At the beginning of the year when you looked at the release calendar for new movies one thing was abundantly clear: August was going to be bleak. That’s kind of always true about August. It’s still technically considered summer, but it coincides with the start of the new school year, the NFL pre-season and college football. So, you might get that one big movie at the start of the month, but after that the major studios just don’t even try. This August, though, they took that to a new level, almost entirely abandoning the month even as the other months (like March) filled up and looked overstuffed. August 2017 was just going to have to get by on The Dark Tower, Annabelle: Creation, The Hitman’s Bodyguard and a hope and a prayer.
So, it’s not surprising the box office plummeted this weekend. Heck, it’s going to do the same thing next weekend, too, since there isn’t a single new wide release planned. But this weekend wasn’t just bad; it was 9/11 bad. As THR explained:
Weekend revenue is estimated at $65 million, the worst showing since the Sept. 21-23 weekend in 2001 ($59.4 million) almost 16 years ago, and down 45 percent from the same frame last year when Don’t Breathe opened to an impressive $24.6 million.
Of course, we’re only talking about estimates at this point. If Sunday ends up beating expectations the weekend’s cumulative total might be downgraded to merely being the worst of any weekend in 3 years, not 16. Still, though, damn. The Hitman’s Bodyguard finished at #1 with just $10m, and the newbies all bombed – Weinstein’s Leap! ($5m), Blumouse/WWE’s Birth of the Dragon ($2.5m) and Affirm’s All Saints ($1.5m). So, if you see any TV spots this week for The Hitman’s Bodyguard touting it as “The #1 Movie in America Two Weeks in a Row” just remember how tainted that accomplishment is.
It seems obvious what happened here. The major studios took a hard pass on August 2017. The mini-majors are trying to fill the void with inferior product and lower marketing budgets, leaving the box office vulnerable to audience disinterest. Then Houston, one of the biggest cities in the country, had to shut down theaters due to a hurricane, and Floyd Meriweather and Connor McGregor staged their fight of the century which was so crushed by viewer demand that the livestream went down and caused a delay in the start time (AMC netted $2.4m in ticket sells from the 481 movie theaters which opted to carry the fight).
Plus, oh yeah, Netflix and Amazon picked this weekend to drop yet more TV shows to distract us (Death Note & Disjointed for the former, The Tick for the latter). HBO surprisingly made its movie length pilot for The Deuce available for early streaming. Halt & Catch Fire is back. Wynonna Earp aired its season finale. And the Game of Thrones finale is about to break the internet.
So, the theaters couldn’t help but feel like ghost towns this weekend, some of them with tumbleweeds randomly rolling by those few customers who happened to walk in.
And this kind of thing always seems to happen at the end of August. In recent years, it’s been masked by holdover business from early-August blockbusters like Suicide Squad, Straight Outta Compton, and Guardians of the Galaxy, but once you get to the part of the month where the majority of the country’s kids are back in school it’s a lost cause to try to open a new movie, at least not a big one. However, the major studios still kept trying because, hey, you never know. This year, though, they didn’t even bother, and that along with the perfect storm of Meyweather vs. McGregor and Hurricane Harvey added up to create the worst weekend for new movies since 9/11.
Now, theater owners everywhere know they have no choice but to ride this out until two weeks from now when It arrives. Ironically, if the last Stephen King movie, The Dark Tower, which came out in the same early-August release slot as megahits Guardians and Suicide Squad, hadn’t been such a financial dud ($44m domestic after 4 weeks) the current box office wouldn’t be such a shit show. Now, it’s up to the next Steven King movie to dig the box office out of this mess, and the early buzz and financial projections promise big things. Until then, just made do with the countless TV shows you can stream.