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In the days leading up to the release of Kong: Skull Island, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures were anxious.
Prerelease tracking suggested the pic would open to $45 million to $50 million in North America, which would hardly be a roaring start for a big-budget tentpole that cost at least $185 million to make and at least $135 million to market.
Instead, Kong: Skull Island scaled a promising $61 million over the weekend to easily place No. 1 and defeat box-office maverick Logan after winning over critics and moviegoers. The film skewed male (56 percent) but lured more females than tracking had suggested.
But that’s just the first test. It remains in question as to whether the world’s most famous giant ape can tame enough moviegoers around the world for Kong to be OK financially, a feat that will require as much as $500 million in global ticket sales. The movie is sandwiched between two formidable competitors: Fox’s Logan, which has earned a stellar $437.7 million worldwide since opening just over a week ago, and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which is set to hit theaters worldwide Friday.
While Kong: Skull Island exceeded hopes in North America, its international start wasn’t eye-popping, in part because of Logan. The former pic took in $81.6 million from 65 markets, compared to Logan‘s second-weekend tally of $70 million after debuting to $152 million the weekend before.
Box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian says there’s always an inherent danger when opening three event movies one weekend after another on the global stage, a practice that used to be reserved for summer until recent years.
“Soon there may be no month that is immune to blockbuster fever. A more orderly release pattern is good for business in the long run since the traffic jam that results from cramming in too many movies is mitigated,” says Dergarabedian, adding the congestion could result in a record March in terms of domestic revenue, beating out last year.
Observers consider Kong‘s domestic start a win for Warners and Legendary as they build their “Monsterverse,” an endeavor that began with Godzilla in 2014. And it is particularly a key victory for Legendary after its last two big-budget features, The Great Wall and Warcraft, bombed in the U.S.
“It is a calculated risk. Think of the $185 million as down payment on a much, much larger purchase: a sustainable franchise. And if nothing else, Legendary loves to take mighty swings,” says box-office analyst Jeff Bock.
Warners and Legendary are currently casting Godzilla 2, set for release March 22, 2019, and have also planted a flag for Godzilla vs. Kong on May 29, 2020. Godzilla opened to $93 million in 2014 before topping out at $529.1 million. It would be considered a major disappointment if Kong didn’t clear at least $400 million.
Kong‘s performance in China, where it will bow March 24, could prove crucial. Logan had the advantage of opening day-and-date in the Middle Kingdom, where it has earned $87 million in its first 10 days.
Legendary is certainly a known brand in China, and parent company Dalian Wanda is the country’s largest theater owner. The Great Wall, a U.S.-China co-production directed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou and starring Matt Damon, grossed $113.4 million in China following its release in December, while earlier in 2016, Warcraft raked in $220.8 million.
Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.’ president of domestic distribution, believes Kong will continue to find its audience despite the competition.
“There is a lot of room for profit, but that isn’t something you can determine after just a few days,” says Goldstein, noting that Kong opened at the beginning of the spring break corridor. “But we are in a very different place than we were a week ago. Everything came together perfectly, including the marketing.”
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