Warner Bros.’ animated family film “Tom and Jerry” debuted to $13.7 million at the domestic box office, one of the biggest opening weekend hauls of the coronavirus era and a signal that moviegoing may be on the mend.
To be sure, it’ll take some time for ticket sales to reach pre-pandemic levels. But second to “Wonder Woman 1984,” which launched in December with $16.7 million, “Tom and Jerry” had the most robust three-day total since movie theaters reopened in the middle of last year. Nothing else that has been released in the past 10 months has been able to crack the $10 million-mark; “The Croods: A New Age” ($9.7 million) and “Tenet” ($9.35 million) were the only others to come close to that benchmark.
“Tom and Jerry” — directed by Tim Story and starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Michael Peña and Colin Jost — played in 2,475 theaters in North America. Overall, 42% of cinemas in the country have reopened, according to Comscore.
Notably, “Tom and Jerry” also premiered on the HBO Max streaming service, where it will be available to subscribers for 31 days. Beginning with the “Wonder Woman” sequel, Warner Bros. has set 18 movies to bow simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max due to the pandemic.
Overseas, the cartooned adventure about the iconic cat and mouse rivalry has made $25 million from 33 countries for a global tally of $38.8 million. Given current conditions, it’s considered a strong start for the $79 million-budgeted “Tom and Jerry.”
Box office analysts appear to be optimistic about those numbers. “With half of theaters still closed, the pandemic still a threat and ‘Tom & Jerry’ available at home, this is a very good opening,” said David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. “[It’s] a positive sign for the business and for theatrical’s pull over home entertainment.”
Of the films that have been released during the pandemic (a fraction of the amount that would typically grace the big screen in normal times), those geared toward younger audiences have reaped the biggest rewards. Warner Bros. said ticket sales for “Tom and Jerry” were fueled by family crowds buying private theater rentals.
“There’s undoubtedly an element of cabin fever among parents and kids at play with these successful family movies during the pandemic, but I also think we’re looking at the beginnings of a larger trend,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Box Office Pro. “As virus cases decline, vaccines roll out, and more mainstream films start releasing, families are growing more comfortable with the idea of going back to the movies while practicing safe health measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing.”
Looking ahead, Robbins notes, it should bode well for Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon,” which is premiering concurrently in theaters and on Disney Plus (for a premium fee) next weekend.
“With all due caution, though,” Robbins said, “‘Tom and Jerry’s’ ability to exceed expectations despite a day-and-date streaming release, and without the biggest markets open, signals yet another positive step forward for the industry as a whole.”
In other encouraging box office news, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave permission for cinemas in the five boroughs to reopen at limited capacity starting on March 5. It’s been nearly a year since New York City movie theaters have been able to welcome patrons, which is partially why studios have opted to delay nearly all of their biggest movies. Theaters in the area will have to operate at 25% capacity, making it difficult to reach profitability, but film exhibitors believe it’s a positive step in repairing the battered movie industry.
“Open theaters, plus new movies, are the formula that will bring the theatrical marketplace back to life,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore. “This is most encouraging given the daunting and unprecedented challenges of the past year.”
With the opening of “Tom and Jerry,” box office mainstay “The Croods: A New Age” slid to second place and collected $1.2 million from 1,912 venues. The Universal Pictures and DreamWorks animated sequel has become an unlikely coronavirus-era hit, generating $52 million to date.
Otherwise, none of the films in the top five were able to reach $1 million in ticket sales. “The Little Things,” in its fifth weekend of release, came the closest and nabbed $925,000 from 1,853 locations. The Warner Bros. thriller, starring Denzel Washington, Jared Leto and Rami Malek, has grossed $12.9 million in the U.S. and Canada and $10.3 million internationally for a worldwide total of $23.2 million.
“Wonder Woman 1984” came in fourth place, pulling in $710,000 from 1,538 locations. The superhero sequel has made $43.6 million since debuting more than two months ago. It has done markedly better business overseas, where it has generated $117.4 million. Liam Neeson’s action thriller “The Marksman” rounded out the top five with $700,000, boosting its total to $12.345 million.