What an amazing weekend this would have been at the box office, that is if all was well in the world.
Disney originally had their live-action version of Mulan fired up to go before the worldwide exhibition shutdown occurred, plus it would have been sharing the marquee with the second-weekend of Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II, another primed blockbuster for the spring. With both studios capitalizing on K-12 and college breaks (before the nation’s schools morphed into virtual classrooms), it was a dating recipe similar to last year’s Disney live action-toon adaptation Dumbo ($45.99M), and the second weekend of Universal’s Jordan Peele horror movie Us ($33.2M, -53%), which drove all tickets sales to $137.9M. It’s fair to estimate that the pairing of Mulan and the second weekend of A Quiet Place Part II could have easily exceeded those results.
Mulan was projected to do between $80M-$90M stateside on tracking four weeks out, which would have repped the biggest 2020 opening to date following Bad Boys for Life ($62.5M). But even that seemed high as early worries about COVID-19 were creeping up.
Yet in an ideal, healthy marketplace, the diagnostics on tracking, especially in regards to the comparative titles to Mulan, indicated that the Niki Caro-directed movie had the potential to do $100M+. But then for the global box office headline huzzah, Mulan would also need China, which concerned many as they wondered just how much later the movie starring local star Liu Yifei could go there considering that country’s cinema shutdown, which is still ongoing. A Quiet Place Part II was forecasted between $55M-$60M in its opening weekend over March 20-22, and it’s fair to assume that weekend 2 would have eased to between a solid $27M-$37M.
With both titles, among several others, being undated for the time being while we recuperate from and manage the current COVID-19 crisis, we know that when all of this is behind us, we’ll all head back to the movies.
But how fast, and how big? The grand hope with the passing of the $2 trillion relief bill last week is that will prevent any great attrition of theaters, which are still burdened with their monthly overheads. And even after the re-opening of cinemas, when will the major studios decide to bring big event pics back? Some of those in distribution predict we’ll have several wide releases in a given weekend in an effort to catch up on the pipeline, but don’t assume that so fast as there’s movies scheduled for 2021 that have seen their production paused (i.e. Sony’s Cinderella on Feb. 5 and Disney/Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings on Feb. 12), including Q4 titles like Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel. It’s up in the air when physical production will resume on such titles. The first six months of next year will be in need of product.
Before, we go into Q4, the whole buzz on social media this past weekend that Disney is jettisoning Black Widow and Mulan from theatrical to Disney+ is hogwash, I hear, with the studio looking to re-date those titles at some point in the future. Taking two big event pics like that and tossing them on streaming asap would not only be financially irresponsible, but a further betrayal of exhibitors which are on their knees and will be in dire need of big movies when they return.
While MGM was smart to move No Time to Die to Thanksgiving, thus putting a major event movie in the holiday stretch, rival studios have yet to program a must-see franchise film during the Christmas corridor in the spirit of The Hobbit, Star Wars or even Aquaman. While there’s been notable product already dated, i.e. Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, Paramount’s Coming to America 2, Legendary/Warner Bros.’ Denis Villeneuve-directed Dune, and more, most of this would typically be solid counter-programming to a five-quad event movie like a Star Wars or Aquaman in a holiday marketplace.
And for the studio’s marketing machines to be brought back fully online, sources tell me that we’ll also need to have sporting events back on the air, as they’ve been key platforms in reaching male moviegoers.
In regards to those theaters that were opened this weekend, there was even less than before, with several drive-ins shuttering due to local ordinances. That said, drive-ins remained the top grossing locations for those pics braving it. Disney/Pixar’s Onward continued to lead with $52,5K at 19 theaters, 14 of their top venues were drive-Ins (-26%, last weekend, the pic grossed $71K at 135 venues). Universal/Blumhouse’s The Hunt grossed $39,8K, nine of its 10 locations saw money from drive-ins. Sony’s Bloodshot earned $39,8K, -23% from its $52K last weekend at 79 theaters, with its top 13 of 16 locations being drive-ins over the last three days. Paramount’s Sonic The Hedgehog posted an estimated $38,3K at 18 locations, 16 of them were drive-ins. And Universal/Blumhouse’s The Invisible Man grossed $37,9K at 12 theaters, ten being drive-ins.
The Van Buren drive-in in Riverside, CA continues to survive as well as its sister drive-in the Mission Tiki in Montclair, CA. For many pics like Onward, Invisible Man, Sonic, The Hunt and Bloodshot, the former was the top venue in the nation. A notice on both drive-ins’ website reads that while they’ve closed their swap meet operations until further notice, “The drive-in theatre is open nightly, and we hope to continue operations as long as possible. If you attend the drive-in, be advised that: a) You may not park your vehicle within ten feet of another vehicle, b) You must view the movie from within your vehicle, c) You must practice social distancing at all times.” Other top drive-ins the country remain the Stardust in Watertown, TN, the Glendale 9 in Glendale, AZ; and the Jesup in Jesup, GA.
While we leaned heavily on the underperformance of Disney’s Dumbo a year ago, which came in under its $50M-$60M domestic opening with $45.99M, and its global $130M-$150M start with $117M, as well as NEON’s Matthew McConaughey comedy The Beach Bum ($1.7M at 1,100 theaters) you can’t tell me for a second the industry and movie theaters wouldn’t want a replay of that weekend, right now. In addition that weekend provided solid results for PureFlix’s anti-abortion, controversial feature Unplanned which posted the second best opening results ever for the faith-based distributor ($6.3M) and Bleecker Street’s second weekend wide expansion of Hotel Mumbai ($3.2M) which turned out to the New York distributor’s 4th highest grossing releasing stateside ($9.65M). Tim Burton made a film honest to the original 1941 Dumbo‘s old-fashioned stylings, but it was too slow for the Disney fans who are more attracted to the dazzling musical stylings of the studio’s live action reboots of Beauty and the Beast ($174.7M domestic opening, $504M domestic, $1.26 billion WW), or even Burton’s snap-and-pop visually arresting Alice in Wonderland ($116.1M, $334M domestic, $1.03 billion).
Ultimately, per our finance sources, Dumbo with a final of $353.2M WW, off a $300M combined P&A and productions costs, lost money.
But for movie theaters, any penny of that cash would be more than great right now.