I could make a joke about how the PAW Patrol dogs are bigger movie stars than Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Hall and/or Samuel L. Jackson, but that’s technically true. In the new normal where marquee characters are the biggest “butts in seats” draws for would-be theatrical moviegoers, yes, the well-known and well-liked (among kids) Paw Patrol stars are indeed “movie stars,” at least for one weekend. Paramount and Nickelodeon’s PAW Patrol: The Movie, which is also available “for free” on Paramount+, was tops among a handful of newbies this weekend. The animated continuation/extension of the long-running (since August 2013) animated series earned around $4.45 million on Friday, setting the stage for a likely $12.6 million opening weekend.
That’s likely good enough for what I will presume was an over/under $10 million (think Teen Titans GO to the Movies in 2018) animated offshoot. That it’s doing decently enough despite being available on a streaming platform means consumers either don’t know about the duel availability or would rather pay “once” for a theatrical outing (even if it’s more expensive) than sign up for another streaming platform and incur a new reoccurring bill. We’ve seen some relative success with duel availability for “strictly-for-kids” flicks like Sponge On The Run (which debuted on Paramount+ and PVOD concurrently last Spring) and Tom & Jerry (which nabbed a $14 million debut despite being on HBO Max).
Word that MGM will duel-release The Addams Family 2 (in theaters and PVOD on October 1) makes sense in this context. There’s obviously a difference between a cheaper offering like The PAW Patrol Movie and Hotel Transylvania 4 (which just sold to Amazon for $100 million). For all the hub-bub that Bill & Ted Face the Music made when it duel-released last summer, it still “only” earned around $30 million on PVOD and under $3 million in theaters, which was good enough on a $25 million budget. This skewed strategy can work for films that cost $25 million or even $65 million (The Croods: A New Age), but not for mega-bucks tentpoles.
In a better time for theaters, before streaming became the dominant consumption method for general moviegoers and the “watch a movie just to watch a movie” crowd, spending $65 million on Lisa Joy’s original sci-fi fantasy Reminiscence (review) would have been a viable idea. First, it’s 1/3 cheaper (and 3/3 better) than Wally Pfister’s Transcendence, and even that whiff earned $103 million right between Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in early 2014. Second, there was a time when a star-driven sci-fi thriller like Matt Damon’s The Adjustment Bureau could earn $127 million on a $50 million budget and be considered long-term okay. Alas, that hasn’t been the case for awhile.
Hugh Jackman’s ambitious hardboiled detective romp was always a “for the love of the game” swing. It’s the kind of movie (original, adult-skewing, non-franchise, star-driven, visually ambitious, female-directed, etc.) everyone complains Hollywood never makes and then doesn’t show up when they do. As much grief as I gave Warner Bros. over The Suicide Squad, which was a mega-budget bomb-in-the-making from conception, they still release “real movies” like In the Heights, Cry Macho, Judas and the Black Messiah and The Little Things. They released a slew of old-school programmers (The Goldfinch, Motherless Brooklyn, Doctor Sleep, The Kitchen, The Good Liar, etc.) in late 2019. “We” only showed up for It Chapter Two and Joker.
As such, the pretty damn good Reminiscence (co-starring Rebecca Ferguson and Thandiwe Newton) was doomed before Covid and before HBO Max. But, yes, the film’s miserable $600,000 Friday and likely $1.78 million weekend is partially due to the current pandemic variables, as was Angelina Jolie’s Those Who Wish Me Dead in mid-May. Hugh Jackman remains one of the last “new” movie stars to get a varied career outside of his marquee franchise, as well as one of the only “from obscurity to franchise stardom” to actually be a draw outside of his IP-specific marquee character, but he’s never been a consistent draw. Even The Greatest Showman opened soft before catching fire. Alas.
Finally, Martin Campbell’s The Protege (review) opened courtesy of Lionsgate. Another low-buzz, low-impact title, starring Maggie Q. as an assassin facing off against Michael Keaton to avenge the death of her mentor (Samuel L. Jackson), The Protégé earned $1.12 million on Friday for a likely over/under $2.75 million debut weekend. That’s obviously a lousy result, but nobody was expecting much better in these grim times. Heck, Luc Besson’s Anna opened with $3.6 million in summer 2019, so it’s not like Covid prevented this one from breaking out. I liked it well enough, but then I’m a Campbell fan. As expected these days, most of the publicity centered around Keaton reprising Batman in The Flash and Campbell discussing what went wrong with Green Lantern.
Searchlight’s The Night House opened yesterday as well, earning $1.077 million on Friday for a likely over/under $2.5 million opening weekend. The low-buzz (but well-reviewed) Rebecca Hall showcase, about a woman being haunted (literally and metaphorically) by her husband’s unexpected death-by-suicide, was never really going to break out even in better times. It’s a hell of a movie, with one of the best jump scares in recent memory and an unusual sense of unease and dread throughout, but that will have to be enough for now. Folks will discover this one on HBO Max in a few months and wonder why nobody told them about it when it was in theaters.