Today was supposed to be the opening day of Universal and Illumination’s Minions: The Rise of Gru. Believe it or not, I would have argued, outside variables notwithstanding, that the animated sequel would probably have stood a shot at joining F9 in the $1 billion club, even if their respective domestic gross likely would have lagged behind the likes of Wonder Woman 1984, Black Widow and (maybe) Tenet. Speaking of “domestic gross,” we are halfway through the summer movie season without actually having a summer movie season. As the official re-opening of the major theater chains continues to be delayed, along with the promised release of new “big” theatrical movies (Unhinged was supposed to open this past Wednesday), we have a situation where, for all intents and purposes, we’ve had two “hit movies” all summer long.
The biggest “new movie” since theaters closed in mid-March remains DreamWorks Animation and Universal’s Trolls: World Tour, which has unofficially earned around $4 million in domestic grosses since opening on April 10 concurrently with its PVOD release (which netted around $100 million in the first month). But since, as much as studios might like to convince us otherwise, summer doesn’t actually begin until late April or early May. And in this case, summer began for drive-in theaters and the like not with Black Widow but rather with IFC’s The Wretched. Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce’s throwback horror flick (about a young teen who goes to live with his father during a contentious divorce only to stumble onto potentially supernatural shenanigans) accidentally became the first movie since Black Panther to officially top the box office for five straight weekends.
Granted, that’s because IFC was among the few studios actually reporting box office grosses during this bleak period, and Universal hasn’t officially reported a dime in regards to Trolls: World Tour, The Invisible Man or The Hunt. However, to paraphrase The West Wing, history is made by those who show up. The Wretched topped the box office for its first six weekends in theatrical release, becoming the first movie to do so since Avatar in 2009/2010 and then Titanic in 1997/1998. Heck, it was only the 16th movie to top the weekend box office for its first six weekends ever in modern box office history, joining The Fugitive in 1993 and Rocky IV in 1985 in the “six weekend” club. It would fall to third place in weekend seven and has earned $1.651 million after two months in theaters.
The film was “felled” by the $160,371 opening weekend of Bella Thorne’s “modern-day Bonnie and Clyde go viral” thriller Infamous ($392,732 thus far) and the $194,571 second-weekend gross of Becky. By the way, Becky’s $205,797 Fri-Sun theatrical debut (still the biggest official opening weekend for a new movie since March 13) ended up just below The Wretched’s $207,212 sixth-weekend gross. Even now, rank is almost irrelevant compared to raw numbers. Quiver Entertainment and Redbox’s Becky topped the box office in its second weekend and became the closest thing to a sleeper hit for the month of June. Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion’s enjoyable “Die Hard with a teen girl” action thriller stars Lulu Wilson as a traumatized tween defending her family (including Joel McHale) from Neo Nazis led by Kevin James, has earned $853,661 in theaters thus far.
Amusingly enough, it has “officially” topped the weekend charts in weekend two and weekend four, making it akin to old-school 1980’s blockbusters like E.T. which topped 16 non-consecutive weekends during its record-breaking run in 1982. although the actual top-grossing movies have been the slew of re-issued studio titles (Jurassic Park and Jaws from Universal, Zootopia and The Avengers from Disney, etc.) that have been offered to the slowly re-opening theaters in order to entice moviegoers back into the habit. I’m still curious to see if Disney will let Avatar back into theaters here and/or abroad and, if so, if the James Cameron sci-fi epic can earn another $10 million to steal back its global crown from Avengers: Endgame. That will likely depend on if Avatar shows up in China again whenever Chinese theaters re-open again, but I digress.
The irony of these two films, The Wretched and Becky, becoming summer’s biggest hits by default, is that both films are arguably exactly the kind of offerings that would have been glorified studio programmers in a theatrical era less dominated by franchises and IP. The Wretched is essentially J.J. Abrams’ version of Steven Spielberg’s version of Rear Window or Shadow of a Doubt (with the important distinction that D.J. Caruso’s Disturbia was “Spielberg does Rear Window”). Becky might have been any number of Die Hard rip-offs that populated the multiplexes in the 1990’s, although its size, scale and scope likely would have made it the sort that debuts on VHS or Cinemax as opposed to theaters. Either way, both are “rip-off, don’t remake” original winners that have carved out a niche amid Hollywood’s grimmest summer movie season.
We’ll know soon enough as to whether we’ll actually have “big” summer movies opening in theaters this coming August. Presuming they open as currently planned, I’d expect the likes of Unhinged, Tenet, Mulan, Bill & Ted Face the Music and A Quiet Place Part II to vastly outperform these small-scale flicks. But if the health-related challenges don’t improve (like if infections go up again as a result of folks not wearing a damn mask over the holiday weekend), we could have a nearly non-existent summer movie season (to the extent that a few big movies opening in August even counts as a “summer movie season”). If that happens, then the two biggest movies of summer 2020 will be The Wretched and Becky, with a cumulative gross of just over/under $2.5 million between the two of them.
By Scott Mendelson, Forbes