Box Office: ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ Sets Pandemic Record With $48.5 Million Debut

“Godzilla vs. Kong” muscled its way to a pandemic-era box office record, giving Hollywood studios and theater owners alike hope that people are ready to return to the movies after a year of watching Netflix at home.

The tentpole, from Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment, generated $32 million over the weekend and $48.5 million in its first five days of release. That exceeded the industry’s expectations and easily marked the biggest debut since coronavirus hit. Prior to this weekend, “Wonder Woman 1984” had the biggest three-day start with $16.7 million, followed by “Tom and Jerry” with $14 million.

The results for “Godzilla vs. Kong” are especially impressive because the film is also available to HBO Max subscribers for no extra fee. Without providing any specific statistics or metrics, the studio said “Godzilla vs. Kong” had a “larger viewing audience than any other film or show on HBO Max since launch.” In Canada, where 80% of the market is still closed, “Godzilla vs. Kong” was released simultaneously on premium video-on-demand and made $3 million through various digital platforms.

David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, called opening weekend numbers “strong” given the “still-difficult conditions.” “While it’s half of what it would be under normal circumstances, the weekend is a clear and positive indication that moviegoing has inherent strengths that aren’t going away,” he said.

At the international box office, where “Godzilla vs. Kong” opened last weekend, revenues for the monster mashup have surpassed $236 million. It brought in another $71 million overseas this weekend, including a strong $44 million in China, bringing the film’s global tally to $285 million.

Ticket sales for “Godzilla vs. Kong” are certainly encouraging, but the U.S. box office has yet to fully recover from the devastating yearlong shutdown due to the pandemic. More than 55% of movie theaters in the country have reopened, according to Comscore. But many — including those in New York City and Los Angeles — have been operating at reduced capacity to comply with pandemic safety protocols.

And the release calendar, at least until Memorial Day weekend in May, remains light on potential blockbusters. However, the showing for “Godzilla vs. Kong” may encourage Hollywood studios to keep dates for buzzy summer titles including “A Quiet Place Part II” and Disney’s “Cruella” (May 28), Warner Bros.’ musical “In the Heights” (June 11), “Fast and Furious” sequel “F9” (June 25) and “Top Gun: Maverick” (July 2).

“This is a great sign that the release calendar will stabilize and audiences everywhere will have a bonafide summer of blockbusters,” says Jeff Bock, a media analyst at Exhibitor Relations. Though the pandemic hasn’t dissipated, he points out, it appears to be heading in a positive direction. “With vaccinations being dished out at a record pace and social distancing protocols still in place, we should see a nice ramp up into summer cinema.”

Directed by Adam Wingard, “Godzilla vs. Kong” is the kind of escapist, action-packed tentpole that seems to benefit from the theatrical experience. Audiences can enjoy it from their couch, sure, but analysts suggest people were eager to see the famed monsters face off on the biggest screen possible. Warner Bros. says premium formats, including Imax and Dolby Cinema, represented a significant portion of this weekend’s sales. And moviegoers seem to dig the epic clash of the titans, awarding the film an “A” on Cinemascore. Its fellow MonsterVerse franchise titles, 2014’s “Godzilla,” 2017’s “Kong: Skull Island” and 2019’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” were popular but not as well received.

“Timing is everything, and ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ arrived at the perfect intersection of a time of growing consumer confidence and pent-up desire to go to the movies, meeting head on with a movie that literally screams ‘event film,’ says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior analyst with Comscore.

“Godzilla vs. Kong” wasn’t this weekend’s only new release. Sony Pictures’ horror film “The Unholy” pulled in $3.2 million from 1,850 locations, a modest start for the low-budget movie. It narrowly beat out Universal’s action thriller “Nobody” for second place on box office charts. “Nobody,” starring Bob Odenkirk as a mild-mannered father-turned-vigilante, came in third with $3 million in its second weekend, boosting its domestic tally to $11.8 million.

At the No. 4 slot, Disney’s animated adventure “Raya and the Last Dragon” made $2 million from 2,031 locations. The film, which is also playing on Disney Plus for a premium $30 fee, has grossed $32 million at the domestic box office. “Tom and Jerry” rounded out the top five, amassing $1.5 million in its sixth weekend in theaters. To date, the movie has made $39.5 million in the U.S. It’s also available on HBO Max.

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