The U.S. box office is back in action.
Legendary and Warner Bros. tentpole Godzilla vs. Kong posted a monstrous debut of $48.5 million in its first five days, including an estimated $32.2 million from 3,064 theaters for the three-day Easter weekend.
The big-budget pic exceeded all expectations and is by far the biggest showing since the COVID-19 crisis commenced. Its performance is a huge jolt of confidence for nervous Hollywood studios and theater owners, who worry as to when moviegoing will recover in earnest and whether it is safe to begin releasing high-profile films as the summer box office season approaches.
“I think a big movie like this working should tell everyone if we are rational in how we release a title, there is an appetite for people to have a shared experience in theaters,” says Joshua Grode, CEO of Legendary. He said the decision to release the film wasn’t for the “faint of heart,” but that it was the “right movie for the moment.”
Adds Jeff Goldstein, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros: “This is really significant. It is igniting a recovery.”
Overseas, where the tentpole opened in many markets a week ago, the news was just as good for the Adam Wingard-directed tentpole. Godzilla vs. Kong finished Easter Weekend with a foreign tally of $236.9 million for a global total of $285.4 million. It earned $71.6 in its is sophomore outing at the international box office, a slim 37 percent drop. It is doing impressive business in China, where it dropped only 37 percent in its second outing to grossed another $44.2 million for a 10-day total of $137.1 million. (Legendary has sole distribution duties in the Middle Kingdom.)
Many cinemas across Europe have been ordered re-closed because of a new surge of COVID-19 cases, while Latin America is also struggling.
Before, the top three-day opening of the pandemic in North America belonged to fellow Warners title Wonder Woman 1984 ($16.7 million), which opened over Christmas during a second surge of COVID-19 cases that prompted a wave of theater re-closures, while Los Angeles and New York City theaters still hadn’t reopened at all. Nor were major markets San Francisco and Chicago in play at that time.
Godzilla‘s top DMA markets proved the power of Los Angeles and New York City, where cinemas were recently allowed to reopen. They led the list in terms of the top-performing market, followed by Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Chicago, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Orlando and Atlanta.
The movie also got a boost from more than 10,000 private screenings, a pandemic-era innovation.
In normal times, Godzilla vs. Kong‘s numbers would be considered mediocre for a movie likely costing $200 million to produce but not now.
Like all other 2021 Warner titles, Godzilla vs. Kong launched day and date on HBO Max, yet it’s unclear what impact that had on its theatrical run.
HBO Max didn’t release viewership numbers, but said the film has had a larger viewing audience in its first four days than any other film or show since the launch of the streaming service.
“The HBO Max audience has spoken very clearly and loudly: they love this film and are watching it more than once,” said Andy Forssell, exec vp and general manager of WarnerMedia Direct-to-Consumer.
At the box office, the Legendary movie actually beat the domestic opening of the last installment, Godzilla: King of the Monsters ($47.8 million), although the comparison isn’t exactly apples to oranges, since the latter was a three-day opening. But no one will quibble.
Godzilla vs. Kong will soon pass up the entire lifetime domestic runs of top pandemic pics The Croods: A New Age and Tenet ($57.9 million). It has already eclipsed WW1984 ($45.9 million). Some analysts believe the monster mashup now has shot at becoming the first tentpole to cross $100 million in North America since the coronavirus struck.
The North American box office continues to face major challenges in attempting to recover. Only 55 percent of cinemas are now reopened, including just 20 percent in Canada is available (as a result, the pic was offered on premium VOD, generating $3 million).
Many theaters have limited capacity including in Los Angeles and New York City. On Tuesday, Los Angeles County officially entered the Orange Tier, but won’t be allowed to up capacity from 25 percent to 50 percent until April 5.
“Fortunately, there seems to be a much-welcomed change afoot,” says Paul Dergarabedian of Comscore. “Thankfully, the industry will likely enjoy some its biggest grossing days of the past year in the coming days and weeks, thus proving that the formula of more vaccines, more falling cases, more open cities/theaters, more studio confidence and more new movies will equal more patrons going back to the movies and a gradual return to ‘normal’ box office.”
Godzilla vs. Kong, the fourth entry in Legendary’s MonsterVerse series, earned an A CinemaScore from audiences. The film is skewing male and younger, and playing to to an ethnically diverse audience: Caucasians, 33 percent; Hispanic, 27 percent; African American, 23 percent; Asian, 10 percent; and Native American and other, 7 percent.
April 4, 9:15 a.m. Updated with foreign grosses.