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‘Space Jam 2’ is a Much Bigger Hit Than the Last Looney Tunes Movie

Did audiences go see ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ for LeBron more than Bugs Bunny and friends?
Space Jam 2 New Legacy
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on July 18th, 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 primarily look at the opening box office attendance numbers for Space Jam: A New Legacy. Also: Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, and Pig.

No, Space Jam 2 did not open bigger than the original. Back in 1996, Space Jam debuted with a gross of just $27.5 million, but that would have equated to about 6.2 million tickets sold. The new sequel, Space Jam: A New Legacy opened over the weekend with a three-day (plus Thursday night) gross of $31.1 million (actual*). But at today’s prices, that’s only about 3.4 million tickets sold**. That’s still pretty impressive, especially considering the new Space Jam was also available day-and-date on HBO Max without additional cost to subscribers. And the movie topped the box office even ahead of Marvel’s Black Widow, which is also available at home yet with an extra cost to Disney+ subscribers.

Space Jam 2 Box Office

Space Jam: A New Legacy did open bigger than the last Looney Tunes movie, however. The 2003 feature Looney Tunes: Back in Action debuted with a three-day attendance of roughly 1.5 million. That’s less than half what Space Jam 2 did in its opening weekend. Can we assume the Looney Tunes themselves aren’t the box office draw and that Michael Jordan and LeBron James were the respective appeals of the first and second Space Jam installments? There’s not enough data to make that claim, especially when there’s not really any box office information for the Looney Tunes compilation films that hit theaters in the 1970s and 1980s save for Bugs Bunny’s 3rd Movie: 1001 Rabbit Tales selling only around 27,000 tickets on a limited amount of screens in its 1982 opening weekend.

LeBron James vs. Looney Tunes

We can compare the opening weekend attendance for the last three Looney Tunes movies to the viewership of Looney Tunes TV shows. Two of them anyway. The Looney Tunes Show, which brought the original Warner Bros. cartoon characters back for an updated series in 2011 on the Cartoon Network, was watched by almost 2.5 million people in its premiere. Over its few years on the air, the show fell in viewership. It finished with just 1 million sets of eyes for its last episode in 2014. The following year, New Looney Tunes premiered on the Cartoon Network with around 1.2 million viewers. The ratings were mostly steady but occasionally dipped as low as 0.5 million. Then it went to Boomerang and audience numbers seem to have ceased being documented. The popularity of those programs is definitely more Back in Action size than Space Jam.

What the Critics and Moviegoers Think of Space Jam 2

The box office attendance for Space Jam 2 is in line with its reception compared to its direct franchise predecessor, as well. The new movie’s reviews (31% on Rotten Tomatoes, 36 on Metacritic) are worse than the already negative Space Jam (44% on Rotten Tomatoes, 59 on Metacritic). But Looney Tunes: Back in Action had relatively negative to mixed reviews and fared a bit better with the aggregate sites (56% on Rotten Tomatoes, 64 on Metacritic). Audience Scores on Rotten Tomatoes, however, favor the Space Jam movies by a lot. Meanwhile, the fans approved of the Space Jam movies more than they did Looney Tunes: Back in Action. According to Cinemascore, first-night audiences polled by the firm gave both the original Space Jam and Space Jam: A New Legacy a grade of A-. They gave Looney Tunes: Back in Action a B+.

Space Jam 2 Box Office vs. Forecast

Despite the mostly negative reviews and unfavorable buzz surrounding the IP exploitation of the movie, the opening for Space Jam 2 exceeded expectations. Last month, Box Office Pro forecast the debut as more like 1.6 million to 3.3 million tickets sold in the first weekend. And even last week, the same site only upped the low end of its forecast range to the equivalent of 2.2 million tickets. The main prediction for the movie was the equivalent of 2.9 million tickets. Other movies that did better than expected over the weekend include The Forever Purge, F9: The Fast Saga, which finally exceeded $150 million domestic gross, and the new documentary Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. It’s hard to tell if the ethics controversy over Roadrunner‘s use of AI-aided narration helped, but its attendance of 217,000 was nearly double the expected 109,000.

The Other New Sequel

Box Office Pro was impressively right on the money for another sequel that opened over the weekend, guessing right that Escape Room: Tournament of Champions would draw a little less than 1 million people*. That’s about half as many people as went to see the original Escape Room two years ago. The new movie’s reviews were also lesser than its predecessor (42% vs. 51% on Rotten Tomatoes, 47 vs. 48 on Metacritic). Finally, one more new movie broke into the box office top ten over the weekend: Michael Sarnoski’s Pig, which has garnered rave reviews, especially for Nicolas Cage’s performance. In fact, it’s his best-reviewed live-action release ever, breaking his previous record with Moonstruck. And at 106,000 tickets sold, it’s his best opening for a live-action starring vehicle since 2014’s Left Behind. Previous to that: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

Outsiders Break Through

Overall, it was a pretty good weekend for moviegoing. No movie in the top ten doing less than 100,000 ticket sales. Sure, the top seven titles are sequels. But the fact that there’s also a documentary and an indie film in the mix feels pretty good to me. Even if Space Jam: A New Legacy‘s popularity goes along with the idea that franchise IPs are all that matter to the industry lately, there’s still room for outsiders. Finally, I have one note about Black Widow following out of the top spot after just one weekend. First of all, that’s just the box office attendance in general right now. Particularly for the movies available in digital form — meaning quickly pirated as well. Second of all, it happens on occasion even with Marvel movies. Before Black Widow, it happened to The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Box Office Chart for July 16-18, 2021

RankMovie TitleWeekend AttendancePer-Screen AttendanceTotal Attendance Studio
1Space Jam: A New Legacy3.4 million8553.4 millionWarner Bros.
2Black Widow2.8 million66014.4 millionDisney
3Escape Room: Tournament of Champions0.96 million3411 millionSony Pictures
4F9: The Fast Saga0.84 million24916.9 millionUniversal Pictures
5The Boss Baby: Family Business0.52 million1504.9 millionUniversal Pictures
6The Forever Purge0.45 million1643.9 millionUniversal Pictures
7A Quiet Place Part II0.24 million12216.9 millionParamount Pictures
8Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain0.22 million2340.2 millionFocus Features
9Cruella0.13 million1089.1 millionDisney
10Pig0.11 million1920.1 millionNeon

*Initially box office grosses are estimated and then are later updated for actual figures.

** Ticket sales and attendance figures are determined with each year’s average ticket prices. Currently, for 2021, that average is $9.16.

All box office gross figures are sourced from Box Office Mojo, The Numbers, and Box Office Pro unless otherwise stated.

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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.