Candyman (review) topped the domestic box office yesterday with a rock-solid $10 million. MGM and Universal’s R-rated Candyman should open with between $21 million (if it legs like Old last month) and $24 million (if it legs like The Visit in 2015 or Don’t Breathe in 2016) for the weekend. There was a time when a new Candyman sequel, directed by Nia DaCosta (Little Woods, The Marvels) and produced by Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us), was positioned as the horror event of summer 2020. The first trailer dropped in late February 2020 to much buzz and anticipation, but obviously a lot has changed since then.
The bad news is that we’re still dealing with Covid-specific challenges. The circumstances are arguably worse just compared to late-May/early June when A Quiet Place part II ($57 million debut/$160 million cume) and The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It ($24 million/$65 million) earned relatively “business as usual” grosses. Universal make a good-faith choice way back in October 2020 to push the film to late-August 2021, in the hopes that more folks (especially Black viewers) would be vaccinated or otherwise protected from Covid. Like Hollywood’s overall strategy of waiting until F9 and Black Widow to kick off “blockbuster season” in late June/early July, that backfired when the Delta variant changed the equation last month.
Any notion Candyman would open near Get Out ($33 million in 2017) or A Quiet Place ($50 million in 2018) expired in March of 2020. The, uh, good news (but also very bad news) is that the issues which define the Candyman franchise have remained relevant. However, a film like Candyman (which dove headfirst into the politics of systemic racism, gentrification, generational trauma and how even well-meaning white people can exploit stories about Black pain) is now somewhat more par for the course in 2021 versus 1992. Bernard Rose’s Candyman was also, at the time, the rare film to take the “Silence of the Lambs means horror films can be for adults again!” flag and run with it.
Heck, if you’ll allow me to be cynical, sequelize-ing Candyman as a response to Get Out isn’t that much more inspired than remaking Total Recall in response to Inception. But I digress, as the arty, claustrophobic, not-entirely crowdpleasing (but with a decent-for-horror B grade from Cinemascore) horror sequel didn’t necessarily open with 1/2 of what it otherwise would have nabbed in June of 2020. We may have always been looking at Get Out as a best-case-scenario comparison, as opposed to A Quiet Place or, haha, Us ($71 million in 2019). A $25 million launch instead of a $35 million launch makes Candyman another “successful disappointment,” with an emphasis on “successful” since it matched its $25 million budget.
No matter what might have been, this is a win, especially on a Covid curve. A $25 million, R-rated horror flick starring an almost entirely Black cast has earned mostly positive reviews (86% fresh and 7.4/10 on Rotten Tomatoes despite the contentious Film Twitter discourse) and will gross around $25 million worldwide in its debut frame. Once again, following the strong legs shown by Old, Free Guy and Jungle Cruise, the everyone out of the pool mentality after The Suicide Squad may have been misplaced. There is a clear difference between movies that were always doomed (Snake Eyes) and those which might have broken bigger in better circumstances (Jungle Cruise). Candyman is obviously the latter.