Weekend Box Office: Disney Has Released Its First New Film Into Theaters Since The Pandemic Began

The weekend box office went on hiatus a few weeks after Tenet faltered at the box office, but with theaters re-opening (with capacity restrictions) in New York, and likely to be reopening in Los Angeles soon, the box-office is slowly returning to life. In fact, last weekend, Tom and Jerry had the biggest opening weekend of 2021 — and one of the biggest of the pandemic — with $14.1 million, despite also being offered for free to HBO Max subscribers and getting terrible reviews.

Meanwhile, Disney has re-released a number of films since the beginning of the pandemic (Guardians of the Galaxy, Toy Story, etc.), and they have moved a few films to Disney+ (Soul, Artemis Fowl), and they have even offered one film at premium pricing (Mulan). However, this weekend, Disney released its first new film into theaters since Onward, although Raya and the Last Dragon was also offered on Disney+ for $30.

So how’d it go? It’s a mixed bag. It earned a decent $8.3 million in theaters, although I suspect that the film did considerably better on Disney+, since it was being promoted to the streamers’ roughly 100 million subscribers (HBO Max, meanwhile, has only 37 million subs). That’s slightly less than expectations, which was a $9 million opening weekend. There were a number of factors in play, however, that would have made it more difficult to beat Tom and Jerry — aside from the fact that the premium cost was heavily promoted — namely the fact that Disney made no deals with Cinemark, the #3 chain in America and that it’s not based on a familiar property.

The mediocre box-office numbers are less a worry for Disney, however, than they are for movie theaters. That’s because Disney has to share the $8.3 million it earned in theaters with the exhibitors. It does not, however, have to share the $30 it earned for each Disney+ purchase. On a family film like Raya, the economics work out well for consumers and for the studio, but not necessarily for theaters. To wit: I have a family of five. We paid $30 for Raya (and enjoyed it very much). It would’ve cost at least $45 for the same six of us to see it in theaters (plus expensive concessions), and Disney would have had to split the $45 with theater chains, which is to say: in my situation, Disney earned more and consumers paid less. Theaters, however, got the squeeze.

Will that matter in the long term? That remains unclear. A lot of films that used to open in theaters will obviously move to streaming networks post-pandemic, and it remains to be seen whether moviegoers will flock to theaters in the same numbers after having gotten used to watching movies in their living rooms. It looks like Black Widow, which is still tentatively scheduled for a May 7 release date, will be the big test. Will Disney keep that release date and take their chances even though the pandemic will still be ongoing? Will they move it until late summer, after everyone is expected to have been vaccinated? Or will they try and release it in theaters and at home and see what happens?

Those are the big questions heading into the next few weeks, and the decision will be based on numbers with which we aren’t privy. It is worth noting, however, that if just 10 percent of Disney+ subscribers purchase Raya and the Last Dragon, that is $300 million pure Disney profit that it doesn’t have to share with theaters. Domestically, that’s $90 million more than the $210 million that Coco earned, which Disney then had to split with theaters.

Elsewhere, in its second weekend, Tom and Jerry looks to be landing with about $6.7 million, which is not that far from Raya‘s opening weekend gross. It’s earned $23 million in theaters after 10 days, which is a mystery to me, since it’s cheaper to subscribe to HBO Max for a month ($15) than it is to pay for Raya with a Disney+ subscription, and yet families continue to take their kids to theaters to see Tom and Jerry with its 25 percent Rotten Tomatoes score.

Lionsgate spent $100 million on Chaos Walking, featuring the star of the Star Wars franchise (Daisy Ridley) and the star of the Spider-Man franchise (Tom Holland), but they could still only muster $3.7 million in theaters. Chaos Walking, by the way, is not available yet anywhere except theaters. It’s also worth noting that, despite the star power behind it (and Doug Liman in the director’s chair), the film’s Rotten Tomatoes score is lower even than that of Tom and Jerry with a 23 percent.

The other new release this weekend was Eddie Huang’s Boogie, which earned $1.26 million. One of the biggest hits of the pandemic, Croods: New Age, rounds out the top five with $890,000 and $53.7 million, so far.

I get the sense that this was another of those test weekends, where the studios dipped their toes in to see what would happen. The box-office report here will likely go back into hiatus until later this month, if Bob Odenkirk’s Nobody breaks out on the 26th or when Godzilla vs. Kong opens on March 31st.

Source: Deadline, Box Office Mojo