After the company’s 2022 slate with mostly day-and-date releases, the sequel’s success can impact the studio’s next moves as an independent
Lionsgate had a quiet year at the box office. That’s about to change this weekend with the release of “John Wick: Chapter 4,” which is pacing to score the strongest opening weekend for the Keanu Reeves-Chad Stahelski action franchise and one of the strongest launches theaters have seen so far this year.
In many ways, the success of “John Wick” will be a test of Lionsgate’s upcoming slate of franchise sequels and an indicator of its future as an independent studio.
“John Wick 4” has a strong shot of passing the $171 million domestic/$327 million global total of “John Wick 3.” If it does, it will become Lionsgate’s highest grossing film since the “Hunger Games” series ended in 2015. Later this year, Lionsgate will bring back “Hunger Games” with the prequel, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” with sequels to “The Expendables” and “Saw” also set for release.
In between those tentpoles, Lionsgate is hoping to build out its box office fortunes with films like the Adele Lim comedy “Joy Ride,” an adaptation of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” and the “Wonder” spinoff, “White Bird.” It’s a rather balanced slate of tentpoles — some white-hot and some that need work to revive — and smaller films looking to attract certain audience subsets. If it works, Lionsgate may be back in the trade headlines for its theatrical success rather than just the ongoing speculation of whether it will be the next domino to fall in Hollywood’s ongoing consolidation.
The studio is projecting an opening weekend for “Wick 4” of at least $65 million, beating the previous franchise opening record of $56.8 million set by “Wick 3” in May 2019. Rival distributors think the film could go even higher at $70 million-plus. Either result would make “Wick 4” the second-highest opening weekend of 2023 behind only “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.”
There’s a lot of optimism among analysts and theater owners for “John Wick 4,” and it’s not hard to see why. Critics have praised the film as a visual feast with Reeves playing the titular assassin in a series of wildly creative set pieces. Currently, the film has a 93% Rotten Tomatoes score, matching “M3GAN” for the strongest RT score of any major film release so far this year.
The only possible hurdle facing “John Wick 4” may be its runtime. At 169 minutes, it’s more than an hour longer than the first “John Wick” released back in 2014. The one common criticism of the film is that it doesn’t entirely justify that extended length.
But as films like “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” have shown, runtime can transform from a flaw to a strength of a blockbuster if it weaves a world that audiences want to spend well over two hours immersed in. The “Wick” series has spent the past near-decade building an underground world of assassins for the audience, and is planning to expand it beyond Reeves with the upcoming spinoff “Ballerina” starring Ana De Armas.
The success of the “Wick” sequels shows that it has built a fan base that’s along for the ride as Stahelski dives deeper into this society of murderers, and reviews say that this new installment pushes that world into new territory both narratively and stylistically. If audiences agree, we could see “Wick 4” benefit from the same brand of buzz that buoyed “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once” last year: a film bringing something truly unique that demands to be seen on the big screen.
For Lionsgate, it could be the start of a very fruitful box office year, hopes for which have already lifted its stock price. Last year, the vast majority of films released by the studio were day-and-date releases, hitting theaters and digital on-demand simultaneously.
While studio insiders say that they have been satisfied by the VOD and other ancillary revenue produced by those films, the last few months have seen them steadily build up their slate of releases with a proper theatrical window. Earlier this month, Lionsgate’s partnership with the faith-based studio Kingdom Story Company reached a new box office high with “Jesus Revolution,” which has grossed $45.5 million against a $15 million budget.
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