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‘Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard’ Hits Theaters as ‘In the Heights’ Faces Box Office Test

Post-pandemic box office gets its first comedy, while Jon M. Chu’s musical looks to capitalize on strong audience buzz before ”F9“ arrives

This weekend’s box office is expected to be a quiet one, but only because the industry is settling back into the familiar trend of most studios steering clear of releasing films just ahead of a big blockbuster. With Universal’s “F9” coming next week, Lionsgate’s action-comedy “The Hitman’s Bodyguard’s Wife” will be the only new wide release as it opens on Wednesday.

The sequel to the 2017 film starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson will open in 2,940 theaters on Wednesday and expand to 3,300 theaters on Friday. The film is projected for a five-day opening of $14-16 million against a production budget of $50 million. Reviews for the film have been poor with a 27% Rotten Tomatoes score.

By comparison, the original “Hitman’s Bodyguard” opened in August 2017 to $21 million domestically against a $69 million budget but turned a modest profit with a final total of $75 million domestic and $176 million worldwide.

But modest profits are the best that most comedies have been able to provide for their studios, regardless of critical or audience reception. According to box office data site The Numbers, annual domestic grosses for comedy films have not surpassed $1 billion since 2016, with only a precious few titles with tight budgets like “Girls Trip” becoming full-fledged hits. The overall number of comedies released by studios has decreased by 50% from 2015 to 2019. “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” will be the first wide-release comedy to brave the post-COVID market, so the industry will see if the downward trend will continue.

Meanwhile, analysts and execs will be watching closely to see how last week’s releases, Warner Bros.’ “In the Heights” and Sony’s “Peter Rabbit 2,” will perform this weekend. During a normal market, such films would serve as counterprogramming to “F9” and other traditional summer blockbusters hitting theaters in the coming weeks.

Now, after both films opened to less than $12 million last weekend, they will try to continue building post-release buzz before “F9” takes over the box office. While “In the Heights” has faced criticism for its lack of Afro-Latinos in the main cast, it has enjoyed a 96% critics and audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as overwhelmingly positive reception in other audience polls. This weekend will be a test of whether that strong buzz will bring out casual moviegoers and older audiences that generally support musicals but so far have been more reluctant to return to theaters over COVID-19 concerns.

It will also test whether the film’s theatrical legs will be hampered by its availability on HBO Max, which hasn’t happened so far; Warner Bros. execs say that viewership for the movie on the streaming service has also been very low. According to metrics from third-party streaming data company Samba TV, which measures viewership on Smart TVs, only 693,000 households watched “In the Heights” last weekend compared to 3.8 million for the opening weekend of fellow Warner release “Mortal Kombat.”

“Peter Rabbit 2” has also earned solid audience reception among families and is now trying to stretch out to a $45 million-plus theatrical run. Doing so would put it on the same level as fellow live-action/animated hybrid “Tom & Jerry,” which opened to $14 million this spring and closed this past weekend with a $46 million domestic total. The good news is that there’s little upcoming competition for families, as Disney is releasing the Pixar film “Luca” this weekend as a Disney+ streaming exclusive, while Universal/DreamWorks’ “The Boss Baby 2” will be a hybrid release in theaters and on Peacock.