Godzilla vs Kong to reach pandemic record, boosting theatres

[LOS ANGELES] Godzilla vs Kong is poised to become the highest-grossing movie in North America since the start of the pandemic, giving theaters a much-needed boost after a year in crisis.

By Thursday, the Warner Bros and Legendary film likely passed the US$57.9 million level it needed to become the largest cinematic draw since March 2020, according to Boxoffice Pro. And the movie could make another US$15.5 million in ticket sales over the weekend. That would vault it well past Tenet, Croods: A New Age and Wonder Woman 1984, each of which debuted last year.

The film's success strengthens the economic case for reopening the 40 per cent of US theaters that are still dark, though the industry has other hurdles to overcome. There are few new big-budget releases for the remainder of April and May, suggesting that business will ebb during the next few weeks.

Just Friday, ViacomCBS's Paramount Pictures pushed back Top Gun: Maverick to November from July 2. The studio also delayed the next Mission: Impossible installment to May 2022 from November.

Returning to a state where studios have confidence putting their biggest movies in theaters will take time. Even Godzilla vs Kong wasn't exclusive to cinemas - AT&T's WarnerMedia also put it out on HBO Max. And Walt Disney Co. plans to take a similar hybrid strategy with Black Widow on July 9.

"In a normal marketplace, momentum is key," said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior analyst at market research firm Comscore Inc. "For the next many weeks - as more and more people are vaccinated - consumer confidence will grow, and more theaters will open, and this will give each successive blockbuster an even greater shot at box-office gold."

"Godzilla" is in its second week at the US box office, after smashing expectations by taking in US$48.5 million during its first weekend in April. It's also been an international hit, generating US$71.6 million last weekend and marking the biggest foreign opening in China in almost a year and a half.

The monster film may have been a particularly popular choice during Covid because it represents what some analysts think is the future of the big screen. With so many movies available on streaming platforms, moviegoers may prefer just to see megabudget action films in theaters.

If that's true, cinemas probably won't get many shots at large openings for the next two months. Warner's Mortal Kombat, a martial-arts fantasy film based on the popular video game, comes out on April 23, while A Quiet Place Part II from Paramount Pictures is expected to be released on May 28. The other titles set to premiere before the end of May are smaller-budget or family-fare films.

Still, more theaters are reopening. Cineworld Group Plc's Regal business, the second-largest US theater chain, has resumed operations at about two dozen of the locations that were closed during the pandemic. It will continue to open more theaters over the next eight weeks.

The other two large cinema chains, AMC Entertainment Holdings and Cinemark Holdings, opened most of their locations earlier this year.

Nobody, a thriller from Universal Pictures, will probably take the No. 2 box-office spot this weekend with US$2.3 million in domestic ticket sales, according to Boxoffice Pro. Walt Disney's Raya and the Last Dragon, meanwhile, will likely reach the third spot with US$1.8 million.

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