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With Attendance at a 40-Year Low, This Is a Box-Office Weekend When No One Wins

"I Still Believe" is the top opener of a dire weekend, and with no new movies scheduled for three weeks, the worst is yet to come.

I still believe

“I Still Believe” stars KJ Apa and Britt Robertson.

This was a disastrous weekend at the movies. It’s no time to joke, but if you wanted to leave home and avoid crowds, theaters were one of the safest places to be.

In unadjusted terms, the initial estimate of around $54 million for the three days makes it the worst weekend for ticket sales in 40 years, perhaps ever. (1980 is when exact record-taking began.) We’ll need to see full Sunday numbers to confirm, but the best guess is this weekend was 35 to 40 percent below expectations. 

Our pre-weekend assessment, which included a regular drop for “Onward” (Disney) and a very optimistic guess for Lionsgate’s faith-based opener “I Still Believe,” figured an overall total of $85 million-$90 million. Beyond the pandemic, the movies were never promising: Distributors avoided this weekend with then-planned releases of “A Quiet Place Part II” and “Mulan” over the next two weeks. And, with “Onward” already opening at record lows for a Pixar film, the die was cast.

ONWARD - Visual development art by Kyle Macnaughton,. © 2019 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

“Onward”

Disney/Pixar

The sub-$40 million opening of “Onward” (about $5 million-$10 million less than expected) suggested families were already wary, perhaps even more so since a Pixar opening suggested a packed theater.

The out of normal practice non-prime opening date, very low end reviews for one of their films, and an A- Cinemascore (still good but not top end) added to the lower gross with that already likely to have dragged it down its second stanza. That said, $18-19 million looked like a reasonable better. Figure that this is a case where as much as 50% of the gross was lost.

In estimates, “Onward” is still headed for #1. We suggested “I Still Believe” might give it a run and it did, though hardly with the anticipated gross. This biopic about a country singer and his bond with his cancer-stricken wife comes from the directors of 2018 sleeper success “I Can Only Imagine.” The target audience is loyal, easy to market, and benefits from group sales and special showings. These included unusual IMAX ones last Wednesday, in addition to previews, boosting its numbers.

At this writing, it looks to be within $1 million of “Onward.” It received an A Cinemascore, but it grossed $3 million on Saturday; under normal circumstances, that might have been $4 million. It’s also possible that its core demographic — located away from urban centers, they may also prefer media that downplays the threat — might be among those Americans less likely to take immediate protective steps. Ultimately, they were loyal to the brand.

“Bloodshot”

SPE/Columbia Pictures

The Vin Diesel-starring revenge/science fiction thriller “Bloodshot” wasn’t expect to do much more than $12 million at most, so the damage to its prospects might have been under 25%. Still, it’s a bad result for the $45 million-budget title. Internationally, it earned $13 million; multiple territories are shut down.

Despite its weak $5.3 million haul, it’s a good thing Blumhouse Production’s “The Hunt” (Universal) opened this weekend. Already twice delayed (the second time due to thematic discomfort in the face of mass shootings), any further delay might have doomed it altogether. It received mediocre reviews (though better than the other two new releases), and the controversy over its murky political message took its toll. It is another example of Blumhouse taking chances, which is good. They don’t all work.

Another Blumhouse film, the far more successful “The Invisible Man” (Universal) fell 60 percent. A 40-45 percent drop would have been more likely. It at least got out early enough, and its $64 million so far makes it already a low-budget success.

Ben Affleck in “The Way Back” (Warner Bros.) dropped 70 percent in its second weekend. Figure it would have been 50% from its weak opening otherwise. The other late-run holdovers all likewise had bigger drops than normal.

However, for “Emma” (Focus) the drop is brutal. It fell 71 percent after looking as if it could sustain slow expansion and reach $20 million or more off a very good platform start. At less than $1.4 million after $4.8 million last weekend, the reason is obvious. Its more-vulnerable older audience is going out far less, and this film — like the overall specialized world — is suffering far worse for it.

To be clear: Even if the virus didn’t exist, this was never going to be a great box-office weekend. However, because studios have pulled all new titles for the next three weeks, what remains isn’t enough to keep theaters afloat. (Universal’s “Trolls World Tour” is currently scheduled for April 10, a date it nabbed when MGM’s “No Time To Die” became the first to leave.) Keeping theaters open might not only be irresponsible, but also impossible if if too few people show up to cover costs. As of now, no circuit has announced its closing — but the dominoes are falling.

The Top Ten

1. Onward (Disney) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$10,532,000 (-73%) in 4,310 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,444; Cumulative: $60,291,000

2. I Still Believe (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 37; est. budget: $12 million

$9,500,000 in 3,250 theaters; PTA: $2,923; Cumulative: $9,500,000

3. Bloodshot (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 44; est. budget: $45 million

$9,300,000 in 2,861 theaters; PTA: $3,251; Cumulative: $9,300,000

4. Invisible Man (Universal) Week 3; Last weekend #2

$6,000,000 (-60%) in 3,636 theaters (+26); PTA: $1,650; Cumulative: $64,420,000

5. The Hunt (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: C; Metacritic: 50; est. budget $15 million

$5,320,000 in 3,028 theaters; PTA: $1,757; Cumulative: $5,320,000

6. Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount) Week 5; Last weekend #4

$2,575,000 (-67%) in 3,041 theaters (-67%); PTA: $847; Cumulative: $145,806,000

7. The Way Back (Warner Bros.) Week 2; Last weekend #3

$2,415,000 (-70) in 2,718 theaters (no change); PTA: $889; Cumulative: $13,436,000

8. Call of the Wild (Disney) Week 4; Last weekend #5

$2,241,000 (-67%) in 3,201 theaters (-713); PTA: $700; Cumulative: $62,107,000

9. Emma. (Focus) Week 3; Last weekend #6

$1,370,000 (-71%) in 1,732 theaters (+67); PTA: $791; Cumulative: $10,006,000

10. Bad Boys for Life (Sony) Week 9; Last weekend #7

$1,100,000 (-64%) in 1,451 theaters (-708); PTA: $758; Cumulative: $204,292,000

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