ACTION film Godzilla vs Kong drew the largest weekend crowds to movie theatres in North America since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic over a year ago.
The monster movie brought in ticket sales of about US$32.2 million between last Friday and Sunday and US$48.5 million over the five-day Good Friday holiday period, said researcher Comscore.
The ticket sales were roughly double that of Wonder Woman 1984, the previous best weekend opening in the pandemic era.
"This is the best news the theatrical side of the business has had in over a year," said Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian, adding that the results proved that a big budget sci-fi action extravaganza like Godzilla vs Kong is "tailor-made for the immersive and impactful experience that only the big screen can provide".
Theatres badly need the jolt. Ticket sales have fallen more than 85 per cent from a year earlier, said Comscore, and theatres are only reopening slowly, with more than half now back in business. They are also imposing strict limits on how many customers may attend at one time.
Still, the early returns - with audiences again willing to turn out for major-budget films - suggest there is pent-up demand, even with studios making their best releases, including Godzilla vs Kong, available online.
"We may not yet be talking about pre-pandemic box office levels, but for this film to come out of the gate swinging shows how eager audiences are to return to theatres," said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice Pro.
"This is one of the necessary inflection points the movie industry has been waiting and hoping for."
The film, starring Millie Bobby Brown and Alexander Skarsgard, also had a large international premiere.
It scored the biggest foreign opening in China in at least 15 months, generating about US$137 million in ticket sales there. Its worldwide sales now have reached US$285 million, Comscore said.
Analysts and industry insiders have been predicting this type of popcorn film would draw fans back to the big screen. Big-budget action movies, particularly those with recognisable characters like King Kong and Godzilla, tend to sit atop the box office.
However, studios mostly held back those releases until more theatres reopened and more moviegoers could gather.
Now, cinemas have reopened in every major US market. AMC Entertainment Holdings, the world's largest theatre chain, said last Thursday that it has reopened 99 per cent of its locations.
Godzilla vs Kong will probably show about 80,000 times across the US between last Friday and Sunday, said Boxoffice Pro.
By comparison, Wonder Woman 1984 screened 50,000 times during its opening weekend over Christmas and brought in about US$17 million in ticket sales over that span. Both movies were also available on HBO Max the same day they came out in theatres, at no additional cost to subscribers.
The Unholy, a horror film, took the No 2 spot with US$3.2 million, said Comscore. Nobody, a thriller from Universal Pictures that debuted last weekend, came in the third. Walt Disney's Raya and Last Dragon, an animated film about a warrior girl, ranked No 4 with ticket sales of US$2 million. BLOOMBERG