“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” roared to $90.1 million in its debut, setting a new pandemic record. It’s an impressive result, one that provides a lifeline to struggling movie theaters and (once again) proves Marvel’s might at the box office.
The much darker “Venom” follow-up comes from Sony Pictures and is separate from Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, which recently delivered “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Black Widow” — the two highest-grossing films of the year at the domestic box office. If its first three days in theaters are any indication, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is on track to join those blockbusters as 2021’s biggest earners. The film is playing only in cinemas, as opposed to being available in a hybrid release on-demand — a factor that should help ticket sales.
“We are also pleased that patience and theatrical exclusivity have been rewarded with record results,” Sony’s chairman Tom Rothman said in a statement to press. “With apologies to Mr. Twain: The death of movies has been greatly exaggerated.”
Overseas, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” opened in Russia with $13.8 million. The film will bow in Latin America next week before landing in most major international markets.
“It reaffirms the importance of the theatrical window,” says Sony’s president of domestic distribution Adrian Smith. Adds Sanford Panitch, president of Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group: “We knew we had a really big movie and an excited fanbase. The marketplace comes out for the right movie.”
The supervillain sequel, starring Tom Hardy as the otherworldly lethal protector, blew past the pandemic-era benchmark set in July by “Black Widow,” which opened to $80 million in theaters. The Scarlett Johansson vehicle made an additional $60 million in its inaugural weekend on Disney Plus, where it was available to purchase on the same day as its theatrical debut. Next to those, “Shang-Chi” ($75 million) and Universal’s “Fast and Furious” sequel “F9” ($70 million) have landed the biggest pandemic opening weekends, with younger males fueling ticket sales. “Venom 2” continued that trend: 62% of ticket buyers were male and 55% were under the age of 25.
“Young adult audiences are less deterred by current pandemic conditions than older and family moviegoers, which is benefitting superhero, action and horror movies,” says David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. He adds: “For these movies, playing exclusively on the big screen is clearly an advantage.”
Making inaugural ticket sales for “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” even more impressive: It had a bigger opening weekend than its predecessor, 2018’s “Venom.” The first comic book adventure with Hardy at the helm opened to $80 million, in an era before the devastating global health crisis upended moviegoing. Despite terrible reviews, the original became a box office juggernaut and grossed $213 million in North America and $856 million globally. “Venom” was particularly huge in China, where the 2018 movie collected $269 million.
The sequel doesn’t have a release date yet in China, a market that will be crucial to the success of the $110 million-budgeted film. It’s expected to open in China at some point, but the country has recently denied several Hollywood tentpoles, such as “Black Widow” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” causing those movies to lose out on millions.
Though it crushed its competition, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” wasn’t the only new movie to inject some life into the box office. MGM’s animated adventure “The Addams Family 2” pulled in a better-than-expected $18 million from 4,207 theaters while it was simultaneously available to rent on-demand. The film serves as a sequel to 2019’s “The Addams Family,” which debuted to $30 million. But, unlike the follow-up film, the original had an exclusive run in theaters before moving to digital platforms. The studio didn’t report any premium video-on-demand sales, but it’s safe to assume the $19.99 rental option kept some potential ticket buyers at home.
Meanwhile, the Warner Bros. movie “The Many Saints of Newark,” a prequel to “The Sopranos,” flopped in its debut, generating a paltry $5 million from 3,181 venues. Like the studio’s entire 2021 slate, the film opened concurrently on HBO Max at no extra cost to subscribers. With a $50 million production budget and limited international appeal (the film has only collected $2.3 million overseas), “The Many Saints” stands to lose millions at the box office.
Interestingly, however, studio executives have reiterated that streaming hasn’t cannibalized theatrical revenues and vaguely assert that online viewership metrics have been consistent with box office receipts. That would suggest “The Many Saints of Newark” struck out on HBO Max in addition to collapsing in theaters. Warner Bros. hasn’t released any HBO Max statistics for “The Many Saints of Newark,” but given that it’s based on “The Sopranos,” one of the most popular TV shows in history, it could have been the exception. Long-time fans grew attached to the series by watching it at home, and there’s a chance they could have opted to catch up with the infamous New Jersey mobsters from their living rooms.
“With the movie available on its original medium — pay TV — older audiences are showing their reluctance to get out in force,” Gross says.
Moviegoers who went to see “The Many Saints of Newark” on the big screen all but rejected the film, giving it a bleak “C+” CinemaScore. That indicates it likely won’t stick around in theaters in a competitive fall season, one that will see the release of “No Time to Die” (Oct. 8), “Halloween Kills” (Oct. 15) and “Dune” (Oct. 22).
“The Many Saints of Newark” landed (with a thud) in fourth place, behind “Shang-Chi.” The Marvel movie, now in its fifth weekend of release, collected $6 million over the weekend, boosting its overall total to $206 million. It’s the first, and so far only, pandemic-era movie to gross more than $200 million in the U.S. and Canada. The comic book tentpole, starring Canadian actor Simu Liu as the title hero, has generated $386 million globally. While that’s far less than a Marvel movie would make prior to COVID, it ranks as one of the best hauls at a time when attendance hasn’t come close to reaching pre-pandemic levels.