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Can ‘Spiral’ Become the Next COVID-Era Film to Open to $10 Million-Plus?

Summer blockbuster season slowly gets underway as the “Saw” spinoff and “Those Who Wish Me Dead” enter theaters

The summer box office season is slowly getting underway as Lionsgate’s “Spiral” becomes the first contender to take on the slowly recovering theatrical market this weekend.

With a reported $20 million production budget and Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson starring, the spinoff to the “Saw” horror franchise is the perfect kind of low-risk/high-reward film to brave a theater landscape where approximately 35% of cinemas in North America are still closed. With such a low bar to clear to turn a profit, “Spiral” should be on track to easily finish in the green if it meets independent projections of a $11 million-$13 million opening, though a $8 million-$10 million opening would also put in in a solid position to recoup.

Lionsgate could join “Demon Slayer” distributor Funimation as only the second studio aside from Warner Bros. to earn an opening weekend of more than $10 million since the start of the pandemic. Warner’s decision to keep its 2021 slate in place while releasing day-and-date on HBO Max has led its six releases to account for 44% of all domestic box office revenue so far this year as most other studios have waited for more people to get vaccinated before releasing their top films. As the summer rolls on, that market share should even out among other studios.

Lionsgate is also using “Spiral” to resume the “Artists First” strategy that studio heads Joe Drake and Nathan Kahane had put in place prior to the pandemic, billing the mini-major as a place where actors and filmmakers can explore their creative visions. “Spiral” came about through an encounter between Chris Rock and Lionsgate execs, with the comedian expressing his interest in expanding into the horror genre. His pitch for a reimagined “Saw” led the studio to greenlight the spinoff, with the film’s marketing heavily emphasizing the mystery elements of the story along with Rock and Jackson’s performances.

The question is whether audiences aside from hardcore horror buffs will be willing to give a ninth “Saw” film a chance. Beyond opening weekend, the film’s legs will rely on interest in seeing two famous actors not known for horror in unconventional roles, as well as whether a series known for being among the goriest of horror franchises will be what audiences crave after a year of pandemic headlines. Early reviews for the film have been mixed, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a 53% critics score at time of writing.

Set years after the events of the “Saw” series, “Spiral” sees Rock play Ezekiel Banks, a police detective tasked with investigating a series of murders eerily similar to those committed by the Jigsaw Killer through his infamous “games.” Alongside his rookie partner (Max Minghella) and his retired father (Jackson), Banks soon finds himself as the latest cop trapped in a Jigsaw nightmare.

Darren Lynn Bousman directed the film — his fourth in the “Saw” series — from a script by Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger, with Rock sharing story credit.

Also debuting this weekend is Warner Bros.’ “Those Who Wish Me Dead,” the latest film from “Hell or High Water” writer-director Taylor Sheridan. The film stars Angelina Jolie as Hannah, a fire warden who becomes the unexpected protector of a young boy (Finn Little) being hunted by two assassins who killed his father (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult). Determined to flush out their target, the assassins start a wildfire in the surrounding forest, forcing Hannah and the child into the fight of their lives.

Releasing in theaters and on HBO Max, the film is projected for a $4 million-$5 million theatrical opening. Sheridan directed the film and co-wrote it with Michael Koryta and Charles Leavitt. Early reviews have been generally positive with a 72% RT critics score.