'Little Women,' Big Crowds: Denmark, Japan Give Cinemas Hope for Post-Corona Recovery

Little Women Still 7 - Publicity - H 2019
Wilson Webb

International box office for Greta Gerwig's period drama closes in on $100 million after strong starts in the two countries, which recently reopened their theaters.

In a positive sign for the international film industry, Greta Gerwig's Little Women has opened strongly in Japan and Denmark, two countries that recently reopened their cinemas following the novel coronavirus lockdown.

Gerwig's adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel, about four sisters growing up during the American Civil War, topped the charts in both countries. In Japan Little Women opened to a healthy $495,000. In Denmark, it held on to its top spot for the second week running, with receipts dropping just 16 percent. In total, the movie has grossed around DKK 5 million ($755,000) to date in the territory.

"This is as good, even better, than I would have expected the film to perform before corona," says Frederik Malling Juul, head of theatrical at Scandinavian distributor SF Studios, which is handling the release of Little Women in the Nordics. "The opening in Denmark was better than that in Sweden and Norway, where they went out with the film in late January, before corona and with the help of all the Oscar buzz." (Little Women was nominated for six Academy Awards and won one: for best costume design).

The result has helped push Little Women's international box office take to just under $100 million, a benchmark Gerwig's feature should blow past later this week. The title earned $107 million domestically.

Juul credits the lack of competition — Little Women is the only new Hollywood release out in Denmark — as well as pent-up demand from cinema-goers for the film's performance. "I think this shows that if people will come back to theaters, if they are confident it is safe to do so," he says.

Little Women's performance is all the more impressive given new limits on theater capacity in both Denmark and Japan. Japan's theater association has imposed a 50 percent capacity cap for all theaters as a condition for reopening. In Denmark, capacity is capped at 500 per theater with a social distance of 1 meter (around 3 feet) required between groups of patrons. Couples, families and groups of friends can sit together. "In practice, it means an open seat between groups," says Juul, who estimates theaters can operate under the regulations at around 70 percent total capacity.

With no big studio tentpoles to compete with — Warner Bros. just pushed back the release of Christopher Nolan's hotly anticipated Tenet by two weeks to July 31 — Juul sees an opportunity for independents. "I'm pushing heavily to do new releases, we've got three Danish titles we'll be bowing soon," he says. "It's ideal: A summer release with no competition. Plus, no one is traveling for vacation this year. They'll all be home and able to go to the movies."

The early success is a welcome sign for exhibitors in other countries, which are starting to reopen cinemas, that the business could quickly bounce back. But Denmark and Japan could be outliers. The governments of both countries have been particularly effective in controlling the coronavirus outbreak. Japan has seen only 927 deaths due to the novel coronavirus, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University; Denmark just 597. In countries that have been harder hit, cinema-goers might be more reluctant to return to theaters.

"If you ask the average Dane, he'll probably say he thinks the government handled the crisis well and he's confident if things reopen, it must be safe to do so," says Juul. "Ask the average Brit, where the government response has not been as successful, and they'll probably say they're confused and scared. They might not be in such a hurry to go back to the movies."