Universal has announced that Marry Me, still slated for theatrical release on February 11, 2022, will become the next big Universal title to go out with a dual release. As was the case with The Boss Baby: Family Business in July and Halloween Kills in October, the rom-com, about a famous musician (Jennifer Lopez) who reacts to a scandalous breakup by impulsively marrying a random concertgoer (math teacher/single dad Owen Wilson), will be available on Peacock concurrently with its global theatrical release. The film, featuring original songs from Lopez and Maluma, was supposed to open this past Valentine’s Day weekend before shifting first to May 14 and then to this coming February.
This is not correlation equals causation. This wasn’t some impulsive decision following the underwhelming $10.5 million debut of Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed West Side Story anymore than Universal sent Halloween Kills to Peacock on a whim after negative festival reviews. I’m guessing the months and months of lousy $4-$6 million opening weekends for adult-skewing studio programmers like Stillwater, Last Night in Soho, King Richard and The Last Duel didn’t help. Moreover, that Halloween Kills still performed to best-case-scenario business ($92 million domestic from a $49 million debut) means that the cannibalization may be limited.
There doesn’t seem to be much self-inflicted damage for films arriving in theaters and on Peacock, Paramount+ and arguably HBO Max concurrently, since the footprint for those streaming platforms is a smaller than the likes of Disney+ and Netflix. Right now Paw Patrol and Clifford can do about as well theatrically as they otherwise would have done even with a dual release. Halloween Kills can still have a better hold from Halloween than did previous “part two” chapters (Halloween II, Rob Zombie’s Halloween II and/or Halloween: Resurrection). That’s partially because audiences are either unaware of the various distribution platforms or would prefer to just pay $10 to see the movie then sign up for another streaming service.
But will that remain the case? Corporate overlords would like those services to become focal points of their respective conglomerates, and Wall Street is on a “streaming >>> everything else” kick. For how long will studios be allowed to treat the streaming release as a “yes, and” feature while prioritizing theatrical when everyone is telling them to goose those subscriber numbers? Will there be interoffice competition in terms of whether a hot new release scores big at the box office or on a streaming platform, especially if (speculation) there are performance-specific bonuses at play? In the long run, the biggest threat to theatrical remains studios willfully undercutting it for the sake of providing a more positive narrative for non-theatrical platforms.
Sadly, Marry Me is exactly the kind of film that might have been a viable commercial option in pre-Covid times. Placing it on Peacock is at-worst can be looked at as a safety net until we find if adults will ever find out that vaccinated, mask-wearing folks (give or take people with specific health conditions) will almost certainly not catch severe Covid at a movie theater. Maybe Universal is concerned that adults won’t be back at the multiplex for non-tentpoles anytime soon. Perhaps they’ve noticed a correlation between Peacock subscribers who binge Yellowstone and like old-school rom-coms (maybe the terrific Girls5Eva was more popular than we thought). It’s probably a little of both.