Can ‘Elvis’ or ‘The Black Phone’ Break Through in This Blockbuster-Heavy Box Office Season?

Baz Luhrmann’s biopic and the latest Blumhouse horror film will bring a small but essential boost to movie theater business

No, Warner Bros.’ “Elvis” and Universal/Blumhouse’s “The Black Phone” won’t light up the box office charts the way “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Jurassic World: Dominion” have, but they will provide the sort of variety that movie theaters need to keep what has been a strong summer going.

As “Elvis” director Baz Luhrmann quipped while promoting his film at CinemaCon, “Man cannot live on Batman alone,” and neither can the box office. During the wildly strong summers of 2018 and 2019, the box office got relatively smaller but essential support from documentaries like “RBG,” horror films like “Hereditary” and “The First Purge,” and music films like “Rocketman.” Such films helped bring a steady stream of moviegoers to theaters in between the big studio tentpoles.

“The Black Phone” is the sort of midsummer, low-budget horror offering theaters usually see midway through the summer, and should find an easy path to box office success. With a reported $18 million budget, this tale of stranger danger starring Ethan Hawke and directed by Scott Derrickson is actually one of the pricier projects from Blumhouse, which is famous in Hollywood for its microbudget strategy.

Still, “The Black Phone” should easily make its money back with opening weekend projections set in the high teens from 3,100 theaters. Critics’ reviews and early social media buzz have both been strong with an 85% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, and with no other major horror films coming out for the next month until the release of fellow Universal title “Nope,” “Black Phone” should have plenty of time to build word-of-mouth and leg out.

“Elvis,” on the other hand, is a much bigger gamble. Projections have the film earning an opening of $28-30 million from 3,900 theaters, which is just a step below the $31 million opening of the Elton John musical biopic “Rocketman” in 2019. But in keeping with Baz Luhrmann’s penchant for spectacle and excess, “Elvis” has more than double the budget of “Rocketman” with a reported price tag of $85 million.

After the April release of “Downton Abbey: A New Era,” “Elvis” is the latest film to try to appeal to older demographics after such titles have almost entirely flopped in the COVID era. The muted run of “Downton Abbey 2” — while well below its 2019 predecessor with $42.5 million domestic and $88 million worldwide — is still one of the more successful titles with a predominantly boomer audience released in the past year.

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Jeremy Fuster

Box Office Reporter • • Twitter: @jeremyfuster