‘The Bad Guys’ Leads a Crucial Box Office Weekend for Non-Franchise Films

·3-min read
Lionsgate/Universal/Focus

After two weekends in which sequels topped the box office charts, theaters will see three non-franchise films hit theaters in what will be a big test to see if original films can still find an audience in theaters.

For families, Universal and DreamWorks Animation will send in “The Bad Guys,” an adaptation of Aaron Blabey’s graphic novel series about a group of animal thieves who try to turn over a new leaf. Mature audiences will have two wholly original offerings: Lionsgate’s meta comedy “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” starring Nicolas Cage and Focus Features’ bloody Viking revenge epic “The Northman.”

All three films have received strong reviews from critics, with “Massive Talent” and “Bad Guys” each currently standing at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes while “Northman” has 89% at time of writing. But the pre-release buzz and projections have been low, with “Bad Guys” tracking for a start in the mid-teens, “Northman” at $10-12 million and “Massive Talent” at a disappointing $6-7 million.

This is particularly bad news for “Bad Guys” and “The Northman” given their reported budgets. “The Bad Guys” has a reported animation price tag of $80 million — par for the course for DreamWorks cartoons — while “The Northman” has a $70 million budget co-produced by Focus and New Regency in association with Square Peg and Perfect World.

For any of these films to avoid flopping at the box office, they will have to rely on strong post-release word-of-mouth among audiences over the next two weeks. To a certain degree, we have already seen this play out for a couple of original films in the post-shutdown box office with 20th Century’s “Free Guy,” which legged out from a $28 million opening to a $121 million domestic run, and more recently with A24/AGBO’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which has risen up the charts as it has rolled out nationwide and cracked the top five this past weekend with $18.6 million and counting.

“The Bad Guys” will also have the advantage of opening as roughly 40% of schools in the U.S. are closed for spring break. As the strong turnout for “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” has shown, family turnout in theaters has seen a rebound since the Omicron COVID surge subsided, which could allow the film to both over-index this weekend and build buzz among kids and parents in the long run.

But the big long-term question will be whether Marvel’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” smothers these films once it arrives on May 6. “The Bad Guys” may be able to stay afloat as an option for parents of younger children considering that “Multiverse of Madness” is said to be scarier than most MCU films.

“Massive Talent” and “The Northman,” on the other hand, face a tougher battle for young male audiences, and there will be more pressure for those films to build up post-release buzz before “Multiverse of Madness” arrives and takes up both theater and cultural space. As a Focus release, “The Northman” is expected to be released on video on demand after its third weekend in theaters as part of Universal’s windowing deal with major theater chains.

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