After 646 theaters closed late last week in the United States while 60 closed in Canada, it’s not a surprise that Vince Vaughn’s thriller “Freaky” topped the box office charts a second week. The $1.2 million, reflecting a big 66 percent drop in its second week makes history as one of the lowest number one box office charting grosses ever. Especially with just a week before Thanksgiving at 2,057 locations in North America.
Normally, numbers this low would be blamed on the film, but that isn’t the case here. The Universal and Blumhouse Productions’ movie stars Vince Vaughn as a serial killer and Kathryn Newton as a low-profile high schooler who inadvertently switch bodies on Friday the 13th. “Freaky” has taken in $5.6 million in its first 10 days despite most people avoiding theaters as the coronavirus pandemic rages higher each day. The theater closings has shrunk available screens from 3,400 last weekend to 2,800 this past weekend. That’s a loss of 706 locations in just a week.
“With the continuing surge of the virus this fall, another round of lockdowns and curfews are impacting theaters on a regional basis,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Box Office Pro. “Business is down sharply from last weekend as a result of temporary closures, even for films that had proven to hold quite well over the past few months. While the encouraging news of vaccines on the horizon remains a light at the end of the tunnel for the industry, this weekend’s dip at the box office is an expected reminder of the endurance that will be required to push through a very challenging holiday and winter season.”
Domestic grosses for the weekend have come in between $4 million – $5 million with actual numbers hitting Monday. This is down about 50 percent from last weekend and the lowest since the box office struggled recovery late in August with “Unhinged” and Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet.” While “Tenet” brought in revenue, it only showed how powerful COVID-19 was hitting everything and everyone. Having lost cinemas in both Los Angeles and New York City, box office has never had a chance to steady itself.
Not surprising anyone, Hollywood studios began pushing their blockbusters into 2021 only causing more damage to theaters. Theater operators were left without tentpoles to bring in a joyful fourth quarter. Many theaters have reduced hours while Cineworld indefinitely closed the 400 Regal locations is had reopened in the U.S. Last week, Warner Bros. announced that “Wonder Woman 1984” would debut on Christmas day in whatever North American cinemas were still open as well as on HBO Max. It will attempt a regular theatrical run in China and overseas.
“Wonder Woman 1984” is the most prominent example so far to be released using the hybrid model. But when it appears on HBO Max on Christmas Day, it will join Pixar’s animated “Soul,” and DreamWorks Animation’s “The Croods: A New Age” as marquee, holiday-season films that were expected to be box office favorites but are now likely to be primarily seen in people’s living rooms.
For companies that have their own streaming platforms, like WarnerMedia and Disney, releasing movies this way is now seen as an opportunity to drive subscriptions. Both companies have said that the moves will only last through the pandemic, but they also both recently shuffled their executive responsibilities to make it clear that streaming is the new priority. (Disney, for example, now has a central division that decides how its content is distributed, a change in strategy that puts Disney+ at the top of the studio’s priorities.) And audiences may not want studios to go back to the old way of releasing films that gave theaters 90 days of exclusive rights.
“There will be a new normal,” said Jason Squire, editor of “The Movie Business Book” and a professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. “Over the years, there has been a lot of tension between theatrical exhibition and studio distribution but not a lot of change. The pandemic has jump-started the change.”
“It’s tough as more and more are closed due to forced restrictions by local government authority. I think those that are allowed to open are staying open as long as they can cover their variable costs,” says Wall Street analyst Eric Handler of MKM Partners.
Adds Paul Dergarabedian of Comscore: “Given the limited number of open theaters, the holiday movie season will be tasked with bridging the gap between this most challenging period and when the cinematic cavalry arrives in the form of what on paper looks to be a truly spectacular 2021 slate of blockbusters. The adage ‘it’s always darkest before the dawn’ certainly applies here. Theaters need new high-profile films to drive audiences to the multiplex, but unfortunately those are in short supply in the coming weeks.”
According to Comscore, there were 2,154 theaters open in the U.S. over the Nov. 20-22 weekend, or roughly 40 percent of the country’s 5,449 locations (give or take a few). That’s down from 2,800 locations open over the Nov. 13-15 weekend, or 51 percent of all cinemas
Factoring in Canada, the total number of theaters open in North American dropped from 3,096 sites over the Nov. 13-15 weekend to 2,390 theaters over the Nov. 13-15 frame, per Comscore.
The weighted box office — i.e., a ranking of theaters in terms of the revenue they contribute to the overall pie — is likewise dropping. At one point this fall, 86 percent of the market was open. That fell to 62.5 percent over the Nov. 20-22 weekend.
The seventh weekend of 101 Studios’ comedy “The War With Grandpa” finished in a distant second place with $737,067 at 1,688 sites. The Robert De Niro vehicle has earned $16.2 million after 45 days in theaters.
Focus Features’ thriller “Let Him Go,” starring Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, followed in third with $710,000 at 1,907 locations. The film, set in Montana in the 1960s, has pulled in $7.9 million in its first 17 days.
Focus’s fourth weekend of the horror movie “Come Play” came in fourth place with $510,000 at 1,364 screens. After three weeks in theaters, the film has made $8 million.
Disney’s re-release of its 1994 holiday comedy-drama “The Santa Clause” pulled in $481,000 at 1,581 sites to finish fifth. Starring Tim Allen, the film originally generated $190 million in worldwide box office.
Open Road’s seventh weekend of Liam Neeson action thriller “Honest Thief” followed in sixth place with $452,000 at 1,254 locations. The film’s 45-day total has hit $13 million.
Gravitas Ventures’ launch of Jackie Chan’s action-adventure “Vanguard” showed little traction at multiplexes with $400,000 at 1,375 theaters. “Vanguard” was released in China on Sept. 30 and took in nearly $44 million in that market.
TriStar Pictures’ R-rated wartime drama “The Last Vermeer” opened with $225,00 from 912 locations. Guy Pearce stars as an art forger who swindles millions of dollars from the Nazis by forging Johannes Vermeer paintings.
Warner Bros.’ 12th weekend of the Christopher Nolan thriller “Tenet” took in $360,000 at 864 sites to lift its three-month domestic total to $56.9 million. “Tenet” has been the only Hollywood tentpole movie released to North American theaters since the pandemic began in March. The film, which carries a $200 million price tag, has performed far better in international markets and is expected to surpass $300 million internationally this week.
The comparatively downbeat domestic performance of “Tenet” served to spur other studios to either delay openings of other major titles or move them to premium video on demand.
North America Box Office
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Box office number courtesy of Box Office Mojo.
1. “Freaky,” $1.2 million.
2. “The War with Grandpa,” $733,067.
3. “Let Him Go,” $710,000.
4. “Come Play,” $550,000.
5. “The Santa Clause,” (Re-release) $461,000.
6. “Honest Thief,” $452,000.
7. “Vanguard,” $400,000.
8. “Tenet,” $360,000.
9. “The Last Vermeer,” $225,000.
10. “Gekijouban Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel – III Spring Song,” $200,000.
11. “Elf,” (Re-release) $180,000.
12. “True to the Game 2,” $161,016.
13. “Buddy Games,” $140,000.
14. “Guardians of the Galaxy,” (Re-release) $136,000.
Universal Pictures Deals Shorter Theatrical Window With Cineplex
Another major movie theater chain has struck a deal with Universal Pictures to allow for shorter exclusive theatrical windows. Canada’s Cineplex has agreed on a multiyear “dynamic window” agreement, the film exhibitor and Universal Filmed Entertainment Group said Friday.
Like the deal struck with Cinemark earlier this week and AMC Theaters before that, Universal and Focus Features films will have at least three weeks of theatrical exclusivity before hitting premium video on demand services. Titles that have an opening weekend of $50 million or more in North American theaters will be guaranteed at least five weeks in theaters.
The $50 million mark is just theoretical at this point, however. In normal times, a $50 million launch is not uncommon for Universal’s biggest franchises like “Fast & Furious” and “Jurassic World.” But no films have done that kind of business during the pandemic.
“With audience fragmentation accelerating due to the rise in digital, streaming and cord cutting, as well as the unprecedented issues our industry is facing right now, our relationship with exhibition had to evolve and adapt to the changing distribution landscape,” said Donna Langley, chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group. “Giving consumers the flexibility to view content on their terms is more important than ever to help expand moviegoing.”
Theater owners have long adhered to a strict 90-day theatrical exclusivity window, but the devastating effects of the pandemic on the movie business have forced many to adapt and compromise.