Which films remaining in 2021 will outperform their box office expectations? Barry Wetcher/WB
Ryan Reynolds’ 20th Century video game comedy Free Guy is unexpectedly over-performing at the box office with nearly $60 million in the United States in its first two weeks. Paramount’s Paw Patrol took in a decent $13 million in its opening weekend despite also being available on Paramount+. Dwayne Johnson’s Disney adventure Jungle Cruise is cruising (sorry) toward $100 million domestic.
Despite the warranted pessimism surrounding the box office at the moment, there have been a few pleasant surprises here and there. So rather than focus on the doom-and-gloom of the lumpy theatrical recovery (the 2021 year-to-date box office is still 70% off of 2019’s), let’s instead look toward a future of hopeful breakouts.
Which upcoming films stand the best chance at over-performing at the box office?
Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore
In the new normal Hollywood currently finds itself, Dergarabedian is reluctant to examine cinematic success in such binary terms. He sees multiple paths that exist outside of just raw dollars and cents.
“Over-performing can take many forms right now,” he told Observer. “Even if a movie has a soft performance in theaters, it could be kicking ass on streaming. Consider that an over-performance can be a metric that ties together multiple elements of an ecosystem of sentiment that’s layered in and around the sheer numbers of streaming and box office.”
“Over-performing can take many forms right now. Even if a movie has a soft performance in theaters, it could be kicking ass on streaming.”
Any film that is well-received by critics, embraced by audiences, but doesn’t necessarily do all that great at the box office under these unprecedented circumstances can still be an overall win. (Here’s looking at you, The Suicide Squad.) But in terms of sleeper candidates that may be flying under the radar, Dergarabedian sees Dear Evan Hansen, Many Saints of Newark, Halloween Kills, Jackass Forever, Last Night in Soho, House of Gucci, West Side Story and Sing 2 as reasonable lottery tickets.
“One movie that is not a slam dunk is The Matrix 4,” he warned. “It’s been a long time since The Matrix franchise. But if it’s really good, there’s no reason it can’t reach $100 million domestic.”
Perusing the upcoming film lineup, the box office expert was impressed with the volume and scale of the features on the horizon: “With this lineup of movies, it feels like summer in the fall.”
Simu Liu in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Marvel Studios
Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Box Office Pro
Due in large part to the current age limitations of vaccines and higher caution among parents, Robbins sees a clear absence from the calendar of family-skewing movies with appeal to younger kids. In that void steps a number of high-profile branded biggies that could potentially soak up big box office totals—if all goes well.
“Considering the audiences who are showing up right now, films like Shang-Chi, No Time to Die, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Halloween Kills, and Dune each stand out to me,” he told Observer.
With the lack of family friendly biggies, the larger tentpole movies and their compatriots will have to endure some heavy lifting to expedite theatrical recovery. The hope is that a logjam of blockbusters will spur more consistent ticket sales the rest of the year.
“The movie business is still at the mercy of elements beyond its control, but it certainly isn’t alone in that challenge.”
“Still, those aforementioned movies are the best bets for the industry right now and they would provide healthy lead-ins to similarly targeted blockbusters like Eternals, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Top Gun Maverick, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and the fourth Matrix as they’re currently dated through year’s end,” Robbins said. “For audiences that have already shown a willingness to come back, these are the kinds of movies that can generate a strong draw for the communal theatrical experience.”
These are all films that appeal to a young male demographic, and as it continues to venture out to theaters, these blockbusters need a healthy global marketplace to thrive. That’s one of the downsides to nine-figure budgets. Robbins explains that the industry is now at a point where studios are asking themselves if the risk-reward ratio of partial box office runs from a fractured global distribution favors the current plan to release them under status quo conditions or to delay anything again to later in the year or even into 2022.
“The movie business is still at the mercy of elements beyond its control, but it certainly isn’t alone in that challenge,” he said.
Sony’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage. Sony Pictures Entertainment
Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations
Bock also sees a demo-specific surge that offers both opportunity and limitation to the current movie marketplace.
“The pandemic has been a return to ’80s filmmaking where seemingly every other successful was tailor-made for 13-year-old boys,” Bock told Observer. “When we look at the films that have had unexpectedly large openings—Mortal Kombat, Demon Slayer, Godzilla vs. Kong, Free Guy—a majority of them point to men 35 and under making up a sizable audience. So, for the time being, and since horror films have been really the only genre that has been pandemic-proof, it seems this trend will continue through the fall.”
“The pandemic has been a return to ’80s filmmaking where seemingly every other successful was tailor-made for 13-year-old boys.”
As a result, he highlights Malignant, Jackass Forever, Halloween Kills as films that have a clear path to success. At the same time, he sees larger films that demand adult audiences such as Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel and Denis Villeneuve’s Dune as likely stragglers. Then there’s Sony’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage, which was recently delayed (again) until Oct. 15.
“Venom 2 is an interesting dilemma; on one hand it caters to young men, but to truly bloom at the box office, it will rely heavily on families just as its predecessor did,” Bock said. “So, depending on how these COVID counts shake out this fall, it might not be the last move Sony makes with their superhero flick.”
Which films remaining in 2021 will outperform their box office expectations? Barry Wetcher/WB
Hyperactive production companies are the engine behind Hollywood’s current content feeding frenzy. Pixabay
Right now, nearly every major conglomerate with a toe in Hollywood is trying desperately to attract a large subscriber base to their streaming service in order to appease Wall Street. To do that, these companies need to build out their SVOD platforms with prodigious libraries of both exclusive original films and television series as well as pre-existing catalogues to keep those subscribers on the hook. As a result, Hollywood finds itself in a content consolidation craze as this feeding frenzy is spurring the merger and acquisition market.
This cascading feedback loop has elevated the value of production companies. Why? Because studios are hungry for the mass production framework and talent relations they bring to the table. For the most part, each major studio — Netflix, Disney, Warner Bros., Universal, etc. — has an in-house production arm. But there are still independents working the market and increasing their own value in the process.
Here are the top movie and television production companies in the United States in terms of their contributions to major SVOD platforms, according to Reelgood’s Q2 2021 SVOD Catalog and Viewing Insights report.
Top Movie Production Companies in the United States
Top 10 U.S. Production Companies by SVOD Movie Viewing Share Reelgood
Top 10 U.S. Production Companies by Movies Available via SVOD Reelgood
While studios are often the owners of high-profile intellectual property, production companies can also come complete with their own war chest of IP. Amazon dropped $8.45 billion on MGM primarily for a library that includes Rocky, Legally Blonde, and partial rights to the James Bond franchise.
Looking at viewing shares among SVOD platforms in the United States during Q2 2021, Reelgood — a streaming aggregator that tracks every TV show and movie available online for its 2 million-plus users — determined which production companies’ libraries are generating the most attention among streaming audiences at the moment.
On the film side, Warner Bros.’ contributions to HBO Max are attracting the most views for the production company’s movies. That’s what happens when a studio releases its entire 2021 film slate day-and-date in theaters and on streaming. From Godzilla vs. Kong and Mortal Kombat through Space Jam: A New Legacy and The Suicide Squad, WB’s films have helped HBO Max recover from a rocky start. The streamer is on pace to add more than 11 million new subscribers in 2021.
Films from Walt Disney Pictures, the majority of which can be found on Disney+, dropped three places in the ranking compared to Q2 of last year. Universal Pictures and Columbia Pictures (Sony) went up in ranking, with the most views coming from Netflix even though most of both companies’ content are on Peacock Premium and STARZ, respectively. Sony is the only major studio without a premium SVOD platform, enabling them to sign lucrative licensing and content deals with the likes of Netflix, Disney, and Amazon. Paramount remained in second place, with Prime Video logging the most views for the company, although Paramount+ holds most of its catalog. ViacomCBS’s split content endeavors has put a ceiling on Paramount+, which likely could be performing better in the streaming arena.
Top TV Show Production Companies in the United States
Top 10 Prod Companies by TV Shows Available via SVOD as of June 30, 2021 Reelgood
Top 10 Prod Companies by SVOD TV Show Viewing Shares in Q2 2021 Reelgood
In terms of TV shows, Warner Bros. remains the most popular among streaming audiences. However, Netflix is the platform garnering the most eyeballs for the production company’s titles, as the streamer currently has the most series from Warner Bros. Television compared to other SVODs. These include saved originals such as Lucifer, licensed content such as Riverdale and Gotham, as well as day 1 originals such as The Kominsky Method.
Universal Television, whose small screen library is mostly are streaming on Peacock, and 20th Century Television rounded out the top three, buoyed by views from Hulu. Hulu’s licensed library remains one of the most in demand in the streaming field. The same is true for MGM and Paramount Television, though the latter’s catalog is mainly available through Paramount+.
Surprisingly, content from the British Broadcasting Corp. did not have enough viewing share to make the top ten, even though it currently has the most TV shows licensed by SVOD platforms, including its own BritBox streaming service, Prime Video, Hulu, and Netflix.