New York City movie theaters welcomed back customers for the first time in nearly a year this weekend. And yet some high profile new releases still struggled to sell tickets, a sign that a box office revival may not be in the cards for a few months.
Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon,” a computer-animated fantasy adventure, opened to $8.6 million from 2,045 screens. That failed to match the impressive (for a pandemic) debut of “Tom & Jerry,” which earned $14.1 million last weekend, providing a ray of hope to the long-suffering exhibition sector. “Raya and the Last Dragon” was also made available to Disney Plus subscribers for a $30 fee, a method that the company previously deployed with “Mulan.” Though a fraction of what a big-budgeted, family movie would make in pre-COVID times, “Raya” did earn enough to capture the top spot on domestic box office charts. Globally, “Raya” earned $26 million with China and Russia providing the largest contributions with $8.4 million and $2.8 million, respectively. Animated features tend to cost substantially more than $100 million to produce — it’s a sign of just how skewed the world of theatrical distribution has become that a major Disney release would fail to crack $10 million at the box office in its opening weekend. Some of that has to do with Disney’s refusal to give exhibitors a better cut of the box office revenues, with Cinemark and other chains refusing to screen the movie.
In its second weekend of release, Warner Bros.’ “Tom & Jerry” picked up $6.6 million domestically, pushing its haul to $23 million. The film is also streaming on HBO Max. Warner Bros. is releasing its entire 2021 slate on the service at the same time the movies open in theaters, a move that shows the growing importance of streaming to media companies. “Tom & Jerry” earned $11.6 million globally from 36 markets, pushing its worldwide gross to $57.3 million.
Lionsgate’s “Chaos Walking,” an oft-delayed and critically maligned fantasy adventure with Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley, grossed an anemic $3.8 million for a third-place finish. “Chaos Walking,” which is based on a series of popular sci-fi novels, cost a reported $100 million to make, which is bad news for the studio given the paltry opening. It was originally scheduled to debut in March 2019, before it underwent reshoots.
The top five was rounded out by Focus Features’ “Boogie,” a drama about a Queens basketball phenom that was written and directed by chef and author Eddie Huang, as well as by Dreamworks Animation’s “The Croods: A New Age.” “Boogie” grossed $1.2 million, while the “Croods” sequel picked up $780,000 to push its domestic gross to $53.6 million. “The Croods: A New Age” has grossed $157.7 million worldwide since opening last fall.
With vaccinations increasing and rates of coronavirus dropping, several markets such as Chicago, Portland and New York have slowly reopened movie theaters in recent weeks. Many of these are operating at reduced capacity, but the loosening of restrictions is fueling some optimism that business could begin to look robust by the middle of the summer, a time when studios historically release some of their biggest movies. But as this weekend’s lackluster results show, movie theaters still face a long, hard road to recovery.