‘Space Jam 2’ Tops Box Office With $32M Debut Weekend
With a $31.65 million debut weekend, Space Jam: A New Legacy is thus far a “successful disappointment.”
Warner Bros.’ Space Jam: A New Legacy topped the domestic box office this weekend with $31.65 million in 3,965 theaters. That’s a not-great (for a toon) 2.41x multiplier, implying that theatrical interest was a little frontloaded at least over the first three days. Reviews are lousy, as frankly expected, but paying audiences gave the film an A- Cinemascore grade. And, all due respect, in normal times a $32 million Fri-Sun launch for the $150 million Space Jam: A New Legacy would be thought of as no less of a disappointment than Robert Downey Jr.’s $175 million-budgeted Dolittle ($30 million over four days in early 2020). While it earned a little more than the over/under $25 million projections, Malcom D. Lee’s LeBron James/Bugs Bunny flick is at-best a “successful disappointment.”
Like New Line’s Mortal Kombat reboot back in April, which opened to essentially the same $23 million Fri-Sun debut as its 1995 predecessor (before ending with just $43 million domestic), Space Jam: New Legacy is a pricier and more “important” release that nonetheless opened at the same level as its cheaper predecessor. Michael Jordan’s Space Jam nabbed a $28 million opening in 1996, which would be around $60 million adjusted-for-inflation. To be fair, Warner Bros. was always hoping for a bigger overseas payout, as even the first Space Jam earned $90 million domestic ($187 million adjusted) but $230 million worldwide on a $90 million budget. Most importantly, Warner Bros. greenlit and produced the film unaware that we’d currently be in our second year of a global pandemic.
Space Jam 2 entered the marketplace with plenty of pre-Covid commercial handicaps. It shouldn’t have cost more than $90 million. James isn’t as universally famous as was Jordan 25-years ago. Folks no longer go to the movies just to go to the movies. Space Jam isn’t a massive nostalgia item. A film like Space Jam is far less unique in 2021 than it was in 1996. It also faces a moviegoing marketplace where most kids aren’t vaccinated amid a crisis that has disproportionally affected some of the very demos that otherwise might have treated Space Jam: A New Legacy as a demographically-specific event film. As such, Space Jam: A New Legacy is a relative success by opening as high as it might have had it disappointed in conventional circumstances.
That’s not to say it would have been a massive smash hit had it opened amid non-Covid circumstances. Space Jam, craven commercial motivations notwithstanding, stood out as weird and unique alongside studio programmers like Ransom and Jerry Maguire. Conversely, A New Legacy, with its implicit intent to spread IP awareness and promote HBO Max, now resembles “par for the course” in an IP-obsessed and nostalgia-driven entertainment culture. A New Legacy stands alongside the likes of Ready Player One, Ralph Breaks the Internet and Emoji Movie. Back in its day, a movie like Space Jam didn’t need good reviews. Moreover, the critical establishment was willing to bend over backward to acknowledge its charms because they also had a steady diet of adult-skewing, star-driven, non-franchise “movie-movies.”
My despair over A New Legacy isn’t that it exists (my ten-year-old liked it and Don Cheadle gives his all), but that the likes of Daylight and Michael no longer do at the theatrical level. That being said, Warner Bros. is still the studio that released a slew of “regular movies” into mostly empty auditoriums in late 2019/early 2020. The Dream Factory offered up, among others, Blinded By the Light, Motherless Brooklyn, The Kitchen, Richard Jewell, The Goldfinch, The Good Liar and The Way Back in a rare case of arguably “going broke” overestimating the tastes of the American moviegoer. When Space Jam: A New Legacy makes more on its first day than In the Heights made in its opening weekend, the message is loud and clear.
With $31.1 million in three days (and $55 million worldwide), Space Jam: A New Legacy nabbed the year’s fourth-biggest domestic opening weekend, just ahead of Godzilla Vs. Kong’s $31.625 million Fri-Sun debut (amid a $50 million Wed-Mon launch). It sits behind A Quiet Place part II ($47.5 million Fri-Sun/$57 million Fri-Mon), F9 ($70 million) and Black Widow ($80 million). It’s the biggest launch for a family flick since Pixar’s Onward ($38 million) in early March just before everything shut down. However, Onward was a bomb even before Covid. Space Jam: A New Legacy may be a true “successful disappointment,” but it needs strong overseas grosses and decent domestic legs to be a hit. Mortal Kombat-legs ($60 million) aren’t going to cut it, but Tom & Jerry legs ($100 million) might. Game on…