For the first time since the pandemic struck, more than one movie opened to notable ticket sales at the domestic box office. The results fueled the biggest overall weekend of the COVID-19 era, according to Comscore, with an estimated $54.2 million in revenue across all reopened North American theaters.
Hollywood is pointing to the performances of “Mortal Kombat” and “Demon Slayer,” the top earners of the weekend, as the clearest indication yet that audiences are ready to return to the movies after nearly a year of staying home to stream.
“Mortal Kombat,” a martial arts-inspired adaptation of the popular video game, took in a robust $22.5 million from 3,073 domestic venues. Those receipts rank as the second-biggest debut of the pandemic following “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which premiered to $31 million in March. Warner Bros. released both of those titles and made them available to stream simultaneously on HBO Max for a month — a strategy the studio is deploying for its entire 2021 slate.
Despite mixed reviews, the R-rated “Mortal Kombat” narrowly cinched first place on domestic charts after a surprisingly close race against “Demon Slayer.” In a not-so-distant second, “Demon Slayer” earned a solid $15.9 million from 1,598 locations through Saturday and is estimated to notch $19.5 million over the weekend. The anime action adventure, from Funimation and Aniplex, has been a massive commercial hit in international markets such as Japan, where it currently ranks as the highest-grossing movie ever with $365 million. In total, “Demon Slayer” has eclipsed the $400 million mark globally.
Box office analysts have been encouraged by the one-two punch of “Mortal Kombat” and “Demon Slayer,” especially since only about 55% of cinemas in the country have resumed operation. Multiplexes that have reopened have been required to cap attendance in line with local government guidelines. In Los Angeles, for example, that means auditoriums are limited to 50% capacity or 200 people. In New York, theaters have been permitted to operate at 25% capacity and will be able to expand to 33% starting on Monday.
“This weekend is another very good step,” said David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm FranchiseRe. “Moviegoing should start to normalize in early June.” That’s around the time that potential blockbusters, including “A Quiet Place Part II” (May 28), “In the Heights” (June 11) and “Fast & Furious” sequel “F9” (June 25), are expected to open.
Overseas, “Mortal Kombat” had already launched with $21 million. It collected an additional $6.3 million from 37 foreign territories this weekend, boosting its international tally to $27.6 million. The film, produced by New Line Cinemas for a modest $55 million, has generated $50 million globally to date. Simon McQuoid, in his feature debut, directed “Mortal Kombat,” which stars Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano and Mehcad Brooks.
Among other wide releases, “Godzilla vs. Kong” landed in third place with $4.2 million from 2,856 venues. After four weeks in theaters, the Warner Bros. and Legendary monster mashup has amassed $86.5 million. The film, which is available on HBO Max through the end of April, has surpassed $400 million at the global box office. With those ticket sales, it has outpaced Christopher Nolan’s confusing sci-fi spectacle “Tenet” ($363 million) as the highest-grossing Hollywood blockbuster since coronavirus upended the movie theater business.
“It’s evident that ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ is reigniting moviegoing everywhere and that audiences are more than ready to return to theaters, where and when it’s safe, for a big screen experience like this one,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.’ president of domestic distribution. He adds that “Mortal Kombat’s” performance only emphasizes his point. “This weekend was a real win for the industry,” Goldstein said.
In fourth, Universal’s “Nobody” pulled in $1.86 million in its fifth weekend in theaters. Starring Bob Odenkirk as a take-no-prisoners father of two, the movie has grossed $21 million in the U.S. and $38 million worldwide. Audiences can also rent “Nobody” on demand, for a $20 rental fee, thanks to an agreement that Universal hammered out with theater chains such as AMC and Cinemark.
Rounding out the top five is Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon,” an animated adventure that’s also playing on the streaming service Disney Plus for an extra $30. The movie, geared toward younger audiences, added another $1.6 million to its domestic total, which currently stands at $39.8 million.
In limited release, Bleecker Street’s “Together Together,” a sweet story about platonic friendship, made $522,440 from 665 screens, translating to $786 per theater. Directed by Nikole Beckwith, the movie premiered at Sundance Film Festival to strong reviews. It stars Ed Helms and Patti Harrison.