We’re back! For the first time since March, we get to speak about actual box-office figures this weekend instead of Netflix charts (although, for the record, Netflix originals Project Power and the kid-friendly The Sleepover led the way on the streamer). There have obviously been a lot of concerns about how comfortable moviegoers would be about returning to theaters. However, an Atom Tickets survey recently revealed that 40 percent of moviegoers are ready to return to theaters now, while 74 percent of moviegoers will be prepared to return within a month.
This weekend was the first real test of moviegoers’ comfort, as AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Marcus Corp all reopened their theaters. For the first time, there was a major new product: Russell Crowe’s Unhinged, which has trailed around Tenet all summer, insisting on being the trial balloon that opened two weeks ahead of the Christopher Nolan film. It was a big gamble for Solstice Studios, which is behind Unhinged, but it looks like it will pay off. The film earned $4 million this weekend ($5 million including Canada), and Solstice is predicting a running total of $8 million by Thursday. The film has also opened internationally, where it has already put up $8 million.
The budget for the film is $33 million, and there’s a chance — with the way that it’s playing so far — that Solstice actually earns its money back from its investment, even in a pandemic. The $4.2 million it has earned in America also comes with a very big caveat: It’s not playing in the nation’s two largest markets, Los Angeles and New York City, where theaters have not reopened yet. It’s playing best in Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Atlanta and Orlando, which is good news for theaters, although it may not be great news for public health. What is also interesting is that its grosses are not coming entirely from the younger demographic: A whopping 71 percent of moviegoers on the first day were over the age of 25, with 56% being male. Another caveat is this: A lot of those grosses came from drive-in theaters, since Unhinged seems to be ideally suited to that format.
Reviews for the film have been mixed (48 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), although critics are including another factor in their reviews: Is it worth risking one’s health to see? Most reviewers are coming down on the negative side of that, but it is clear that there are plenty anxious moviegoers waiting for any reason to return to theaters, and Russell Crowe playing a villain is apparently reason enough.
Don’t expect to see a normal top ten, or even top five at the box office anytime soon. There were a few other new films available in theaters this weekend, although they didn’t generate much interest. Roadside Attractions Words on Bathrooms Walls, with AnnaSophia Robb and Walton Goggins, only mustered $420,000 in 925 theater, of $454 per theater. In 108 theaters, IFC’s Tesla starring Ethan Hawke only earned $42,000, good for only $389 per theater. Tesla, however, is also available on VOD. That’s less than Dave Franco’s The Rental, which earned $108,000 in 105 theaters, despite being available at drive-in theaters and on VOD for weeks.
RZA’s Cut Throat City also took a chance on opening weekend, but it came up mostly empty, earning $240,000 in 395 theaters ($608 per). Meanwhile, The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run is only screening in theaters in Canada, but it’s not doing a ton of business there in 326 theaters. It earned about $500,000 this weekend to bring its 10-day total in Canada to $10 million.
There is, however, spectacular box-office news in … China. There, the coronavirus is under control, and business in theaters has returned to normal. To wit: The Huayi Brothers’ The Eight Hundred earned a whopping $107 million in its first weekend. Historically, China has always come in second behind the United States in terms of total box office, but I could easily see China surpassing North America this year.
Next weekend, movie theaters will get a bigger test, sort of. Disney is releasing The New Mutants, the last of the X-Men universe movies from 20th Century Fox, which Disney now owns. The movie has been delayed countless times, and this feels like a dump job. However, we might be surprised to see how many people eager to return to the movies will turn out to see it anyway.