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Joe Masher, the COO of midsize exhibitor Bow Tie Cinemas, says he noticed that families from New York City — where movie theaters were closed for nearly a year, until March 5 — had been flocking to the circuit’s locations in Connecticut and New Jersey that were able to reopen in recent months amid the pandemic. “It’s amazing how many people were coming from the city,” says Masher, who is in charge of the New York chapter of the National Association of Theatre Owners.
Family movies have been the surprise box office success of the pandemic, with Universal and DreamWorks Animation’s The Croods: A New Age the strongest case-in-point. Croods 2, which debuted in those cinemas that remained open over Thanksgiving, outgrossed Warner Bros. and DC’s superhero sequel Wonder Woman 1984 in North America, grossing $53.6 million as of March 7. That compares to $44.4 million for WW84, which unfurled Dec. 25.
“Obviously, the most important thing is that we have a quality film which plays really well with kids and families,” Universal Filmed Entertainment Group vice chairman and chief distribution chief Peter Levinsohn tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I also believe that we had a smart release strategy that allowed us to take advantage of two holidays — Thanksgiving and Christmas — with no other new releases targeting kids over the past few months.”
Adds Levinsohn, “That said, we continue to believe that the theatrical and in-home experiences are quite different, and that they can coexist in the marketplace with proper windowing and business models.”
The next major Hollywood family studio film to brave opening during the pandemic was Warner Bros.’ Tom & Jerry, which debuted to a robust $14.1 million over the Feb. 26-28 weekend and $23 million in total.
But there are no certainties. Disney’s animated pic Raya and the Last Dragon debuted to a subdued $8.6 million at the domestic box office over the March 5-7 frame. And that was on a weekend where total revenue hit an estimated $25 million thanks to the New York City openings — the best showing since the pandemic forced theater closures a year ago, narrowly topping the $23.8 million earned over Christmas weekend, when Wonder Woman 1984 launched. (Some 45 percent of theaters in the U.S. have now reopened, Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian notes.)
There is an asterisk for the Disney movie: Raya was also available to purchase for $30 on premium VOD for Disney+ subscribers. (For comparison, Croods 2 was available on premium VOD for $20, while Tom & Jerry posed no extra charge for HBO Max customers.) And Cinemark Theatres, the country’s second-largest circuit behind AMC, refused to play the well-reviewed Raya, in a dispute with Disney over revenue split terms.
Meanwhile, Croods 2 has a shot at passing Christopher Nolan’s Tenet ($58 million) to rank as the top-grossing pic of the pandemic, at least domestically. Levinsohn says: “There is clearly a lot of ‘pent-up demand’ from moviegoers for new films, and we are benefiting from additional markets opening up each weekend.”
A version of this story first appeared in the March 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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