The recent three-year anniversary of Blade Runner 2049 is an apt reminder that even brilliant films can often struggle at the box office. Big budget spectacles do not guarantee big ticket sales. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, it no longer even guarantees an actual theatrical release date. Practically every major title this year has fled into 2021 with the hope that movie theaters will be on the mend by then. But even if exhibitors do begin to open up before the calendar flips, uncertainty blankets the future of the film industry.
With all the dynamic and unprecedented factors at play, here are three 2021 films that may struggle at the box office.
Morbius (Sony)—March 19
As we’ve seen in recent weeks, COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on the theatrical release schedule. Due to all of the delays, we currently have 12 superhero films set to open over 16 months from March 2021 through July 2022. Regardless of how much pent up demand audiences carry over once theaters can safely reopen, a saturation point is inevitable.
Fortunately for Sony, Morbius, starring Jared Leto, will be the first film to kick off this comic book surge. As such, it very well could benefit as the first game back in town. Unfortunately for Sony, Morbius doesn’t have the same fanbase as fellow Marvel character Venom, which helped the Tom Hardy flick overcome lackluster marketing material to become an immediate box office sensation. Venom opened with more than $80 million en route to nearly $215 million domestic in 2018. Even before the pandemic, Morbius wasn’t seen as a major hitter by most.
There’s also the question as to when audiences will be comfortable returning en masse to movie theaters. Some box office experts expect it could take as long as Q3 2021 for foot traffic to approach pre-pandemic levels. Opening in March, Morbius may be fighting an uphill battle out of its control.
Godzilla vs. Kong (Warner Bros.)—May 21
At one point, the fact that Legendary’s MonsterVerse wasn’t following Marvel’s blueprint in its shared cinematic universe construction was a major positive. Godzilla (2014) and Kong: Skull Island (2017) were wildly varied in tone yet both entertaining enough while also combining to gross more than $1 billion worldwide. Yet last year’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters absolutely flatlined with less than $400 million at the box office. The dramatic disappointment spurred WB and Legendary to delay Godzilla vs. Kong even before the pandemic struck.
That’s how you know the problems are serious.
The concept of Godzilla facing off against King Kong is certainty an attractive hook. A great first trailer could go a long way in winning audiences back over. But with the revival of the Jurassic World franchise over the last half decade, it appears as if there’s only enough room for one giant lizard series at a time. After seeing massive domestic and international drops with King of the Monsters, momentum is not in Godzilla vs. Kong‘s favor.
Fantastic Beasts 3 (Warner Bros.)—Nov. 12
As we’ve previously covered, the Fantastic Beasts franchise is on the wrong trajectory for a major IP-driven blockbuster series.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald dropped 32% at the domestic box office ($159.5 million), 15% internationally ($495 million) and 20% worldwide ($651 million) from its 2016 predecessor, which grossed $813 million overall. While the film’s international totals remained solid, the waning domestic interest is a major concern. The Crimes of Grindelwald is the lowest-grossing Wizarding World entry in American ticket sales by far. It also doesn’t help that the sequel was critically reviled, scoring just 36% on Rotten Tomatoes.
It’s debatable whether or not bad PR has any bearing on mainstream audiences, but J.K. Rowling and co-stars Johnny Depp and Ezra Miller are all currently embroiled in varying controversies. We can’t imagine that actively helps the threequel’s prospects. Audiences certainly aren’t exhausted with Harry Potter-related material, but they may very well be spent with this specific iteration.