James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad” was badly hit by rising cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) as the critically acclaimed, carnage-ridden would-be smash disappointed with $26.5 million in estimated ticket sales.
The Warner Bros. film, which was released simultaneously on HBO Max, could claim one pandemic record: the top R-rated opening. But “The Suicide Squad,” featuring the “Guardians of the Galaxy” director’s first DC Comics film, had seemed poised to be a bigger hit — and may have been if the delta variant wasn’t keeping a lot of moviegoers home.
Jeff Goldstein, distribution chief for Warner Bros., acknowledged the recovery is taking longer than anyone hoped.
“We always knew the ramp-up would be two steps forward and one step back,” Goldstein said. “But when we’re living it, it’s not great.”
As recently as a month ago, the outlook for movie theaters was brightening. Marvel’s “Black Widow” set a pandemic-best mark with an $80-million domestic debut. Now, that movie’s hybrid release is the focus of a bitter legal battle between Scarlett Johansson and the Walt Disney Co. that has larger ramifications for the economics of big-budget movies in the streaming era.
More importantly, Covid-19 cases in the United States have since rocketed — from a few thousand daily infections to more than 100,000. That has led some to curtail indoor activities and some states to consider changing regulations. New York is planning to make vaccination a requirement for indoor dining and other venues, including movie theaters.
“I think avid moviegoers have returned to theaters, and they show up first night and through the weekend,” Goldstein said. “But what we’re not seeing is the casual moviegoers — those who were interested and would have gone in a pre-pandemic context. Right now, they’re not quite there.”
The result for “The Suicide Squad” — strong reviews, underwhelming opening — is a kind of inverse to 2016′s “Suicide Squad,” which was lambasted by critics but also made a lot of money. The film, directed by David Ayer (who has since called the film “not my cut”), opened with $133.7 million in the U.S. and Canada, eventually grossing $745 million worldwide.) In part because of fan backlash to DC titles like “The Suicide Squad,” Gunn was brought in to set a more irreverent tone.