Summer Blockbuster Snapshot

By Amit Jagwani  | 

Some argue that the summer blockbuster phenomenon started in 1975, when Steven Spielberg’s Jaws debuted in over 450 theaters—at the time, one of the largest openings—thereby kicking off a seasonal film craze that extends from Memorial Day to Labor Day and can generate over $100 million in a single blowout weekend. This four-month stretch typically accounts for roughly 40 percent of annual film industry revenues, often totaling close to $4 billion. But last year, Covid-19 changed entertainment again. When theaters shut down and productions halted, the $42.5 billion global industry was forced to reinvent itself. Streaming networks rose to power and studios adopted a hybrid model of simultaneously releasing movies in theaters and on streaming platforms. Now, as over 63 percent of cinemas around the country have lifted restrictions and more are following suit, Hollywood’s waiting to see what’s next. Will audiences pay for the big-screen experience if they can catch the same flick from the comfort of a couch? Results of this summer’s blockbuster sizzle remain to be seen. In the meantime, here are a few titles to get excited about.

A Quiet Place—Part II exceeded executives’ wildest hopes when it grossed $48 million over the course of its Memorial Day debut. Unlike other recent titles, Paramount chose an exclusive theater release for this sci-fi thriller starring Emily Blunt as a mom trying to protect her family from monsters who hunt by sound. Women were top contributors to the box office boom: 53 percent of the audience demographic was female. The same held true for Cruella, Disney’s latest release set in 1970s London that features two women actors, Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, in the lead roles. Its theatrical premiere was attended by an audience comprised of 64 percent women (this feature is also available to stream on Disney Plus), and combined with A Quiet Place—Part II, it pushed holiday weekend totals to over $100 million for the first time since the pandemic.

In the Heights from Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Tony-winning Hamilton fame) made a splash when it debuted as a Broadway musical in 2008, in part because it’s a rare example of a show created by a Latino writer to depict a Latin community. Now the eagerly anticipated film version has arrived following a year of pandemic-related delays, landing June 11 in both theaters and on HBO Max. With its $55 million budget, this vividly colored feel-good flick has the potential to boost both lockdown spirits and studio bottom lines. Shifting from choreographed dance numbers to high-octane car chases, F9 speeds into theaters on June 25 as the ninth installment in the lucrative Fast and Furious franchise. The Universal Pictures action flicks starring Vin Diesel have long titillated fans, which may prove beneficial at a time of greatest need for cinemas.

Black Widow will finally debut in both theaters and on Disney Plus on July 9, following a year of production stops, starts and reschedules. Scarlett Johansson stars in the title role of this superhero thriller directed by Australian film writer Cate Shortland. Some critics believe the Marvel film could steal the box-office show, due especially to the success of similar genre titles like Wonder Woman 1984 and Godzilla vs. Kong. Space Jam: A New Legacy will premiere the same day, with basketball great LeBron James leading a team of Loony Tunes characters on a quest to save his son from an evil Goon squad. Nineties-film buffs may fondly recall the original live-action/animated Space Jam starring Michael Jordan.

The Suicide Squad lands August 6 in theaters and simultaneously on HBO Max. This sequel to 2016’s Suicide Squad stars, among others, Margot Robbie, Idris Elba and Sylvester Stallone as a gang of super-villains forcibly enlisted to destroy a Nazi-era prison and save the world. Superheroes are likewise flying onto screens this summer. Case in point: Free Guy, which hits streamers 45 days post-theatrical premiere. Ryan Reynolds plays a bank teller in a video game called Free City. When he becomes aware of his bit-player existence, he decides to break out of his coded role and become the game’s hero.

It’s been a rocky year for the entertainment industry, and this summer may prove to be a litmus test for the future of film premieres or release experiences. The good news? Many American cities are resuming some semblance of normalcy. After months of lockdown, fans can’t wait to go to the movies.

Amit Jagwani
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