It looks good for the box office at home.
Ticket sales have accelerated in recent months, a sign that moviegoers are ready to return to theaters. Encouraged by the trend, some studios have postponed the release dates.
Ticket sales over the weekend hit an estimated $ 25 million. That would be the best performance since the pandemic that forced theaters to close about a year ago if those numbers hold true when the final balance comes in late Monday.
The decline in sales is due to the US continuing robust vaccine rollout and states beginning to ease restrictions on indoor movie theaters. Last Friday, New York cinemas reopened for the first time in almost a year. While the shelf theaters domestically remain closed, AMC locations and a number of independent cinemas have been eagerly reopening.
According to Comscore, 45% of all North American theaters were open over the weekend, up from 42% the previous weekend.
“The way back will take time,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “We didn’t come here overnight and we won’t see the industry recover in a single weekend, but the building blocks for the theater’s recovery are being placed one at a time.”
“Raya and the Last Dragon,” Disney’s first domestic theatrical release since March 2020, had a soft opening and grossed an estimated $ 8.6 million over the three-day period. The film was simultaneously released on Disney + for an additional $ 30, but it is currently unknown how many have chosen to watch the film on streaming.
The film grossed well under $ 14.1 million, which “Tom & Jerry” phoned when it opened last weekend. It should be noted that due to a reported disagreement with Disney over the rental price, Cinemark has decided not to show “Raya” in its 345 domestic theaters.
“Tom & Jerry” grossed another $ 6.6 million last weekend. These results, along with ticket sales for Chaos Walking, Boogie, The Croods: A New Age and Wonder Woman 1984, all contributed to the weekend’s box office results.
While the domestic box office is still a fraction of where it was early last year. Even so, the studios noticed that there was a heavy bump on a major studio release.
Box office sales of $ 23.8 million on Christmas weekend when “Wonder Woman 1984” and “News of the World” debuted. Then over the weekend when Tom & Jerry arrived, the box office hit $ 20.2 million.
These upward trends in ticket sales, coupled with the opening of more movie theaters and wider vaccine distribution, have given some studios the confidence to postpone the release dates for big films.
In January, Warner Bros. led the pack by positioning “Godzilla v. Kong” on March 31st and updating it from the May release date. Last week Sony moved “Peter Rabbit” from June to May 14th and Paramount Pictures moved “A Quiet Place II” from September to May 28th.
“Confidence in the studio is key and if this weekend was any sign of it, the industry is on the right track,” said Dergarabedian. “The theater market is waking up like a sleeping giant and we are slowly but surely seeing the signs of a revival in the box office.”
“While a limited percentage of open theaters will still be affected by 2021, even if release dates continue to shift, it could perform better than expected,” he said. “The fact that studios are now shifting titles by days and weeks rather than months is a really good sign.”
Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe star in “A Quiet Place Part II”.
Of course there are still some titles that have shifted backwards. Universal’s “F9” postponed its Memorial Day weekend release in favor of June 25th, and the company’s Minions: Rise of Gru animated feature has been postponed until 2022.
It appears that Universal is trying to position the film with a production budget of $ 200 million for the largest possible opening weekend at home and abroad. As the box office recovers, a lower placement for the film in the summer could offer a better chance of selling more tickets.
Similarly, by postponing Minions: The Rise of Gru to 2022, Universal can secure a high profile date for its release and avoid the crowded 2021 calendar. The hope is that the film, which like “F9” will do well internationally, will have significant ticket sales through another year.
Both the Fast and Furious franchise and the Minions franchise have released billion dollar movies in the past few years. Postponing these releases would put them on track to get back to that mark.
“Given a handful of overseas trends since last fall that we believe have helped demonstrate the underlying demand for movie theater as well as one of the more impressive upcoming blockbuster movie boards slated for the next two years,” said Eric Wold , Senior Analyst at B. Riley Securities in a notice to investors on Monday. “We remain extremely optimistic about the potential for the US box office environment as more theatrical markets reopen after New York City.”
The next big blockbuster to hit theaters is “Godzilla v. Kong” on March 31st. The film also arrives on HBO Max the same day.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.