Six new films were released in South Korea in the past week, including Sony’s Marvel franchise title “Morbius,” but none were able to relieve the current malaise afflicting the Korean theatrical industry.
“Morbius” was released on Wednesday and ran off with more than half of the nationwide business, according to data from Kobis, the tracking service operated by the Korean Film Council (Kofic). The film earned $1.71 million over the Friday to Sunday weekend with a 58% market share that it derived from nearly 1,700 screens. Over the five days since its opening, it managed $2.48 million.
The previous week’s top title, Korean-produced “Hot Blooded” earned $420,000 in its second weekend, for a cumulative total of $2.59 million after 12 days.
Another previous chart topper, “In Our Prime” took third place with $194,000, giving a cumulative total of nearly $4 million since its March 9 release.
Coronavirus continues to stalk Korean society and cinemagoing appears to be among the worst hit sectors.
The country endured a huge spike in COVID-19 infections in February due to the highly infectious Omicron variant. New case numbers peaked at over 500,000 per day by March 17, 2022, but have since subsided.
On Saturday, Korea reported 234,000 new infections and provisional figures for Sunday were 128,000 new infections. With the now caseload subsiding and the mortality rate low, government is ready to permit larger group gatherings from this week. Cinemas have yet to feel the benefit.
Aggregate box office between Friday and Sunday was $2.94 million, making the fourth consecutive weekend below $3 million.
Data for March showed box office and spectator numbers were below 2021 equivalents.
Box office in March was worth just KRW27 billion ($22.2 million), some 10% below last year, with just 2.8 million spectators in the month.
The first quarter of the year saw gross box office of KRW113 billion ($92.8 million) earned from just 7.3 million ticket sales. Thanks to the performance of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” in January, those figures were better than the first quarter of 2021. But a comparison with the first three month of pre-COVID year 2019, when Korea was still the world’s fourth largest box office market, shows the current dire state of the industry. Between January and March 2019, Korean cinemas welcomed 54 million spectators generating gross revenue of KRW467 billion ($384 million, using 2022 currency conversion rates). March 2019 alone had 14.7 million spectators worth KRW127 billion ($104 million).
The number of new releases in the past week may point to distributors hoping for better things. But the films’ current performances are mostly weak.
French film “Vanishing” managed $198,000 over five days. Pedro Almodovar’s “Parallel Mothers” earned $40,000 over four days. Australian hit “The Dry” earned $32,000 over five days. And Japan’s “Signal The Movie Cold Case Investigation Unit” and Korea’s “B Cut” each earned $24,000 over five days.
“CODA,” which first reached Korean cinemas in August last year, appeared to receive little benefit from its Academy Awards wins. It earned $10,000 over the latest weekend, for a cumulative of $501,000 earned over eight months.