Even in the best of times, August has long had a reputation for being Hollywood's dumping ground for middling movies.
The late-summer box office usually is dominated by a handful of big-budget franchise titles released earlier in the season. But since the coronavirus pandemic shut down theaters in mid-March, the rule book has been thrown out the window.
The film industry has undergone massive upheaval, ranging from the suspension of production and release plans to the cancellation of major film festivals such as Cannes and South by Southwest. Both Disney's "Mulan" and Warner Bros.' "Tenet" had hoped to lead a charge back to theatrical moviegoing by this point, after studios tore up their release calendars in the spring. But those same studios had to tear them up again as the pandemic worsened in the U.S. over the summer.
Meanwhile, as theaters and drive-ins have been slowly opening for most of the summer, it's been hard to know for sure what makes a film No. 1 by any traditional standards.
As the first -- and so far only -- new title from a major studio to book theatrical engagements in the U.S. since the nationwide shutdown in March, April's "Trolls World Tour" was buoyed by Universal's aggressive marketing campaign for its simultaneous premium video-on-demand launch and presumably dominated the drive-in circuits for many weeks. Yet Universal never released those numbers.
Similarly, Universal specialty division Focus Features booked May's music industry dramedy "The High Note" and June's political satire "Irresistible" into theaters simultaneous with PVOD releases but did not release grosses.
More recently, IFC's thriller "The Rental" reportedly led box office grosses for two weekends and grossed $1.2 million since its July 24 opening. That number is confirmed, because the independent film stalwart has been reporting grosses for its releases throughout the pandemic, including the horror breakouts "The Wretched" and "Relic."
And now this weekend, RLJE Film's controversial "The Tax Collector" boasted that it sat atop the list of top-grossing films. (Its closest competitor is believed to have been a reissue of "The Empire Strikes Back," but Disney does not confirm grosses of the reissues it has in release.)
Directed by David Ayer ("Suicide Squad," "Bright"), the action thriller stars Shia LaBeouf as a trigger-happy, sadistic henchman in a South L.A. drug operation. The film was skewered by critics with an abysmal 16% "rotten" rating on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes but earned a respectable $309,694 in its opening weekend from 129 screens (a mix of drive-in and indoor venues), for a per-screen average of $2,401.
For comparison's sake, the top-grossing movie over the weekend of March 6, before theaters began mass shutdowns, was Disney/Pixar's animated "Onward," which brought in $39 million in 4,310 theaters, or $9,049 per screen. (That take was considered mildly disappointing at the time, and could have been impacted by the growing concerns over coronavirus.) On that weekend, the gross for "Tax Collector" would have placed it at No. 21 on Box Office Mojo's weekend chart.