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The April box office is in full bloom thanks to the astounding performance of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which served up the biggest global opening of all time for an animated film, with $375.6 million over the long Easter holiday. And it is showing no sign of slowing down as it prepares to jump to the next level and clear the $500 million mark globally in the next few days.
Its massive five-day domestic opening of $204.6 million included $146.4 million for the three-day weekend. And Amazon kicked off a new era for streamers in giving Ben Affleck’s adult-skewing drama Air a proper theatrical release in thousands of theaters instead of sending it straight to Amazon Prime Video. Apple Original Films is also switching course and making a foray into theatrical, including with Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon (the tech giant is partnering with Paramount on the release). Scorsese’s film, which will make a splashy debut at the Cannes Film Festival, opens in theaters around the world this fall during awards season.
Three years after COVID-19 first destabilized the theatrical sector, a breadth and depth of product is returning to the marquee, providing a glimmer of hope for fretful Hollywood studios and exhibitors. Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and DC’s Shazam! Fury of the Gods may have underperformed, but March releases Scream VI, Creed III and John Wick: Chapter 4 all are major box office wins. A varied pipeline of product once again is flowing at prepandemic volumes, at least in April and throughout early summer.
There are 15 nationwide releases slotted for April, compared with 11 in 2019 and 2018, according to Comscore. And there are a total of 34 such releases set for April, May and June, one more than the 33 openings during the same corridor in 2019. “I would characterize April as the broadest slate we’ve had from a number of different distributors that can draw in a broad audience that is more sustainable than a single big film,” says Elizabeth Frank, AMC Theatres executive vp worldwide programming and chief content officer. “This is a very good thing for moviegoers of all ages.”
Not only did Super Mario exceed expectations, but so did Air, a period biographical drama about Nike’s successful bid to sign an up-and-coming Michael Jordan. Adult dramas have had a tough time since the pandemic, but Air posted a promising five-day debut of $20.2 million against a production budget of $90 million before marketing. Initially, after opening to tepid numbers on April 5, a Wednesday, Amazon insiders were predicting a five-day opening of just $16 million, but traffic picked up in earnest by Friday. Nearly 40 percent of ticket buyers were 45 and older, including a whopping 20 percent over 55. (Overseas, the movie opened to $10.5 million from its first 59 markets for a global start of $30.7 million.)
In addition to attracting families, Mario defied expectations by appealing to general audiences who grew up playing the games; 45 percent of ticket buyers were between the ages of 18 and 34, compared with 27 percent for fellow Illumination title Minions: The Rise of Gru, which grossed $123.1 million in its four-day domestic bow over the 2022 July Fourth holiday, including $107 million for the three-day weekend, on its way to $939 million globally last year.
“Mario is once again living proof that families and audiences of all generations want to go to the theater in droves,” says analyst Shawn Robbins of Boxoffice Pro, noting the lack of content for long stretches of time in 2022. “Mario and Air added to the chorus of a great box office run to end the year’s first quarter and start its second with what feels like more normalcy. Perhaps the best part is that the content will keep on coming this time around.”
Over the April 14-16 weekend, no fewer than five films are opening wide in veritable palooza: The Nicholas Hoult-Nicolas Cage vampire comedy Renfield; the Russell Crowe supernatural thriller The Pope’s Exorcist; comedy Mafia Mamma, starring Toni Collette and Monica Bellucci; acclaimed Japanese anime film Suzume; and Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton biopic Sweetwater.
While domestic box office revenue year-to-date ($2.1 billion) is up 29 percent from 2022, it is nevertheless down 19 percent from 2019, prompting continued concern about the overall box office recovery. “The breadth and quality of planned movie releases should temper theater obsolescence risk concerns and lift attendance,” credit firm Fitch Ratings said April 10, but warned that attendance may have a hard time returning to prepandemic levels.
But the mood among analysts and theater owners certainly improved with Super Mario’s sensational showing and the overall increased number of films.
“The industry finally has a prepandemic level of consistent animated and family-friendly flicks throughout the summer and year-end holiday season,” says Robbins. “All of which are kickstarted by the Mario juggernaut.
A version of this story first appeared in the April 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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