The 2021 Box Office Post-Mortem: What’s Really to Blame for the Bombs?


While everyone has been focused on the incredible box office performance of the latest Spider-Man sequel, we have to admit that a lot of movies and franchises put out some real flops in 2021. Studios executives and marketing departments like to blame their box office bombs on the waning pandemic, and while it is true that many cinemagoers were frozen by the fear porn put out every minute by the likes of CNN, MSNBC, and Rolling Stone, quite a few of these flops can’t use that excuse.


I’m looking at you Matrix Resurrections.


It probably didn’t help the latest Matrix sequel that it was released day and date in both cinemas and on HBO Max, but when you compare it to the other Matrix films and adjust for inflation, this thing was a flop in any meta timeline. Let’s face it, this movie was terrible, and a mere shadow of its former glory, especially with the abysmal box office, which calls into question why Warner Bros. claims they hope to keep Lana Wachowski on their franchise, particularly after so many of their other franchises released day and date in 2021, such as Looney Tunes, Mortal Kombat, and the Conjuring ended up trouncing Matrix Resurrection‘s numbers.



Smaller films like King Richard, The Little Things, Malignant, and Cry Macho struggled at the box office as well.  It’s unusual for guys like Denzel Washington, Clint Eastwood, and Will Smith to do as poorly as they did with those movies.  The Saints of Newark also totally underperformed, but rather than pandemic-itis, that movie was just a very, very poor prequel to hit series The Sopranos. But although the movie just sucked, it probably got plenty of people to go watch the original series on HBO, so the studio probably didn’t mind. Another cost factor for the studios is the fact that they had to pay out any of their performers that had not originally agreed to same day and date streaming releases in their contracts, so that cost still remains an unknown factor, but it won’t happen this year.


Further up the charts is another surprise flop, The Suicide Squad, from James Gunn. The sequel to 2016’s Suicide Squad only brought in around $167 million globally, and just under $56 million domestic. While those numbers might not be considered a “flop” by some, it’s less than a fifth of what the original did back 2016, and this was by far a better film. Could it have been suppressed by the day and date streaming release strategy? Moviegoers stayed home because of the pandemic? Or could people be avoiding James Gunn movies after all his gross pedophile jokes? Maybe a combination of all three, it’s hard to say, but the movie severely underperformed.



Perhaps the most shocking flop of 2021 is Steven Spielberg‘s musical West Side Story which pulled in about $35 million domestically and only $25 million overseas. When you calculate that with a $100 million production budget and an untold amount on marketing, this is a major flop. The director does have a handful of flops in his career, notably the BFG and Amistad, some very solid movies. For this flop, Spielberg didn’t help his earnings by deciding not to include subtitles during the Spanish speaking portions of the film. Over 2 billion people speak English making it the most prominently spoken language the planet. There also wasn’t a lot of excitement for this remake, and the lead actress has made several controversial comments in the press and on her social media, and the lead actor had been accused of sexual assault. So going into the season, West Side Story had a lot going against it other than just the pandemic. At least it beat In the Heights, which barely made $55m globally. We shouldn’t even mention Dear Evan Hansen, which couldn’t even shake $20m globally. Musicals overall are generally a tough sell to mainstream audiences.


Another noteworthy director also had a notable disappointment in 2021. Nightmare Alley ranks as one of the worst performing films of Guillermo del Toro‘s career, only pulling in around $14.5 million dollars globally. Other notable director flops include Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho and Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch.


I’m not sure how much of an impact the day and date streaming, if at all, if the audience doesn’t see the movie as an “event” . For instance Godzilla versus Kong, or Dune. Those are event movies, the kinds of movies that people insist on seeing in the cinema on the big screen. A sequel to another bad D-listers superhero flick directed by James Gunn is probably only going to inspire a few people to watch from the couch. 


And obviously, the entire point of doing a same-day streaming release is to bump up those subscription numbers. 



When you look at the the HBO Max / HBO subs in 2021, HBO Max had 61 million at the beginning of the year which increased to 73.8 million at the end of the year. That’s a 20% increase. When you compare that to another streaming platform like Disney+ they ended up with 118 million going into 2022. And if you include Disney’s Hulu and ESPN bundle numbers, that subscriber base increases to 179 million.


And of course the ‘Goliath’ in the streaming wars is still Netflix, even though they’ve seen a severe slow down and subscribers. While they still  currently stand at around 220 million subscribers, their stocks have been slipping, along with subscribers.


These companies are publicly traded companies, and need to continue to have strong subscriber numbers, to be able to show growth, and looking at the horizon there doesn’t seem to be any other avenue for them to grow much more. When was the last time there was a thirty-dollar ‘premier access’ release on Disney+. Clearly that strategy wasn’t working.  Not to diminish the amount of profits and revenues that they’re earning even if things don’t increase all that much going into the rest of the year. What they need to do is prevent attrition, because subscriber churn is a real thing. 


So was it the pandemic? Day and date release strategies? Weak marketing? Behind the scenes controversies? Or just poor quality or unexciting films? These are all important factors to consider.


Did I miss anything? Are there any films coming out this year that you think we’re going to flop? Sound off in the comments below


Numbers via Box Office Mojo

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Jamison Ashley

Comic geek, movie nerd, father, and husband - but not necessarily in that order. Former captain of this ship o' fools secretly training everyone's computers and snarkphone spell-checkers to misspell 'supposebly.'