‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ Poised to Be Pandemic’s Best Performer Yet at U.S. Box Office

Godzilla vs. Kong
Yinchen Niu/VIP

Don’t be surprised if “Godzilla vs. Kong” is remembered as the movie that brought the U.S. box office roaring back.

Scheduled to release March 31, Warner Bros.’s monster-mashup sequel is poised to deliver what could be a record high for ticket sales during the pandemic era. Very positive early indications are coming from significant pre-release audience interest seen among those willing to brave theaters, according to data provided exclusively to VIP by entertainment market research and analytics firm Guts + Data.

Guts + Data is projecting a three-day weekend total of $23.7 million for “Godzilla,” which would surpass the most a movie has made on any opening weekend at the domestic box office since Warner Bros. released sci-fi actioner “Tenet” back on the Labor Day weekend in 2020. But surpassing “Tenet” would be all the more impressive considering that release was exclusive to theaters, while “Godzilla” will see some of its audience opt for the simultaneous streaming debut on HBO Max.

Guts + Data’s “Godzilla vs. Kong” projection is informed partly by the firm’s weekly survey data measuring consumer interest gauged after the film’s trailer came out. “As compared to the hundreds of titles tested and already released in the [preceding 12 months], ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ is the highest scoring,” says Greg Durkin, founder and CEO of Guts + Data (which does not count Warner Bros. among its studio clients).

In addition to ranking higher in post-trailer interest than other theatrical titles leading in opening domestic gross did, Durkin says the high interest seen among theatergoers for “Godzilla” is above the leading rates of interest seen for PVOD and SVOD-only titles, which were “Mulan” and “Coming 2 America,” respectively.

Beyond recorded interest, timing and competition are also playing big roles here.

Guts + Data’s projection for “Godzilla vs. Kong” is predicated on there being no sudden negative change in the state of the U.S. under COVID-19 conditions. After a horrific surge saw coronavirus in the U.S. reach a global peak of 300,000 daily cases, infections have gone down while a third vaccine gained FDA approval. Naturally, apprehension to visit cinemas is continuing to ease among cinephiles, according to Guts + Data survey data.

Amid the domestic box office’s biggest markets reopening in recent weeks and tried-and-true tentpoles still on deck for May, film exhibition is potentially eyeing a substantial uptick in revenue after a year under the shadow of COVID-19. Many films that hit theaters in the first quarter of 2021 managed to make around a third of what Guts + Data projects their gross would have been in a pre-COVID climate.

That’s in stark contrast to “Wonder Woman 1984,” which notched the second highest opening of the pandemic but just 17% of its 2017 predecessor’s opening box-office haul, due primarily to COVID spikes and the film only being played in select theaters as exhibitors were still adjusting to the shock of the HBO Max pivot at Warner Bros.

Furthermore, Guts + Data’s surveyed awareness levels of “Godzilla” show the release is on track to follow “Tom and Jerry,” the most recent Warner Bros. film to hit theaters and HBO Max at the same time.

“Some 74% of entertainment consumers are aware of [‘Godzilla vs. Kong’] two weeks before release, where the post-pandemic theatrical average is 33% at that point in time,” says Durkin. Per Guts + Data, “Tom and Jerry” was showing 85% awareness among those surveyed in the week leading up to its Feb. 26 release.

Based on the classic animated characters, “Tom and Jerry” also had the competitive advantage of releasing a week ahead of Disney’s animated and family-aimed “Raya and the Last Dragon,” grossing substantially more than “Raya” did despite the Warner Bros. film being available to stream on HBO Max with no added fee, unlike “Raya.”

With its films facing no real competition from other major studios, Warner Bros. has been leading the domestic box office, and “Godzilla” is set to stick with that pattern, as the only wide releases surrounding it are Universal’s “Nobody” (March 26) and Sony’s “The Unholy” (April 2 via Screen Gems), both of which are low-risk R-rated genre pics, versus a big-budget, PG-13 battle between well-known legendary movie monsters. With studios continuing to delay films a year into the pandemic, such a tentpole hitting theaters has been a rare phenomenon.

Still, if several coronavirus variants end up aiding an expected surge of cases in the U.S. following spring break, “Godzilla” marking an optimistic return to cinemas could be a difficult feeling to sustain, making it possible that big releases on deck for May like “Black Widow” and “A Quiet Place Part II” will move again.