The weekend box office is dropping in the face of coronavirus. People did show up as theaters remain open, with AMC and other chains reducing auditorium capacity to 50 percent, but there were plenty of available seats Friday night.
Friday gross estimates show that though the weekend looks weak, theaters are far from deserted. Total gross might be around $20 million, weak for a Friday, but with the blame going more to the films in play than audience resistance.
New films report preview numbers in their Friday grosses, so they may not wind up in the same order in the final weekend totals. So far, the faith-based biopic “I Still Believe” (Lionsgate) is initially #1, with around $4 million. That’s just ahead of Vin Diesel vehicle “Bloodshot” (Sony), with about $3.8 million. The second Friday for Pixar’s disappointing “Onward” (Disney) is around $3.2 million. The delayed Blumhouse thriller “The Hunt” (Universal) lags in fourth with close to $2.2 million.
Even with kids sent home from school, “Onward” is showing underwhelming numbers. A 50 percent second-weekend drop — high for Pixar and other top animated releases — would have placed it around $19 million for the weekend. With a boost from weekend matinees, it could get to $15 million and a number-one ranking. It might come in 25% below predictions, possibly due to ticket-buyer trepidation.
Coming in a close second is “I Still Believe,” assuming its initial numbers weren’t overly inflated by advance shows and first-day group sales. If it follows the daily trajectory of its directors’ 2018 sleeper hit “I Can Only Imagine” (which opened to $17 million after a $6.2 million Friday), it should get to around $12 million. That’s within the range of tracking projections. It landed an A Cinemascore, the only one among the three new films. (“Imagine” scored A+.)
“Bloodshot” should score $10 million-$11 million. Hardly a strong haul, but close to predictions. “The Hunt” will be a sad $5 million-$6 million, but that’s not much below its low expectations.
It will take a full weekend of grosses to gauge audience resistance to theaters, but for now it appears to have decreased box office by less than 20 percent. Of course, circumstances change by the hour and among stocking up on provisions might be a bigger priority. But with no sports on TV, some people already not going to work, and the ability to separate oneself from others at super-sanitized theaters, perhaps enough people will venture out to keep the totals from disaster level.
The biggest impact seems to be among films with older audiences. “Emma” (Focus) may be dropping by more than two-thirds from last week, even with some additional theaters. The same company’s “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” with recent Sundance and Berlin acclaim, the best reviews of any 2020 film and top New York/Los Angeles theaters, had a very weak opening per initial reports. With some New York City theaters already closing (the IFC Center as of Saturday, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Jacob Burns in Westchester County, the Alamo Drafthouse Brooklyn among others), this could be the start of a domino effect for arthouses reliant on older customers. .
Still, if theaters do remain open, the prospect is grim. All five releases slated for the next three weekends, including the highly anticipated “Mulan” (Disney) and “A Quiet Place Part II” (Paramount) have been delayed, leaving exhibitors with less reason to keep open.