One of the big questions heading into the fall box office is whether it will lead to increased turnout of older moviegoers who have mostly skipped theaters due to COVID concerns and a lack of interest in summer blockbusters. In normal times, Clint Eastwood’s newest film “Cry Macho” would be a surefire pick to lure back that demographic, but the film’s simultaneous release on HBO Max complicates things.
Eastwood’s last film, “The Mule,” opened to $17.5 million two years ago and legged out remarkably well for a domestic theatrical run of $103.8 million. Those legs were thanks in major part to audiences over the age of 50, as “The Mule” became the film of choice for seniors who mostly shunned 2019’s end-of-year blockbusters like “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” and “Jumanji: The Next Level.”
But with “Cry Macho,” Warner Bros. is expecting a lower opening weekend, with projections sitting between $5 million and $10 million. Reviews have been mixed, with 52% on Rotten Tomatoes. But for Eastwood’s loyal fans, critical pans should do little to diminish interest in seeing another film starring the 91-year-old cinematic legend (who also directs). The question is whether those older devotees who have seen Eastwood’s films for decades will opt to watch “Cry Macho” on streaming instead of seeing it in theaters (even if later in the run as they did with “The Mule”).
“This is yet another test of the hybrid model with its own twist,” Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian said. “While the theatrical model is generally better for bigger blockbusters, ‘Cry Macho’ could get a serious boost from HBO Max given that the audience it is aiming for is still showing reluctance in showing up to theaters.”
Warner Bros. has said that so far this year, the theatrical performance of its films has run in tandem with the performance on HBO Max. If a film does good box office, it also pulls in good viewership numbers on streaming. That would mean that an opening closer to $10 million, while diminished compared to “The Mule,” could lead to strong word of mouth that may lead older audiences to discover the film, even if they choose to watch at home.
But even within the 50-plus demo, there are nuances when it comes to Eastwood. Whether he’s starred in his films or simply directed them, Eastwood’s films have overindexed in conservative-leaning red states. Eastwood’s popularity in Republican circles was a factor that drove “American Sniper” to become the highest grossing film of 2014, with eight of the top 10 markets for the film’s wide opening weekend coming from the South and Midwest.
With “Cry Macho,” it will be interesting to see whether those regions once again overindex for this film about an aging former rodeo star (Eastwood) asked by his boss to travel across the Mexican border and retrieve the boss’ estranged teenage son. And box office could get a boost from older audiences in red states who might be less concerned about COVID and less reluctant to return to theaters. Don’t be surprised if the top 10 markets for this film include cities like San Antonio.
Still, many in the industry believe “Cry Macho” won’t be much of a test case. According to one rival distributor, theaters will have to wait at least a few weeks for films like “No Time to Die,” “House of Gucci” and later Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” to prove whether a broader demographic of filmgoers will return to theaters than what was seen this summer.
“Not only does the film have to have strong word of mouth and appeal directly to those older demos, it just has to have theatrical exclusivity,” the executive said. “Once they come to theaters, I think they’ll feel more comfortable with going again and again, but give them a choice between theaters and streaming and I think the majority is going to pick streaming with what’s going on with COVID right now.”