In what seemed like a frankly inevitable outcome, Sony has delayed David Leitch’s Bullet Train one last time, shifting the Brad Pitt-and-friends actioner to essentially where it always should have opened. The film has moved July 29 (after moving from July 15) to August 6, which is the same weekend on which Leitch’s Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw opened to relative success in the summer of 2019. That film opened with $59 million and legged out to $173 million domestic and $759 million worldwide, including $205 million in China, on a $200 million budget. Bullet Train, adapted by Zak Olkewicz from Kōtarō Isaka’s novel, reportedly cost closer to $90 million, so the math is a little different. Regardless, Sony is positioning Bullet Train as the last biggie of summer 2022 and finally giving August something resembling a tentpole.
As regular readers know, there is an innate advantage to being the last biggie of the season, since you get longer-than-normal legs during that gap between the end of the tentpole summer season and whatever the big Fall kick-off movie happens to be. Suicide Squad took advantage of this in 2016, opening with $133 million, dropping 67% in weekend two but still legging out to $325 million as the only big game in town until Sully in early September. Warner Bros. has made an unofficial home out of the post-Labor Day weekend slot, with Sully, It, The Nun and It Chapter Two. They even tried it, bless their hearts, with James Wan’s delightful Malignant last year but had to deal with the second blockbuster weekend of Marvel and Walt Disney’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Big openers on Labor Day are almost unheard of, the earlier record holder was Rob Zombie’s Halloween with $30.5 million back in 2007, and this year is no exception. If Bullet Train clicks on the same weekend where the likes of The Fugitive, Natural Born Killers, The Sixth Sense, Rush Hour 2, Signs, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Guardians of the Galaxy flourished, it’ll have the field to itself until New Line’s Salem’s Lot adaptation on September 9. And since there’s almost nothing of note opening in all of August, not even the equivalent of The Hitman’s Bodyguard (since Sony sent Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson’s The Man from Toronto to Netflix), all Bullet Train must do is deliver the goods to be a leggy “close out the bar” studio programmer hit.
Nobody is expecting grosses on par with Mission: Impossible – Fallout (which thrived alongside Crazy Rich Asians and The Meg) or Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (which hit paydirt when Pixels and Fantastic Four stunk and Man from U.N.C.L.E. flopped alongside the huge but frontloaded and R-rated Straight Outta Compton). But it is nice to have something, anything of note occupying theaters in the fourth month of the summer. That’s not to say the season isn’t still starved for theatrical content, we still have around three relative tentpoles each month (sequels to Doctor Strange, Downton Abbey and Top Gun in May, Jurassic World 3, Lightyear and Elvis in June and Minions 2, Thor 4 and Nope in July), with Bullet Train making ten alongside possible breakouts like The Black Phone, DC League of Super-Pets and Where the Crawdads Sing.
Anyway, this leaves WB’s animated Super-Pets uncontested in late July while giving Bullet Train, co-starring Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Bad Bunny, Zazie Beetz, Logan Lerman, Karen Fukuhara, Masi Oka and Sandra Bullock more breathing room against both Thor: Love & Thunder on July 8 and Jordan Peele’s likely original horror breakout Nope on July 22. I’d argue Bullet Train, along with the already successful The Lost City, are the best shots this year at reminding Hollywood that there is still money to be made in star+concept old-school A-level theatrical programmers. Bullet Train, which I’m hoping will be solid (the first 20 minutes, screened at CinemaCon, were amusing), is a clear “vote with your wallet” offering alongside Sony’s Where the Crawdads Sing on July 15 and Sony’s The Woman King on September 16.