketed—from a few thousand daily infections to more than 100,000. That has led some to curtail indoor activities and some states to consider changing regulations. New York is planning to make vaccination a requirement for indoor dining and other venues, including movie theaters. “I think avid moviegoers have returned to theaters, and they show up first night and through the weekend," Goldstein said. "But what we're not seeing is the casual moviegoers—those who were interested and would have gone in a pre-pandemic context. Right now, they're not quite there.” Last week's top film, Disney's even pricier Jungle Cruise, also opened softer than expected, collecting $34 million in the U.S. and Canada against a reported budget of $200 million.
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