The box office is heading in the right direction. This may have been the best weekend at theaters in almost a year. And initial signs are that even with reduced capacities, reopened New York City theaters responded encouragingly.
With both “Raya and the Last Dragon” (Disney) and “Tom & Jerry” (Warner Bros.) grossed over $6 million (a first since March 13 last year, just before theaters closed), the top 10 grossed over $23 million, with the total take over $24 million. That is the same as December 25-27 (normally a massive weekend). This was also the best year-to-year performance since March, with business down “only” 76 percent compared to most weeks closer to 90 percent.
Fact is: this is a low bar to exceed. Why? With the second week of Warners’ animation franchise reboot, and especially with the release of the first Disney animated film in theaters in over a year, along with the New York openings, a better performance seemed possible.
Most significant is the anemic showing of “Raya.” The opening was hurt by third-largest exhibitor Cinemark and a handful of other players not showing it based on film rental terms. In most of the country, the film was still available, and where it wasn’t, it was an inconvenience for potential ticket buyers. That means that a 20 percent loss gross is likely, with otherwise a take of around $11 million. But that still would have been more than 20 percent less than “Tom & Jerry” last weekend.
Credit Warner Bros., which like Universal is aggressive with its theater/home platform strategy, with a smart move. When “Raya” finally settled on March 5 as its opening date, Warners, which had earlier moved up “Tom & Jerry” to this weekend from April, jumped into the previous week.
Coming out after “Tom and Jerry,” as well as the loss of some important theaters, are the topline reasons for the “Raya” shortfall. But perhaps more is in play. Though live-action/animated hybrid “Tom & Jerry” should have been secondary to a fresh title from the studio who regards animation as its birthright, the reality is that as a brand it clicked immediately with family audiences. “Raya” is an unknown, a “serious,” not immediately relatable fantasy tale.
Then there’s the question of home availability. In this early era of day-and-date play, it’s hard to be certain. “Tom & Jerry” in theaters competed with HBO Max with no extra charge for subscribers. For the most part, signing up for a month on the platform would cost less than two or three admissions in theaters. But in order to see “Raya” viewers would have to not only subscribe to Disney+, but cough up an additional $29.99.
Theaters might seem a more attractive alternative. But consumers are voting with their purchases. Less than three months ago Disney+ subscribers were able to see “Soul” for no extra charge when no theaters were available. “Mulan,” which had a similar initial PVOD cost, before too long was available at no premium (“Raya” reportedly has a June 4 date for the same on the platform). So perhaps their subscribers are resisting paying at theaters.
The likelihood though is that had the dates been reversed and missing theaters booked, chances are “Raya” would have opened close to the same gross as “Tom & Jerry.” Still, they have the far more expensive title as well as higher expectations, so that would have been disappointing. Without access to data on the PVOD take, we have little basis to project its ultimate financial fate. It opened in 32 other territories with $17.6 million, coming in at a disappointing #3 in China (similar to other recent studio results), but #1 in Russia, Australia, Spain, and most other locations (the top four western European countries open in April or later).
The prognosis for “Chaos Walking” (Lionsgate) is grim. One of the company’s most expensive productions (a reported $100 million), and access to prime IMAX screens, the dystopian science fiction film managed under $4 million for the weekend to place #3.
“Boogie” (Focus) the third new wide opener, in 1,252 theaters managed $1.2 million, good enough for #4. The directorial debut for “Fresh Off the Boat” creator Eddie Huang, it was a perfect film for the New York market. The story of a Queens Asian-American basketball talent finding conflict between his dreams and parental aspirations, it had grosses over $5,000 in at least five of the city’s theaters, along with two in suburban New Jersey. These seven were among the ten best nationwide, and either first or second best overall. (Three northern California drive-ins completed the list).
The holdovers despite the addition of New York were on average down a bit more than usual. Once again, a Warner Bros. title, similar to every one since they started playing HBO Max, dropped over 50 percent the second weekend, higher than normal.
Among the more limited or awards titles, “Nomadland” (Searchlight), though unreported, appears to have grossed around $200,000. That’s off 63 percent, not helped by losing half of last week’s 1,200 theaters. It is showing on Hulu as well. “Minari” (A24), also on PVOD, managed an estimated $90,000 on 120. “The Mauritanian” (STX) grossed $85,000 on 252 along with PVOD.
Whatever momentum this week sparked will be hard short term to maintain. Next week sees no new wide release, and it could be April before we see any openings this “good.” But multiple signs last week suggest studios are gearing up for significant improvement starting in May. No guarantees, but the optimists can take some heart from these results.
The Top 10
1. Raya and the Last Dragon (Disney) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 75; Est. budget: $ (unknown); also available on Premium VOD
$8,600,000 in 2,045 theaters; PTA: $4,205; Cumulative: $8,600,000
2. Tom & Jerry (Warner Bros.) Week 2; Last weekend #1; Also available on HBO Max
$6,600,000 (-52%) in 2,563 theaters (+88); PTA: $2,575; Cumulative: $23,000,000
3. Chaos Walking (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 40; Est. budget: $100 million
$3,825,000 in 1,980 theaters; PTA: $1,932; Cumulative: $3,825,000
4. Boogie (Focus) NEW – Cinemascore: C+; Metacritic: 57
$1,200,000 in 1,252 theaters; PTA: $958; Cumulative: $1,200,000
5. The Croods: A New Age (Universal) Week 15; Last weekend #2; also available on VOD
$780,000 (-38%) in 1,604 theaters (-308); PTA: $486; Cumulative: $53,610,000
6. The Little Things (Warner Bros.) Week 6; Last weekend #3
$550,000 (-41%) in 1,448 theaters (-405); PTA: $380; Cumulative: $13,700,000
7. Wonder Woman 1984 (Warner Bros.) Week 11; Last weekend #4; also available on Premium VOD
$511,000 (-28%) in 1,217 theaters (-317); PTA: $420; Cumulative: $44,400,000
8. The Marksman (Open Road) Week 8; Last weekend #5
$500,000 (-29%) in 1,050 theaters (-409); PTA: $476; Cumulative: $13,003,000
9. Judah and the Black Messiah (Warner Bros.) Week 4; Last weekend #7; also available on HBO Max
$282,000 (-44%) in 984 theaters (-366); PTA: $564; Cumulative: $4,500,000
10. Monster Hunter (Sony) Week 12; Last weekend #8; also available on Video on Demand
$260,000 (-43%) in 1074 theaters (-166); PTA: $; Cumulative: $14,397,000