Movies · News

Topping the Charts Can’t Protect ‘The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard’ from the Truth

The action-comedy sequel opened just as well as ‘In the Heights’ did, but it looks like the greater success due to the optics of box office reports.
The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard box office
By  · Published on June 21st, 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 The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.

When you’re number one, little else matters. Headlines tout you as a winner, and that’s that. However, that’s a dumb narrative for box office data that considers each weekend a race. For what purpose? Just like with any self-respecting runner, the real race is against oneself, or one’s own previous record, and it’s all about the singular performance and its current circumstances for success. Look at the coverage of In the Heights by most media last week and you’ll see the musical being deemed a disappointment due to its non-first-place status as well as its underperformance compared to expectations. Now look at the box office coverage of The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard by most media this week and see how its chart-topping prominence influences the optics of its opening. The distinction creates a perception that the new movie had a better debut when in reality, they’re about the same.

The opening weekend attendance for In the Heights was roughly 1.26 million, based on average movie ticket prices in North America ($9.16). The first-weekend attendance for The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, calculated from a reported gross of $11.4 million, comes out to 1.24 million. When rounded up to the nearest hundred thousand people, the former sold about 1.3 million tickets while the latter sold about 1.2 million. In the Heights might look like a loser given its budget of $55 million, and its sixth-place ranking in its second weekend (with a 63.4% drop in sales from its first weekend) doesn’t help. But let’s not forget that the musical is also streaming on HBO Max and has likely been viewed by far more than the 2.1 million people who’ve caught the movie on the big screen. What’s The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard‘s excuse? Well, the pandemic still counts, but otherwise?

Let’s look at the movie’s success or lack thereof on its own terms, in a race against itself. The previous showing for the property — in the form of the original action-comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard released in August 2017 — included an opening weekend attendance of about 2.4 million. That first movie’s debut exceeded expectations by a fair amount, and its gross surpassed its budget after just one week in theaters. Naturally, Lionsgate produced a sequel, this one reportedly budgeted as high as $70 million just for production costs. With different timing, the studio might have anticipated greater numbers for the follow-up. As it is, with the context of COVID-19 still keeping a lot of people out of theaters at the moment, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard still performed slightly better at the box office than what was predicted last week. While one month ago, Box Office Pro forecast the sequel to do somewhere in the range of 1.4 million and 2 million, the site lowered its expectation, to the equivalent of 1.1 million tickets, last Thursday, one day after the movie opened.

It should be noted that The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard indeed opened on a Wednesday, which tends to complicate opening weekend box office figures given that the movie had those two earlier days to attract fans who could go to the movies on a weeknight. So, the sequel’s five-day total is worth looking at: an estimated 1.8 million tickets sold from Wednesday through Sunday (we can’t really fairly compare that to In the Heights‘ first five days, but also Warner Bros. didn’t report its daily grosses anyway, so all we know is that on its eighth day — last Friday — the movie had sold about 1.8 million tickets). While The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard topped the box office on most of its days in release so far, on Thursday, its second day in theaters, the action-comedy was still out-performed by another sequel, A Quiet Place Part II, which sold about 168,000 tickets versus The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard‘s 155,000. And that was A Quiet Place Part II‘s twenty-first day of business.

Other reasons for The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard to do worse at the box office than the original movie include its reception. The Hitman’s Bodyguard received negative reviews to the tune of a 43% score on Rotten Tomatoes (on Metacritic it’s a bit more mixed at 47). The sequel was panned even more substantially, resulting in a score as low as 25% (on Metacritic it’s a 32). [See our own Rob Hunter’s review of The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard to find out what’s so unlikeable about it]. Yet the newer movie’s current audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is 79% compared to the original’s 67% (which averages scores from five times as many users given it’s been out a few years). Opening-night audiences polled by Cinemascore, meanwhile, gave the sequel only a so-so B grade compared to the B+ grade awarded to The Hitman’s Bodyguard in 2017.

Quality does matter sometimes, though also it’s unclear how much of a demand there was for a Hitman’s Bodyguard sequel in the first place. The cast seems appealing, but Ryan Reynolds fans might just be holding out for the more interesting solo effort of Free Guy finally arriving in theaters in August, Samuel L. Jackson fans don’t seem to be satisfied with sequels starring the actor lately (see anything non-Marvel: Glass, Shaft, Spiral: From the Book of Saw…), and Salma Hayek is receiving plenty of views on Amazon Prime with Bliss this year at least. While In the Heights, despite its casting controversy, is sure to grow its audience through ongoing streaming access and, later this year, some awards consideration, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is destined to be forgotten after its light theatrical showing and subsequent cable TV deals — the original is currently a TNT/TBS staple, and the sequel will have a similar life.

Speaking of the In the Heights controversy, I wonder if it had any impact on the box office for the new Lin-Manuel Miranda-produced documentary Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It, considering its subject, the Oscar-winning actress Rita Moreno, made a mistake in defending the musical’s problem in recent promotional appearances for her own film. In a limited release, at 227 locations, the acclaimed documentary grossed an estimated $76,000 in its opening weekend, for a per-screen average of just $333. Another nonfiction feature, the similarly well-received Edgar Wright-helmed music doc The Sparks Brothers, averaged just $512 from its 534 screens, resulting in a debut gross of just $273,530. Interestingly enough, while it’s Wright’s lowest opening as a director, he’s seen lower as an executive producer with Attack the Block and Sightseers (which topped out at just $62,000 in its whole US run), albeit with much smaller screen counts for both of those.

Finally, since it’s been a while coming, congratulations to Godzilla vs. Kong for finally crossing the $100 million mark with its twelfth weekend in theaters (and available simultaneously on HBO Max and then VOD the entire time) and coming in thirteenth place this week just behind The Sparks Brothers. Because of this special occasion for the movie that for much of this year was the domestic box office winner (yes, we can consider the year’s box office a race) before A Quiet Place Part II came around and dominated (that movie reached $100 million by its third weekend), I’m including the top thirteen movies below rather than the usual ten. Also congrats to Sony Pictures Classics’ football movie 12 Mighty Orphans, which went wide and entered the top ten in spite of being relatively low on anyone’s radar.

Here are this week’s top thirteen movie releases by estimated ticket sales [with totals in brackets]:

1. The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard – 1.1 million [1.8 million]
2. A Quiet Place Part II – 0.99 million [13.6 million]
3. Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway – 0.66 million [2.2 million]
4. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It – 0.55 million [5.8 million]
5. Cruella – 0.53 million [7 million]
6. In the Heights – 0.46 million [2.1 million]
7. Spirit Untamed – 0.2 million [1.5 million]
8. 12 Mighty Orphans – 0.1 million [0.1 million]
9. The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 – 0.07 million [0.2 million]
10. Wrath of Man – 0.05 million [2.9 million]
11. The Sparks Brothers – 0.0299 million [0.03 million]
12. Queen Bees – 0.0292 [0.1 million]
13. Godzilla vs. Kong – 0.026 million [10.9 million]

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

Related Topics: ,

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.