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‘Free Guy’ Continues to Have the High Score at the Box Office

‘Paw Patrol’ is on a roll, but other new movies were largely ignored.
Free Guy Reynolds
Twentieth Century Studios
By  · Published on August 23rd, 2021

Welcome to our weekly box office report, which we do a little differently. Rather than focusing on the money, FSR senior editor Christopher Campbell is more interested in the estimated attendance — or number of tickets sold. Because the value of money changes over the years, but the value of actual moviegoers remains the same. This week, we look at the opening box office attendance numbers for PAW Patrol: The Movie, Reminiscence, The Night House, and The Protégé.

My kids were given a choice of two new releases to watch this weekend: PAW Patrol: The Movie or The Loud House Movie. Both are based on Nickelodeon cartoons. The former was available simultaneously in theaters and streaming on Paramount+; the former was exclusive to Netflix. My kids picked the latter animated feature because the older sibling has mostly outgrown the former’s franchise. If the movie had come out four years ago, he’d have been all over it, but PAW Patrol has a pretty limited age range for its fandom. Kids within that range, however, are obsessed.

It’s also a very young age group, and their parents would rather just keep them at home. Four-year-olds don’t understand movie release dates. There’s no reason to rush them to a new PAW Patrol feature outside the home. There’s so much PAW Patrol content available on television they don’t even know they’ve already seen. So even parents who don’t subscribe to Paramount+ have no great reason to bring the little ones to see the movie on the big screen. Add to the reality that toddlers are most likely to transmit viruses in a cinema, and no thanks!

PAW Patrol: The Movie Box Office

And yet PAW Patrol: The Movie grossed $13 million (estimated*), which could be equated to roughly 1.4 million tickets sold* at the box office. Many more if you consider the fact that the audience was made up mostly of children. Their tickets cost less and therefore more of them are needed to add up to the gross box office amount. Either way, the movie had a bigger debut crowd than this summer’s family film sequel Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway as well as In the Heights, Respect, and the latest parts of the Saw, The Purge, Escape Room, and Don’t Breathe horror franchises.

PAW Patrol: The Movie did land slightly below expectations, however. The amount forecast by Box Office Pro last week would have come out to around 1.5 million tickets. But the reality did fall within the site’s range of expectations (1.1 million to 1.6 million) at least. And it’s above the entire range (0.8 million to 1.3 million) that Box Office Pro predicted one month ago. With favorable reviews (84% at Rotten Tomatoes) and an A- grade from moviegoers via Cinemascore polling, PAW Patrol is on a roll, and it would have done even better had it not also been streaming.

Animated Movies Based on Nickelodeon Cartoons by Box Office Attendance

RankMovie TitleOpening Weekend AttendanceTotal Domestic Attendance
1The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015)6.6 million19.3 million
2The Rugrats Movie (1998)5.8 million21.4 million
3The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004)5.2 million13.8 million
4Rugrats in Paris: The Movie (2000)4.2 million14.2 million
5Rugrats Go Wild (2003)1.92 million6.5 million
6PAW Patrol: The Movie (2021)1.4 million1.4 million
7The Wild Thornberrys Movie (2002)1.04 million6.9 million
8Hey Arnold!: The Movie (2002)0.98 million2.4 million
9The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run (2020)0.09 million0.5 million

The Protégé, The Night House, and Reminiscence Box Office

The other three new wide releases landed in succession in the back half of the top ten. The respective debut grosses for The Protégé, The Night House, and Reminiscence are $2.94 million, $2.87 million, and $2 million (all estimated*). Respective attendance, therefore, was around: 320,000; 313,000; and 218,000. Altogether they barely add up to the crowd for PAW Patrol: The Movie. Only The Protégé exceeded its expectations forecast last week, though last month Box Office Pro predicted it to make much more.

Reminiscence is the biggest box office disappointment among the three, given its expectations. Once forecast to sell as many as 1.5 million tickets, last week’s figure equated to about 513,000, and it still failed to reach that number. Also given its reported budget ($68 million). But Reminiscence, a sci-fi noir starring Hugh Jackman and written and directed by Lisa Joy (a member of the Nolan family), was also available on HBO Max. And it received abysmal reviews (38% on Rotten Tomatoes) and an unfortunate Cinemascore grade: C+.

Both The Protégé and The Night House ought to have performed better, though. The former, a new hitman actioner from Martin Campbell, received relatively positive reviews (62% on Rotten Tomatoes) and the best Cinemascore grade of the trio (B). It’s no wonder it topped the other two, yet it could have been even more successful. As is, it’s Campbell’s worst debut ever. The Night House, a ghost-centric thriller starring Rebecca Hall, did even better with critics (85% on Rotten Tomatoes). Unfortunately, it did the worst of the bunch with moviegoers (C- grade via Cinemascore).

Martin Campbell Movies by Box Office Attendance

RankMovie TitleOpening Weekend AttendanceTotal Domestic Attendance
1Green Lantern (2011)6.7 million14.7 million
2Casino Royale (2006)6.2 million25.6 million
3GoldenEye (1995)6.02 million24.5 million
4The Mask of Zorro (1998)4.8 million20.1 million
5Vertical Limit (2000)2.9 million12.8 million
6The Legend of Zorro (2005)2.5 million7.2 million
7Edge of Darkness (2010)2.2 million5.5 million
8No Escape (1994)1.9 million6.5 million
9The Foreigner (2017)1.5 million3.8 million
10Criminal Law (1988)0.42 million1.6 million
11Defenseless (1991)0.38 million1.5 million
12Beyond Borders (2003)0.34 million0.7 million
13The Protege (2021)0.32 million0.32 million

Limited New Releases

Two more new movies opened in theaters over the weekend, in limited release. Sean Penn’s Flag Day received negative reviews (42% on Rotten Tomatoes) yet managed the fifth-best per-screen average (185) overall. And the second-best among indies in limited release (just behind the documentary The Lost Leonardo, which did 195 average attendance). Demonic, a horror movie from Neill Blomkamp (District 9) with even worse reviews (15% on Rotten Tomatoes), opened on eighty-five screens and had one of the worst per-screen averages of the weekend: 47 tickets.

Free Guy Gets Another Play as the Box Office Champ

I don’t normally highlight second-weekend box office, but the continued success of Free Guy is worth noting. The “original” action fantasy topped the chart again. And it exceeded expectations again. This weekend, the movie sold around 2.1 million tickets. That’s only a 33% drop in attendance from its opening weekend, which is the best hold for a movie debuting as high as it did in the past year. The latest attendance estimate is higher than Box Office Pro forecast last week (1.7 million). As a result, its total gross/attendance so far is above what the site predicted it’d be by this date. It certainly helps that Free Guy is not streaming or (legally) available digitally yet.

Box Office Attendance for August 20 - August 22, 2021

RankMovie TitleWeekend AttendancePer-Screen Average AttendanceTotal Domestic AttendanceStudio
1Free Guy2.1 million4926.4 million20th Century Studios
2PAW Patrol: The Movie1.4 million4461.4 millionParamount Pictures
3Jungle Cruise0.68 million19010.1 millionWalt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
4Don't Breathe 20.55 million1832.1 millionScreen Gems
5Respect0.42 million1301.6 millionMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
6The Suicide Squad0.37 million1275.4 millionWarner Bros.
7The Protégé0.32 million1240.32 millionLionsgate
8The Night House0.31 million1400.31 millionSearchlight Pictures
9Reminiscence0.22 million670.22 millionWarner Bros.
10Black Widow0.13 million9419.7 millionWalt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.