In the age of coronavirus, when audiences are still reluctant to go to theaters and nearly every movie scheduled for theatrical release has been postponed, those ticket sales were easily enough to nab first place on U.S. charts. The film played on 2,472 screens in North America. Overseas, “Freaky” grossed $1.9 million from 20 international markets for a global haul of $5.6 million.
“Freaky” stars Vince Vaughn as a savage serial killer and Kathryn Newton as an under-the-radar high school teen, who inadvertently switch bodies on Friday the 13th. Christopher Landon, who wrote “Disturbia,” three “Paranormal Activity” sequels and directed “Happy Death Day,” helmed the R-rated thriller. The movie, which received overwhelmingly positive reviews, cost $6 million to make.
“It’s going to be very profitable,” said analyst David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. “With the pandemic surging and additional U.S. theaters closing, this is a good opening.”
Jim Orr, Universal’s president of domestic distribution, said “Freaky” should have a long life in theaters since it won’t have much competition. That’s been the case with many pandemic-era releases.
“It’ll have much longer legs than the horror genre might normally produce,” Orr said. He praised the studio’s collaboration Blumhouse, known for making thrillers with responsible budgets. “Christopher Landon has an amazing touch for these films,” Orr adds. “He can blend horror and comedy like no other.”
Compared to rival studios, Universal has been active in releasing movies during the pandemic, largely because of a deal it forged with AMC Theatres. Typically, movies play on the big screen for 75 to 90 days before they move to digital rental services. But under Universal and AMC’s new agreement, the studio can put new films on premium video-on-demand within 17 days of their theatrical debuts. In return, AMC, which is the biggest cinema chain in the world, promises not to boycott Universal’s movies and also gets a cut of the digital profits.
Of course, Universal has kept to opening smaller and less financially risky titles given the unstable movie market, and plans to save its biggest tentpoles — like “Fast and Furious” sequel “F9” and “Jurassic World: Dominion” — until moviegoing returns to a more significant degree and coronavirus cases are better under control. In any case, the recent crop of Universal movies provides theater owners, many of whom are desperate for fresh product to offer, something new to populate their marquees. In the next few weeks, Universal is unveiling the animated adventure “The Croods: A New Age” on Nov. 25 and the Tom Hanks-led Western “News of the World” on Dec. 25. And Focus Features, Universal’s specialty label, is offering “Promising Young Woman” on Christmas Day.
“New content drives the theatrical experience,” Universal’s Orr said. “We’re pleased we’ve been able to support exhibition the way we have.”
Industry observers have been curious as to how the pact would benefit theater operators. Universal and AMC have yet to share any specific numbers. However, AMC said recently that unlike other struggling theater chains, it would not have to close back down amid the coronavirus crisis due to the Universal deal.
“Anything that encourages studios to release more films into theaters is a good thing,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore. “These measures, while seen as controversial to some, are a stepping-stone on the path to keeping more theaters open, then they may be (at least for now) measures worth taking.”
In total, only 48% of U.S. theaters are open, according to Comscore.
Focus Features’ “Let Him Go,” a suspense thriller with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, landed in second place on box office charts. The movie generated $1.8 million in its sophomore outing, bringing its domestic tally to $7 million. Another Focus title, the horror movie “Come Play,” came in fourth place with $1.1 million. After three weeks in theaters, the film has made $7.4 million.
Robert De Niro’s family comedy “The War With Grandpa” took the No. 3 spot, bringing in $1.3 million in its sixth week of release. In total, the film has made $15.2 million, a modest sum during the pandemic.
New to theaters this weekend is “Ammonite,” a well-reviewed romantic drama starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan. The Neon movie, which played on 280 screens, collected $85,000 over the weekend — averaging to $305 per location.
Beleaguered movie theaters saw what many considered to be a glimmer of hope last week after the drug company Pfizer announced the development of a potential coronavirus vaccine. But it will take time before the vaccine is approved and distributed to the general public, meaning the movie business is facing a rough winter — one that might be devoid of any potential blockbusters that could generate significant ticket sales and keep theaters afloat.
Though cinemas in 48 states have reopened, numerous venues have closed down again because there aren’t enough new movies to show. With multiplexes in New York City and Los Angeles still out of operation and parts of Europe shuttering due to new lockdown measures, it’s looking increasingly unlikely that any major movie will release in 2020. (“Wonder Woman 1984,” we’re looking at you…).
“Can the market support a blockbuster? Not yet,” Gross predicts.