'Wonder Woman 1984' Opens to Pandemic-Best $16.7M at Christmas Box Office, Third Film Confirmed

Wonder Woman 1984
Warner Bros. Entertainment

Warner Bros.' 'Wonder Woman 1984.'

In an unprecedented move, the superhero sequel shattered the theatrical window and opened simultaneously on HBO Max amid the ongoing pandemic and numerous theaters closures.

Wonder Woman 1984 opened to an estimated $16.7 million over Christmas weekend, the best three-day debut at the distressed domestic box office since the novel coronavirus began, according to Warner Bros.

Any sign of moviegoing is welcome news for Hollywood even if WW84 scored the lowest number in decades for a yuletide winner. The film unfurled in 2,150 cinemas in the U.S. and Canada on Dec. 25.

Globally, the DC superhero sequel, reteaming director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot, has now earned $85 million at the box office, including a foreign tally of $68.3 million. As in the U.S., there are a number of theater reclosures across Europe and other regions. (One territory that has rebounded is China, although WW84 hasn't found its footing in the Middle Kingdom, where it finished Sunday with a 10-day total of $23.9 million.)

The film's overall strong performance prompted Warner Bros. Film chief Toby Emmerich to announce on Sunday that development of third film is being fast-tracked, with Jenkins writing and directing and Gadot returning in the titular role. First, though, Jenkins is on Star Wars duty for Disney, meaning that Wonder Woman 3 wouldn't likely hit the big screen for the better part of three years, if not four. Jenkins and Gadot also have Cleopatra set up at Paramount.

"As fans around the world continue to embrace Diana Prince, driving the strong opening weekend performance of Wonder Woman 1984, we are excited to be able to continue her story with our real-life Wonder Women – Gal and Patty – who will return to conclude the long-planned theatrical trilogy," Emmerich said in a statement.

In a historic shattering of the theatrical window, WW84 also debuted simultaneously on HBO Max in the U.S. due to widespread theater closures in many markets, including New York City and Los Angeles. All told, only 40 percent of cinemas are operating in North America.

Nearly half of the platform’s retail subscribers viewed the film on the day of its arrival, along with millions of wholesale subscribers who have access to HBO Max via cable, wireless, or other partner services (the streamer didn't provide particulars in terms of the numbers). HBO Max also saw the total viewing hours on Friday more than triple in comparison to a typical day in the previous month, the company said Sunday.

Wonder Woman 1984 broke records and exceeded our expectations across all of our key viewing and subscriber metrics in its first 24 hours on the service, and the interest and momentum we’re seeing indicates this will likely continue well beyond the weekend," said WarnerMedia direct-to-consumer chief Andy Forssell.

It is impossible to know how much more the film would have made at the challenged box office had it not been on HBO Max (piracy is another issue).

WarnerMedia is pouring all of its attention and focus into growing HBO Max, which has had a topsy-turvy start. The company recently announced that Warner Bros.' entire 2021 theatrical slate will follow Wonder Woman's lead and debut day and date on the streaming service and in theaters. The decision has sparked fury across Hollywood. For their part, Warner execs say they believe the box office won't recover from the pandemic until the end of next year.

Streaming numbers weren't provided for WW84. Ditto for Pixar's Soul, which launched exclusively on Disney+ in the U.S. on Dec. 25 opposite WW84. Overseas, Soul is opening in select territories where the streamer isn't available and started off this weekend with $7.6 million from 10 markets, led by China ($5.5 million).

Box office grosses have historically been far more transparent than home entertainment numbers, but Warners hasn't been reporting grosses in the usual way during the pandemic and is blocking anyone from seeing real-time WW84 ticket sales on Comscore (the studio did the same with Tenet for weeks). Rather, it has decided to give grosses out each Sunday.

According to the studio's estimates, WW84 opened ahead of the two other event pics that dared to open this fall amid the pandemic in terms of a three-day number: Tenet ($9.3 million) and Universal's The Croods: A New Age ($9.7 million).

In 2017, Wonder Woman, fueled by rave reviews and an A CinemaScore from audiences, opened to a rousing $103 million domestically on its earning nearly $822 million globally. Audiences and critics aren't as enamored with the sequel, which received a B+ CinemaScore and currently shows a 68 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Jenkins is also attached to direct the Star Wars movie Rogue Squadron, which Disney plans for a Christmas 2023 release, calling into question how soon she could tackle a third Wonder Woman. The filmmaker has spoken openly about plans for a third Wonder Woman for several years, noting that unlike the first two installments, it will be set in the modern-day.

Save for Warners and Sony, other studios are reporting grosses in the usual fashion via Comscore, a real-time receptacle for ticket sales.

Elsewhere at the Christmas box office, the results were less merry.

Universal's adult drama News of the World, directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Tom Hanks, opened to $2.4 million from 1,900 cinemas. The movie had hoped to earn at least $3 million.

Focus Features' specialty film Promising Young Woman, starring Carey Mulligan, launched with $680,000 from 1,310 sites.

Both News of the World and Promising Young Woman are planting a flag in this year's delayed awards race, and hope to build an audience over time. Universal has the leeway to continue to release films in movie houses because of its new premium VOD window, which allows a title to play in the home 17 days or more after it hits the big screen.

Over Christmas weekend, eight of the top 10 films were from the Universal stable, including Croods 2, which placed third with $1.7 million for a domestic total of $30.4 million and $67.9 million globally.